Your kids don’t treasure your treasures?
When Shelley Shannon remarried recently, she went from a five-bedroom house to a two-bedroom furnished condo in Baltimore City.
“We’re still trying to fit the few things I brought in,” said Shannon, who either sold or gave away 85 percent of her belongings.
“If they aren’t important for this lifetime, they aren’t important,” she said. “When you really want something — and I really love my husband and wanted to be with him — it’s easy to part with the past and look forward to the future.”
The first thing Shannon did when it came to downsizing (increasingly known these days as rightsizing) was ask her family and friends what they wanted. What many people like Shannon these days are finding out, however, is that their family and friends don’t especially want any of their “stuff.”
Fewer things, more experiences
“A lot of kids — and kids can range from millennials all the way up to baby boomers — would rather have money in the bank or to spend on an experience,” said Ron Samuelson, CEO of the family-owned Samuelson’s Diamonds & Estate Buyers in Quarry Lake at Greenspring. “They’re asking themselves, ‘Would you rather have this ring or $20,000?’”
According to the Mayflower 2018 Mover Insights Study, approximately half of millennials surveyed aren’t keeping family heirlooms to pass down to their children. And their parents don’t particularly want their parents’ stuff either.
“Adults from all generations are embracing the value of decluttering through the minimalist movement by shifting away from collecting things and moving toward creating simple, stress-free lives,” according to the survey.
One reason for the “less is more” approach, the survey reports, is that minimalism is a hot design trend for modern homes. But it’s also a way of life, with more people embracing the habit of decluttering.
And then there’s also the economic factor. Many millennials can’t afford to purchase a home, and don’t have the space to keep their family’s heirlooms. Meanwhile, their boomer-age parents are often selling their larger homes, and don’t have the amount of space they once did.
Florida-based senior move manager Jenn Neumann, president of Neu Spaces, sees many older adults who assume their children and grandchildren will appreciate their possessions.
“That’s my cue to have a conversation with them,” said Neumann, a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers. “I have to let them know that no one wants your treasures,” she said, adding that this shouldn’t be taken personally.
“Most of their children haven’t seen these items in many, many years, and forgot they even existed. They’ve already emotionally detached from the items long ago.”
What to keep, sell, trash
Samuelson helps clients who are downsizing make decisions about what to keep, what would be a good investment for family members to hold on to, or what can be let go without dithering too much about it.
“If a piece is sentimental but doesn’t have a lot of financial value, we advise keeping it,” he said, adding that old jewelry frequently has value and can usually be repurposed to be more in keeping with today’s styles. Coins are also worth holding onto, Samuelson advised.
Other items, like furniture, not so much. Large pieces such as dining room breakfronts are being dumped on the market and sell for next to nothing, said Matthew Quinn, an owner of Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Va.
“We see it every day,” said Quinn, who frequently speaks to senior groups about downsizing. “Between our parents living longer and boomers aging themselves, there’s a lot of stuff out there.
“Lladros, Hummels, stamps…you name it, we collected it,” Quinn said of his fellow boomers and their parents. He observed that for many people, collections were a symbol of prosperity. “But today, wealth is no longer connected with objects.”
If you have a collection you love, but your kids or grandkids don’t, Quinn advised keeping just one piece. “You don’t need 50 of something. You have your memories.”
Trying to “guilt” your family members into taking your things isn’t a good idea either, Quinn observed. “They’ll keep it for a while until the guilt wears off and then they’ll call me [to try to sell it].
“Give your loved ones one piece of your collection so they have something that will remind them of you. But don’t burden them with too much.”
When downsizing, Quinn advised focusing on three questions: What do I need every day? What will it cost to move an item? What’s the best charity for me to donate items to?
Downsize before you move
Baltimore County resident Dara Bunjon hasn’t downsized yet, but her ultimate goal is to move out of her house and into a high-rise apartment. “I’ve been widowed for over two years, and don’t need the aggravation that comes with owning a home,” she said.
Bunjon’s husband was an inveterate collator, and she said it could well take her the rest of her life to sell off all his things. Gone so far is a Nikon camera, trains and train memorabilia, guns, record albums, and a turntable and speakers.
She’s currently trying to sell her late husband’s pipes and watches. She has also been selling off through Facebook her collection of more than 300 cookbooks. But she hasn’t even started on her china collection yet (“I hear that the young’uns don’t want china”).
Bunjon said she has also made “donations galore” and in the past five years has filled two trash dumpsters.
Kim Martin and her husband recently moved from North Carolina to Alexandria, Va., for her husband’s job. They downsized from a three-bedroom house with a fenced backyard to a 980 square-foot condo.
“It was difficult and time-consuming,” said Martin, saying that not only did she and her husband have their things, but she had her son’s belongings, as well as items from her parents and her mother-in-law.
“It was emotional to put my hands on items and think about whether I really needed them and what to do with them,” said Martin.
“Lots of items were given to Goodwill or other charities, as I could not store them in a much smaller home. My college-age son told me frankly that there were a lot of things he didn’t want [nor had the space to store them].”
Martin’s advice to others going through the same process is to first acknowledge that it’s going to be a difficult task — both physically and emotionally.
Then start going through each room and asking yourself whether you use the item, are you enjoying it (or is it already packed away and half-forgotten), and would you use it in your new environment?
“I had to become non-emotional about the process, and really be honest with myself,” said Martin. “The reality was that many of the items that were given away did have value — whether financial or sentimental — but were not used.”