Lose the stuff, keep the memories.
There are times in life when we’re faced with a houseful of stuff to clean out. As the owner of Six Houses Estate Sales, I have learned a lot about how to do this well. I have cleaned out, organized, and hosted dozens of sales. Now I want to pass along some of my knowledge to you.
This guide lays out the many options to liquidating your estate, including professional options and ways to do it yourself.
Step 1: Assess your situation.
This is the most difficult step in the process: making a decision. Often the emotional toll of losing a loved one or a major lifestyle change is enough to freeze any forward momentum.
Stress Warning: At some point, the stuff (I mean this literally) you’re avoiding must be handled, not only for your life to move forward but also because leaving stuff to sit decreases its value, limiting your options.
Do I want to keep everything?
Do I want to keep some things and get rid of others?
Do I want to get rid of everything?
This is your step one. Pick one of the above, accept your decision and move forward.
Step 2: When, What, and Where
When: Determine a timeline. Not one year, not six months. Stick with weeks and at the most, two months. Set a completion date and get started today. This is important – a task of this magnitude can drag on and on if you don’t determine a finish date.
What: Pick what you want to keep. Don’t worry about what you don’t want – the only decision you have to make is what you want to keep!
Stress Warning: Just because you have a memory attached to an object does not mean you have to keep that thing. The memory itself will remain if you decide to part with the object. Give yourself permission to make quick decisions about what you can’t bear to part with, and what you can let go.
For furniture and large items, mark with a sticky note what you are keeping and who gets it. After you choose all the items you want to keep, invite family and friends (of your choosing) to select items they want. (Or not, giving away items is optional. You may want to sell your items rather than letting everyone and their neighbor have their pick.)
Note: Be very clear on when people are to pick up their items.
Step 3: Assess What Remains.
This may be a few boxes of small items or it may be a household plus garage, plus guesthouse, plus attic, basement…you get the idea.
If only a few items remain, hooray for you! You did it. Give those boxes to a charity of your choice and pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
If you’re like many people facing estate liquidation, you still have a daunting task ahead. Don’t worry, it’s not as daunting as you think. Read on.
Step 4: Explore Your Options.
Remember, at this stage, you are not obligated to use any of the professional services you may contact for advice, quotes, or service. You have total control. Right now, you’re just exploring your options.
A word of advice: This is not the best time to call on friends or relatives for advice. There are many reasons to hire professional help and only you, the one in charge of final decisions, the one who has to deal with all the stuff if you don’t hire professionals, can make that decision.
Make the best decision to get where you want to be: free of stuff.
So what are the options? Here I cover many options for estate liquidation, some of which may not be available in your area.
Let’s begin with the professionals, then move on to how to liquidate your estate on your own.
I recommend auctions for the following situations:
A. You have a rare collection of recognizable art, baseball cards, coins, or other items that will likely draw a large, national audience.
B. Your estate is not safe to host a sale: rotting floors, caved-in roof, etc.
I recommend estate sales for the following situations:
A. You have a household of everyday items to sell. Unlike an auction where customers must wait for the item they want to come up for bidding, an estate sale allows shoppers to go straight to the item they want and buy it.
B. You do not want to handle the individual sale of items yourself but would like to make some money.
I recommend antique stores and consignment shops for the following situations:
A. You have a single item you wish to sell but don’t know how to value them on your own and don’t want to be part of a consignment auction.
B. You have a few items to sell but don’t want to do it yourself.
I recommend eBay and/or Craigslist in the following situations:
A. You only have a few items to get rid of and are certain of their value.
B. You understand the platform and know how to avoid scams. Each service provides valuable tips for avoiding scammers.
C. You have plenty of time on your hands.
I recommend tag sales for the following situations:
A. You have roughly a garage-full of everyday items to sell.
B. You are comfortable pricing, advertising, and hosting a sale.
C. You have plenty of time on your hands.
I recommend donating for the following situations:
A. You have items which can be resold by thrift stores. Keep in mind they can not take everything and will not accept torn, soiled, or stained furniture.
B. You have a specific church or organization which supports people in need. These nonprofits will normally take immediate use items such as couches, desks, lamps, plates, etc.
C. You do not want or need to make any money from your stuff and prefer a tax write-off.
Step 5: Move forward. Stay Motivated.
If you hire professionals to liquidate your estate, now’s the time to step back and let them work.
If you are handling the next step yourself, commit to a specific timeline to clear out the house. Again, I mean weeks, not months.
I highly recommend reading:
Step 6: Final Clean-out.
If you hired an estate sale company, they can handle the final clean-out for you. Discuss where you would like your stuff to go: keep, sell to a reseller, or donate.
The final stage can be very emotional. Give yourself a day or two to assess what remains and decide what to do with it. This would be a great time to revisit Marie Kondo’s book (above). Once the initial bulk of items is sold or donated, you will find it easier to handle what remains.
Now’s a great time to ask friends or family for help.
A few people working together to remove final items from the house will take only a few hours. Remember to feed them for their help and hard work!
Now that you understand the process, I hope the path ahead is clear with minimal stress. If there’s any other way I can assist you with your estate liquidation email me at email@example.com.
“In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” Deepak Chopra