Downsizing? How to Decide What to Keep, What to Sell and What to Toss

Whether you’re entering retirement or you’re just sick of heating and cleaning a big, empty home, downsizing is on your mind. And so you’re shopping for a new place to live. Maybe you like the idea of a downtown condo or a small cabin by the lake.

Both have their benefits, but storage space is not one of them. That means your downsizing project is going to include ridding yourself of some things. So what stays and what goes?

To get a better idea about how to make these decisions, we spoke with Harry Rinker, radio host, antiques and collectibles expert, and author of the book Sell, Keep, Or Toss? for advice on making these difficult decisions.

Go by category instead of by room

Many people plan to begin sorting things in one room and move throughout the house afterwards. Rinker cautions against this method because it’s easy to postpone tossing anything.

Instead, Rinker says all items in your home should be broken down into three categories. The first is the items you hold most valuable. “If you wake up in the morning, what will you miss the most if you don’t see it?” Rinker asks, adding these items should be kept no matter what. “You should be surrounded by the things you love until the day you die.”

Once you choose all your must-have items, Rinker says you should look for functional items. This group often includes furniture and things you need to live your daily life (think dishes and chairs). Rinker says if you are moving a long distance, you should compare the cost of shipping the item to simply replacing it. It may be more efficient to buy a new item, particularly for large items like tables.

Once necessities and functional items are accounted for, the rest can be left behind. Rinker suggests notifying your family of your intention to downsize and offering items to kids, grandkids or other family members first–if they want them. He adds that it should be their responsibility to move the items themselves if they want them.

After that, he says to review the items that are left and consider selling them at a yard sale, flea market or auction. It’s important, too, to have an honest estimation of the value of your items beforehand. “If you can get 10 to 20 cents on the dollar, you’re ahead of the game,” Rinker says. Anything that doesn’t sell should be donated if possible or thrown away.

Watch for cherry pickers

“The first 10 bucks is easy—it’s the last 10 bucks that kills you,” Rinker says in reference to selling your items. To help you get those last 10 bucks, he recommends selling your items as a collection whenever possible and not allowing auctioneers or others to cherry pick the best items ahead of time, since this negates the value of the rest. Rinker hosts a radio show entitled “What Ya Got?” during which callers can get estimated values for their items. He recommends that people who have concerns about the value of an item contact a skilled appraiser to ensure they get fair value for the piece.

Recognize that it won’t be easy

“Downsizing does involve some hard decisions,” admits Rinker. If you’re unsure of what to do with an item, you should give it a couple of days. If the need for the item persists, you should keep it.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” says Rinker. “It’s not yours anymore, and you have to accept that. If you have second thoughts, then you should have taken it with you.”

In the final post, learn how to organize your move.

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