On being a matchmaker: finding new homes for no longer needed things

What was once lost, was found again.

When our downsizing clients have things they no longer need, we put on our matchmaker caps. Our job is to get those things to the places where they will bring the best return if they can be sold, or where they can do the most good if they will be donated.

Some of the vintage pieces we sell online or in our small Northborough vintage shop are purchased by people who are looking for something from their past. It can be for all kinds of reasons…replacing a favorite book or adding pieces to a set of heirloom china. It’s always nice to be able to hear their story and share it with the particular client that item belonged to.

We found a nice story in our inbox today. One item we sold online on behalf of a client in December was a vintage three piece Goebel nativity set. Here’s what the buyer had to say:

“I just wanted to send you a note of thanks. When I was a child, my mom had this  set. When I was in about 3rd grade we were discussing the baby Jesus at school and were asked to bring in something related as a “show & tell.” I promised my mom I would treat the little figure with the utmost care. As the oldest of five kids, she could usually trust me. Of course, you know what happened, I lost Baby Jesus! I was sad and so was my mom. At Christmas this year, I gave the set back to her, including the Baby Jesus! It made her day.”

We can’t wait to tell our client that her Nativity set wound up making a very special Christmas gift for another family.




When good books grow moldy

Specialized cleaners work to remediate mold at the Boston Public Library. (Photo from the BPL website)

The Boston Public Library (BPL) reopened its rare book collection today following ten weeks of painstaking remediation after mold spores were discovered on a medieval text and other documents in September. According to Smithsonian magazine, it’s thought that construction at the library caused the carefully controlled humidity in the department to be not so carefully controlled allowing the mold to grow. The Boston Globe reports that it took a specialized crew of 20 working daily for 10 weeks to clean the 500,000 books and 1 million manuscripts in the collection.

Most of us don’t have a rare book collection that numbers in the millions, but we do have a box of favorite books from our past stored away for a future day. If those books are stored in places where the only climate control is what the weather is that day (places like the garage, the basement or the attic) chances are pretty good that like that medieval text, they may have some mold spores. Or, more likely, fully grown and thriving mold colonies. One of the most disheartening feelings in the world is opening that special box of books and getting a nose full of musty, moldy, sad book smell.

Mold and mildew love nothing better than darkness, dampness and a tasty food source like a book. Once the fungus sets up shop and begins spreading its nasty spores, it doesn’t discriminate between outdated textbooks and beloved children’s books. Mold is an equal opportunity invader.

Unless the books are rare, valuable or irreplaceable, it’s best to dispose of moldy books. Not donate, dispose. It’s painful to do, but really it’s the only choice. It’s not worth the risk that by donating you may send the book somewhere it can spread mold to someone else’s collection or even worse, send it to the home of someone sensitive to mold like a person with asthma.

Moldy book spine, photo from inspecttopedia.com

Moldy and musty books can be cleaned, but it’s a time intensive process. Books that have great sentimental or financial value are likely best cleaned by a trained conservation professional. Books that are not quite so pedigreed, but are worth the sweat equity to try and save can be worked on at home. There is a lot of information about how to do this from true book lovers and experts available on the internet–a simple search will give you lots of methods to try.  We are certainly not experts, but we’ve found that sunshine, fresh air and a gentle wiping can go a long way towards freshening a sentimental favorite.

If your book has rusty reddish spots, you might have foxing instead of mold. Foxing happens when the minerals in the paper change over time. Foxing isn’t pretty, but it also isn’t terrible and invasive. Mold can generally be distinguished from foxing because it comes in a dingy rainbow of colors: blues, blacks, grays, greens, yellows.

Disheartening though it may be to find that your beloved copy of Little Women, Nancy Drew Secret of the Old Oak or To Kill a Mockingbird has been feasted upon by fungus, the good news is that for many titles, another copy can be found through a reputable online seller.

Smoke Detector Battery Change Day!

Today is the day to change the batteries in your smoke detector.
Today is the day to change the batteries in your smoke detector.

Happy National Change-the-Battery-in-your-Smoke-Detector Day! More commonly known as the day you get to sleep an extra hour thanks to daylight savings time, there is no better way to celebrate this once a year holiday than to get out the step ladder and change the batteries in your smoke detectors. And while you’re at it, take the celebration to a higher level and change the battery in your carbon monoxide detector as well.

Daylight savings time marks the beginning of the time of year when space heaters, candles and fireplaces see common use because if it’s going to get dark at 4 p.m., it’s nice to be warm and cozy. Open flames and heating elements are always pointed to as dangerous. But interestingly enough, according to the U.S. Fire Administration nearly 50% of household fires are caused by cooking. Who knew that the creme brûlée in your oven is more likely to start a fire than your creme brûlée scented candle?

While you’re changing the battery in your smoke detector, you might find that you wrote the date you installed the the original detector written on it somewhere. If you did that, you are very  savvy indeed, because like most pieces of equipment, smoke detectors have life spans. Consumer Reports magazine says the life expectancy of a smoke detector is 10 years. After 10 years, out with the old, in with the new. They also report that pressing the test button tells you only if your battery still has juice in it. The test button does not tell you whether or not the inner bits of the smoke detector that do the important work are functional.

The number of smoke detectors your home needs depends on the size and type of home. The National Fire Protection Association spells out the specifics for optimum installation very clearly on their website. There are different types of smoke detectors: ionization, which detects flaming fires best and photoelectric, which is better at catching smoldering fires. Your house should have a combination of types. For sound sleepers and those who have hearing loss, there are smoke detectors with flashing strobe lights and smoke detector accessories that shake the bed.

Today is a great day to show the friends and family who are special to you just how important they are to you by showing up at their house with either replacement batteries or a new smoke detector. It’s one of those tasks that a lot of us think about doing but plan to take care of it…tomorrow…or the next day. Surprising someone by turning up to do it for them is the kind of surprise that puts a spring in their step. It’s the kind of surprise that will take some of the sting out of the realization that it’s going to be dark by 4 pm today (and for the next few months).

Today may just be the easiest-peasiest holiday of the year to throw a proper celebration. You don’t need costumes, fancy food, gift wrap or decorations to celebrate National-Change-the-Battery-in-your-Smoke-Detector-Day. All you need is a step ladder, the right batteries and a dollop of let’s do it. We hope you made good use of your bonus hour today, now get out there and celebrate!

Clothing moth confidential: the holey truth about keeping moths at bay

Life stages of the clothing moth: eggs, larvae and adult moth. From USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.
Life stages of the clothing moth: eggs, larvae and adult moth. From USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.

Right around Halloween, we start packing away our light summer wear and unpacking our winter woolies. Occasionally that simple task turns into something out of a horror movie if your sweaters and tartans have been invaded by clothing moths.

Clothing moths are determined little insects with an appetite for more than just wool. We’ve seen their telltale holes and webbing on almost any fiber that comes from an animal. And they don’t just fancy clothing—they’re equally happy in carpets, furniture, blankets and yarn.

Like most stealth invaders, moths do their best work in the dark, meaning they’re likely to be found in attics, basements and closets. And it’s not the moths themselves that do the damage, it’s the larvae. You’re unlikely to find them on a coat you wear regularly or in the dining room oriental carpet. But a coat that’s been stored in a closet for a few years, or a rug that’s rolled and stored under the bed…that’s another story.

Moth balls have been used for generations to repel clothing moths. An open box of moth balls in a closet won’t actually do any good. Moth balls work by slowly degrading into a toxic pesticide gas. If you’re not trapping that gas in small tightly sealed area, it’s probably not strong enough to actually kill moths. And do you really want to sleep in blankets or wear jackets that are steeped in toxic gas anyway?

Cedar blocks certainly smell nicer than moth balls, but they’re also not terribly useful for repelling moths. The aromatic oils evaporate quickly, and even when fresh, there’s no real scientific evidence that they scare off moths.

One way to find out if you have moths is to hang moth traps in areas where they are likely to hang out. Traps are pheromone attractors with sticky pads of glue that capture moths that are intoxicated by the smell and venture in. If you get moths in your traps, you know it’s time to do a thorough assessment and cleaning.

The best way to find out if you have an infestation is to carefully examine natural fiber textiles when you’re taking them out of storage. Take them outside into good light and look carefully for the holes and webbing patches. If you find damage, seal the textile in a plastic bag and keep it outside until you can have it cleaned. You can also vacuum rugs to remove any larvae or eggs—but remove and dispose of the bag before bringing it back into the house.

Thoroughly clean or dispose of whatever the mothy items were stored in. If it’s a wooden chest, take it outside into the sunshine, vacuum and wash it. If it’s a basket or cloth bag, dispose of it. It’s not worth the risk of re-infesting your Nordic sweaters.

Freezing temperatures kill moth larvae. If you have a cold garage and can leave mothy items there for a few days, it’s always a good idea to do so before having the garment or carpet cleaned.

The best way to prevent moths from getting a hold on your closet is to properly clean and store textiles in tightly sealed containers. Routinely vacuum rugs, tapestry and upholstery. Feel free to be overly cautious, better safe than holey. It is much, much easier to prevent moths from getting into things than to get rid of them.

If you’re an antique or vintage lover, don’t bring moths into your house with a beautiful antique rug or vintage swing coat. The cost of cleaning prior to bringing anything that’s been in someone else’s house into your house will be well worth it. And don’t store things in a fantastic antique trunk until it’s had a few days of sunlight and a thorough vacuuming or three.

By the same token, if you are sorting through your no longer needed clothing and you discover moths, either dispose of the clothes or have them cleaned before you donate or sell them. You don’t want to inadvertently spread moths to a house that doesn’t have them.

Clothing moths are not the worst thing that can happen to you, and if you find them in your things, rest assured, you are not alone. Dealing with them thoroughly takes time, but it’s well worth the effort—particularly if you are transitioning to a new home. Moths definitely do not have a place on the list of things to bring with you!

You can find more details on moths, moth balls and moth prevention here:

The National Pesticide Information Center

The Utah State University Extension Service

The Insect Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University

Is it Treasure? Is it Trash?

“We’ve already started throwing stuff away.”

Six words guaranteed to make a senior move manager wince because chances are pretty good that some treasures went into that trash. The world of antiques and vintage goods is quirky. Even experts have a hard time keeping up with what’s hot and what’s not.

Items commonly perceived as having high resale value, perhaps because they had the highest original purchase price, aren’t always the items that command the highest resale prices. Humble Pyrex, for example, can be more valuable than fine china. A bureau from the right era can be worth more than an entire dining room set. One vintage cookbook can be worth more than a dozen current best sellers.

While senior move managers are not appraisers, we have a general knowledge of the stuff of everyday life, and know what has good sale potential. We’ll work with clients to take their no longer needed items and find the best venues to achieve the best return. And we also know when it’s time to call in an appraiser for items of high value.

It’s not uncommon for elders to become clients after they’ve started trying to downsize on their own and been overwhelmed by the process. As glad as we are to step in then, we can provide the best support and value if we’re there before those first trash bags get filled.  Many clients find that the income generated by selling unwanted items covers all or part of the cost of our services.

Beyond assisting clients with selling items of value, senior move managers can also arrange for items that don’t have resale value but are still serviceable to be donated to appropriate charities. And every home has items that can’t be donated or sold, items that do need to be disposed of.  Senior move managers can insure that those items are disposed of responsibly.

Make it do, use it up…

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Is it my imagination, or did it take a lot longer to wear something out twenty years ago than it does now?

A post on the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) struck a chord with me. It’s been a long time since you could buy anything without the expection that it would need to be replaced sooner rather than later. Technology gets superceded by bigger, faster, newer in the blink of an eye. Clothing is doesn’t last because it’s constructed to meet an artificially low price point.  Within a couple of years, furniture sags from normal use.

One of the nicest aspects of being a senior move manager is that we are often able to assist clients by sending no longer needed items of quality on to new owners, who will be able to use and appreciate them for years.   Whether through a resale shop or a donation, it’s always a pleasure to know that quality has lasting value.


Selling at consignment shops

A well run consignment shop is a thing of beauty. For buyers, it provides the thrill of the hunt and the exhilaration of getting a deal. For sellers, the thrill is making money on things you no longer needed. Do a little research before you consign your goods and you can make those consignment checks bigger.

Like any other retailer, each consignment shop has its own style. Make a list of shops in your area by talking to friends and searching on the internet. A retailer’s website should list consignment policies and give you some idea how they market goods above and beyond their bricks and mortar location. Although a well-designed website does not always guarantee a well-run store, it does show that the owner is a professional who pays attention to detail and appearances.

A store visit is next. While you’re browsing and reminding yourself you’re there to sell, not buy, think about these questions:

  • What’s your first reaction? Is the store appealing from first glimpse?
  • Is the merchandise well displayed?
  • Will the items you’re selling fit in well with the other merchandise?
  • Is the staff friendly and helpful if you ask questions about merchandise? Are they knowledgeable? Or are they overly attentive to the point of annoying or disengaged and unwelcoming?
  • Does the pricing seem fair to both buyer and seller?
  • Are there other customers browsing?
  • If it’s a store that does markdowns after 30 and 60 days, have many items have been there long enough to reach discount dates?

Once you’ve narrowed the list of contenders, it’s time to talk to store management and get explanations of all their policies:

  • How many items can be consigned at one appointment?
  • Do they provide pick-up service and is there a fee?
  • How long is the consignment period?
  • Are there automatic markdowns?
  • Can you reclaim unsold merchandise at the end of the consignment period? Don’t assume this is the case. Some stores require items to be donated and some stipulate that unsold good become property of the store.
  • What is the consignment commission?
  • Are there any other fees?
  • How often are consignment sale checks mailed out?
  • Who sets the prices and how are they set?
  • Do they market merchandise online by posting images on their own website or listing items on Craigslist?
  • Who are their primary customers and what are the best selling categories of items?

If you like what you’ve seen and heard, make a consignment appointment. You may decide to divide your stuff between two or three consignment shops so you can capitalize on each shop’s specialty. Keep a list of what you’ve left at each shop, and make sure the list provided by the store includes matches yours.

At the appointment, be open-minded. But don’t be afraid to decide not to leave things if the price the owner suggests is too low for your liking. Be realistic, your goal is to turn things you aren’t using into cash, but if you’re really disappointed with the pricing for an item or two and the owner isn’t flexible, take them home and think about it. And don’t be surprised if you come away from an appointment with things the shop owner declines. A good shop owner knows her clientele and will only accept those things he or she knows she can sell.

Mark the date your consignment period ends on your calendar. Visit the store shortly before to see how much remains and make an appointment to either pack up unsold merchandise yourself or to have larger pieces picked up by professionals, unless you prefer to donate them. Non-profits will often offer pick up service with enough advance notice.




The Three-Year Rule

It’s a simple rule: if you haven’t touched something in the past three years, you probably don’t need it. Applying the rule makes it easy to spot things you won’t miss once they’re gone, making the job of thinning out clutter easier.

Start where the pickings is likely to be ripe, in the deepest, darkest reaches of your kitchen cabinets. Is that an ice cream maker? And a crepe maker? Oh look, a fondue pot–where did that come from? Apply the rule: have you made ice cream, crepes or fondue in the last three years? If the answer is no, out they go.

Be brave and take on your wardrobe. There’s the paisley jacket that still has tags attached from a boutique that closed eons ago. You’ve never really been a paisley kind of person, but you thought maybe you could become one. You were wrong. Next to the jacket are the pants that don’t fit your thighs properly, the sweater that makes your neck itch and the handbag with a strap that bites into your shoulder, which is why none of them have left your closet in at least three years. Time for them to go.

Where next? The garage, the craft room, the linen closet, the basement—anywhere there’s clutter that bothers you. When you donate, hand down or sell your unwanted things, you win twice. Your have more space in your home for things you really use, and you’ve sent the unwanted things on to new owners who will enjoy them.

To spittoon or not to spittoon

You don’t need a brass spittoon. It’s not valuable, it’s not attractive and you can’t even remember where it came from. There is no logical reason to keep it. But for as long as you’ve lived in your home, that spittoon has been sitting on the fireplace hearth. You can’t let it go.

So don’t. At least don’t right now.

When you’re making hundreds of keep, sell, or donate decisions, there are always things that linger until the end because you’re on the fence about keeping them. Designate a special place to gather those items. If it’s a reasonably collection, rather than force a choice that you might regret later, call a time out. Pack them up so you can make a decision when you’re under less pressure.

Photograph the items and label the box so you don’t forget they exist. When you have time and emotional distance from your transition or estate dispersal, unpack and spend some time with them. You may find that even though you no longer have a hearth, that spittoon is fabulous on your dresser filled with poppies and ferns. Or you may find that it isn’t important after all. What matters is that you gave yourself a chance to think about it.

Downsize, Divide and Concur

If you’re moving to a smaller place, you know you won’t need all of the things in your current home.  Deciding what to bring and sharing what’s left with family and friends can be challenging.  Good communication and  advance planning can help make  that process easier.

Feather your new nest first. Determine what you’ll need at your new home. Make a list of the furniture, household necessities and decorative items that you like best, focusing on things that will provide the most comfort, function and style. Think creatively – an armoire can become a pantry or entertainment center; a kitchen table can be a desk; a trunk can be both an end table and extra storage.

Do the math. Once you have your top picks, it’s time to get out a measuring tape, graph paper and pencils. Work with a floor plan of your new home and the dimensions of your furniture pieces to create a proposed layout. Make the design process as concrete as possible, starting with a scale drawing of the rooms and scale representations of your furniture that can be moved around to try different arrangements. If possible, block out your proposed plan on the floor of your new home using blue painter’s tape. You might find that what looked like plenty of room between the couch and an armchair on a drawing is a tight fit in reality.

A place for everything. After deciding where to put your furniture, turn your attention to closets, kitchen cabinets and drawers, and furniture that provides storage space to determine what you will store where. Here again, be specific. Look at the list of kitchen items you’d like to bring and assign each to a cabinet or drawer. The more detailed and realistic you are in this step, the less likely it is that you’ll wind up either giving away something you wish you hadn’t or struggling to accommodate things you don’t really need or have room for.

Make your mark. Once you’ve finished your planning, mark the things that you’ll be taking with removable adhesive stickers in your favorite color. The stickers will help when it’s time to pack boxes as well as let others know that those items are going with you.

Family and friends come next. There likely will be things that you’d like to hand down to others. Perhaps you’ve already decided who will receive the fine china, the sterling flatware, the mantle clock and the bird’s-eye maple rocker. But, confirm that the recipient will truly appreciate your gift. Your son might have loved the sea as a child, but the schooner model might not fit in with his current passion for minimalist décor.

The most important heirlooms are often the ones rich in sentiment, not cash value. Does someone want the cookie jar more than anything else? Or the angel that tops the Christmas tree? Or the painting of the cabin in the woods? Here again, find out by asking. The answers may both surprise you and trigger some pleasant shared memories.

Set your own rules. There is no one best way to divide things among family members. Even the closest of families can find themselves disagreeing. You know your family dynamics – choose a strategy that will minimize friction, and make sure everyone understands the rules before you start. You might spend time with each child individually, and then make the decisions about who gets what yourself. Or perhaps you’d prefer for your children to negotiate with each other. For some families, it’s a priority to ensure that each sibling receives things of equal value; for others, it’s not. If the best way to maintain family harmony is to have the discussion facilitated by a neutral third party, don’t hesitate to bring one in. Also, consider hiring a professional appraiser if necessary.

Can everyone hear me? Communication is key to keeping discussions productive. Whether the dividing of possessions is taking place in person or over long distances, keep the process as transparent as possible. Make sure everyone involved knows the final outcome of these decisions. To avoid disputes later on, write them down and see to it that everyone involved gets a copy, as does the executor of your estate if you’ve chosen one.

Add background information. When it’s time to hand things down, it’s also the perfect time to provide a written history of special treasures, whether they’re high in monetary or sentimental value. Your notes don’t have to be long and formal; even a few words on an index card will be appreciated by future owners. Your Niagara Falls vase will mean even more to your daughter if she knows that you bought it on your honeymoon.

Making notes is particularly important when it comes to photographs. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a parent smiling in a photo from long ago, but having absolutely no idea who they’re with and where they are. Filling in those information gaps can help preserve family memories.

Forward thinking. Take the opportunity to think ahead a generation. If you have grandchildren, chances are that sometime in the future they’ll have their first apartment. Imagine how much they’d enjoy receiving a box packed with a few essentials – a measuring cup, mugs, kitchen utensils, a pair of candlesticks, and, best of all, a note from you.

Outward bound. Now that the discussions and decisions have been completed, it’s time to get things out of your house so you can make forward progress toward your transition. Work with your family or hired helpers to pack stuff up and move it out on a timely basis.

You don’t have to go it alone. A senior move manager can assist you and your family in determining what to bring to your new home and facilitate the process of dividing up no-longer-needed possessions. Having someone who can help you share pictures of belongings with family members all over the country via a digital catalog, as well as with packing and shipping, can make downsizing less stressful and less time-consuming.