What’s stuff worth?


That’s a good question. And one that almost everyone making a downsizing transition asks. Like most things in life, there isn’t a black and white answer. But, really, what is your stuff worth, and how do you find out?

Lots of things have worth or value. That value is almost entirely unrelated to the purchase price. Value is something determined in real time. The value of stuff can change dramatically from year to year, decade to decade. The thing itself hasn’t changed, but it’s value has. How inconvenient! But ahhhh, how true.

There are three kinds of value: financial, sentimental or psychological. And while you have limited control over financial value, you have lots of power to determine the sentimental or psychological value of things. Let’s look at why:

Financial Value

The financial value of an item is what someone is willing to pay for it. Here’s the formula:

Formula for determining financial value of items

It’s a little like alchemy. Things that there are fewer of, that are in good condition and that are in demand are worth more financially than things there are abundant quantities of that aren’t as desired.

Things that are scarce are things that might have been sent to the thrift store or the landfill (oh the horror!) years ago because they weren’t viewed as “valuable.” (Translation: they didn’t cost very much.) Some examples: supermarket china in good condition is often more valuable than fine china, vintage cookbooks and children’s books that are out of print are often more prized than new books, old blue jeans are usually more valuable on a resale market than new ones. Since there are fewer of those items around and there is demand for them, the price is higher if you are selling them.

Things that were costly when you bought them, like dining room tables, hutches and upholstered furniture, are often donations because the market is currently saturated with them. The well-worn basement workbench with a good vintage patina is probably worth more at resale than the dining room table. (Of course, the workbench wouldn’t go back to the cellar, it would more likely become a piece of furniture in a rustic cottage home.) Furniture tastes have changed. 1980s style furniture, for example, is not in high demand. Exceptions are signed design pieces and trend design pieces. It’s hard to stay up on what’s popular—many clients are surprised to find out that Lucite and acrylic pieces from the 1970s and 1960s Italian gesso Florentine pieces are both is having a renaissance and are in demand.

Sentimental Value

There are no pricing guides for sentimental value, you can’t slap a ruler on it to measure its size and you can’t calculate the ROI for keeping it or letting it go. All you can know is it means a great deal to you. How much does it mean, here’s our formula:

Formula for determining sentimental value of items2

To break it down, the sentimental value lies in the memories an object holds, the history of where it came from and how happy it makes you when you see it. If when you sit at your writing desk, you can see your mom sitting there and she could see her mom sitting there, that piece is dripping in lovely sentimental value. The same is often true for kitchenware and china, clocks, photos and scrapbooks, and art.

Things that mark milestones like diplomas and anniversary plates might have virtually no sentimental value. The event was important, the ephemera associated with it is not. But a kindergarten report card? Hard to replace, highly sentimental.

The next generation may not have high sentimental value for things that you adore. But just like you did when you were younger, they have formed their own sentimental attachments to things that were part of their life.

Psychological Value

Things with high psychological value are not wrapped in memories, nor are they unusually valuable. They are things that make your life better. They may not be as bright and shiny as when you first got them, but they have form and function to get you through the day. Here’s how to analyze that:

Formula for determining psychl value of items-2


These are things that are useful, in that they are used regularly. They are familiar—you know how they work and how best to use them. And they provide a level of comfort in their predictability. Things that fit into the category of high psychological value are your favorite coffee cup, your chair and side table, your favorite pots and pans and perhaps your small electronics like your clock or a radio.

When you’re making a move, there are those that might encourage you to replace those things with things that are newer, because they are probably showing their age. But if these are things that make every day better for you, you can almost always find a way to make them a part of your new nest.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

So what are things worth? At the end of the day, you bought things to use them. If they have some resale value now, that is a bonus. You bought them, you used them, you are getting something back. And those things will probably not be the things you are expecting them to be. But the things that have the most worth to you are those with sentimental and psychological value. Those are the things that are too valuable to put a price on.



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.

De-cluttering: a work in progress

We could all do with a little less.  Weeding out things you  no longer need  is essential if you plan to move into a smaller home,  but it can make life better even if you’re staying right where you are.  Get a start with these tips:

Give yourself time. As we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ve spent a lifetime accumulating wonderful things; don’t expect that you can sort through it all in a weekend.

Start small. The cluttered area that vexes you the most is the perfect place to begin. But instead of taking on your entire basement or dining room at once, start with one drawer, one cabinet, one shelf. Breaking de-cluttering into small manageable segments can keep you from giving up in frustration.

Take advantage of momentum. When it comes to clearing clutter, remember that the anticipation is always worse than the reality.  If you’ve broken the job into manageable pieces, you’ll find that each sorting session gets a little easier. Decisions require less thought and you can feel the positive effect of your forward motion.

Keep what matters. Keep for yourself the things that you use frequently, that make you happy and that you cherish most. The items that have the most value for you are not necessarily your most expensive possessions.

Think positive. It’s easy to get bogged down in lamenting the things you’re giving up. Instead, try thinking of it as an editing of your possessions, and focus on the new life that the items you’re gifting, selling or donating will have with new owners who appreciate and use them.

Touch it once. Set up boxes for things to be donated, sold or given to family members. As you sort through items, pack each one carefully so you can just seal the box and send them on their way.

Share it forward. Take advantage of your transition to hand down heirlooms to family and friends. Provide a bridge to future generations by writing down the history of the items. A simple note gives meaning and context to things as elegant as a silver dresser set or quaint as grandmother’s cookie jar.

The price is right. Selling no-longer-needed items is a win-win situation. A happy buyer gets a treasure, and you get a little folding money. Consider a yard sale, an online auction site or a consignment shop. If you have a substantial amount goods that you want to sell, a professional sale organizer can be a great resource. Be sure to ask for and to contact references before signing a contract.

Know what you have. It’s tough to estimate the value of an antique or collectible if you’re not an expert.  A piece of china may be a fine thing to have, but it’s not always a valuable one. Conversely, some novelty items command high prices from collectors.  A little digging around on the internet can turn up good clues about the value of an item. If in doubt, hire a reputable appraiser.

Help others. Items that are no longer needed but still serviceable are welcomed by charities. Keep a list of your donations for tax purposes. Don’t donate things that are broken, stained or torn. Social services organizations work hard enough without having to take extra time to dispose of unusable items.

Don’t go it alone. The old adage that many hands make light work is never truer than when you’re clearing clutter. Having helpers to box items for sale and donation, pack for a move and keep track of what’s going where is invaluable.