Archive for the ‘Estate Organizing’ Category

Overcome heirloom guilt and still keep the memories

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Heirloom china set

I have three rules I ask my clients to agree to when I start an organizing or downsizing project with them.

Rule #1: I only work with the owner of the decision when it comes to deciding what is kept vs. not kept (sold, donated, tossed).

Rule #2: The owner of the decision cannot be overruled unless they explicitly delegate their decision to someone else.

Rule #3: If you were given items from family or friends, whether you wanted them or not, you and only you are the owner of the decision.

Most of us know when a gift is given. Usually it’s done with the receiver in mind.

Sometimes things are given (or kept) because the giver and receiver don’t know what else to do; They don’t want it but they can’t just toss it.

When the giver does this it’s called re-gifting.
When the receiver keeps it, but doesn’t really want it, it’s called…stuck.

“I can’t just give away my grandma’s china to anyone! I would feel terrible. Maybe my daughter or granddaughter will take it off my hands.”

Problem solved. I don’t have to feel guilty…you can!

Love Grandma but not her stuff

But what good is a gift given – or kept – out of guilt? How does that honor grandma’s memory?

Things are just things until we impose an external value onto them.

Even an item that’s worth something does not make it valuable to the owner unless they feel connected to it in some way – emotionally, aesthetically, practically.

“I loved Grandma and remember her using this china. I would like to have it because it reminds me of her.”

But what if you loved Grandma but her china is simply not your style? It doesn’t fit the way you live because every piece has to be hand-washed or you don’t have room for it in your tiny home?

Keep in mind there is likely someone somewhere who will enjoy it for what it is, even without the sentimental attachment.

Three decision-making questions

As the owner of the decision, you get to decide.  Here’s an easy way to make a guilt-free decision.

Grab the box of china, take another good look at it and ask yourself these three questions:

Question #1. “Would I buy this for myself if I saw it in a store or thrift shop?”  If no, you probably don’t want it but still feel attached in some way. Go to question #2.

Question #2. “Are there any individual pieces I can use that I like?”

­The soup tureen repurposed as a vase. A single teacup and saucer to enjoy a morning cup of tea?

Keeping one or two pieces from the set will make it easier to give away the rest. Alternately, you could take a picture of it and preserve the memory that way.

Don’t worry about breaking up the set unless it is super valuable and chances are it isn’t. If you want to check the value, you can look up the pattern on Replacements Ltd.

Question #3. Is there some place or someone nearby who would take it?  If you are working with a professional organizer, they will be super helpful here.

Consider thrift shops, antique stores, school auctions, a church rummage sale or swap meet. There are also traditional charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet. You could also post it online – check out Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle.

Still not sure, do a Google search, “donate china set near me” (Keep in mind some places may still be closed due to the current Covid health emergency, so call first. )

While this generally takes longer you get the satisfaction of giving it directly to someone who wants it. Just don’t look for the “perfect” solution. Perfection is a convenient ploy for procrastinators.

Once you’ve decided, let it go as soon as you can. You’ll feel so much freer for having done so and trust me, Grandma won’t mind.

 

Lis McKinley
Owner
LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC

 

 

 

Downsizing for retirement: how to let go when your heart says no

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Lis Golden McKinley, M.A.
Certified Professional Organizer
Owner, LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC

Older_man_holding_Teddy_Bear

 

It’s time. You’ve set aside the day, taken off work, brought in the garbage bags and the packing boxes. No more excuses. It’s you versus the clutter. This time you intend to win because you’ve decided to put your house up for sale.

The late comedian George Carlin used to say,

“Your house is just a place for your stuff. If you didn’t have so much G-D stuff, you wouldn’t need a house!?”

But what happens when your stuff is too connected to memories? Carlin joked no one wants that stuff either but guess what they do!

When I say stuff, I don’t only mean furniture and household items. I mean the sentimental stuff you’ve buried in your closet or shoved into the back of an attic or basement. Stuff like your son’s grade school artwork, even though he’s in college now. Grandpa’s set of World War II history books. The two crocheted baby blankets grandma made for your kids.

Keep them for the grandkids!” You protest and back into the closet it goes. Except you have way too much in your closet already. So instead you pay hundreds of dollars a month to store stuff you can’t bear to part with at the local public storage.

That’s when it hits you. It’s not only your house you have to downsize, but your storage unit too.

Exasperated, you slump down in your arm chair and wonder, “how am I going to do this?” and pour yourself another glass of wine.

As Baby Boomers get older – and by the way, I’m one of them — they start thinking about their health and the desire to simplify their lives.

75% of people who want to downsize their lives say they can’t. The reason? They have too much stuff, according to research conducted by Kansas University.

The number one reason baby boomers can’t declutter is they are often sentimentally attached to what they own. There are just too many painful decisions that have to be made about what to keep or go. “No thanks,” they utter, “I’d rather have a root canal.”

The good news is you don’t have to throw the baby-doll out with the bathwater. Instead, you can actually feel good about letting go. Less regret, guilt or incurring the wrath of your family.

It is important to remember that not everything you are sentimental about has to go. Instead, the key is taking the time to curate your collection of sentimental items and giving away what you don’t want to the right people (or places).

Curating is about deciding what is going to be part of your permanent collection and what isn’t and where it can go. It also includes saying goodbye, with gratitude, to the things that have served out their purpose and forgiving yourself for doing the best you can to dispose of them responsibly.

As a Certified Professional Organizer and Move Manager based in Oakland, California, I have helped hundreds of clients achieve their own vision of a more simple and organized life for retirement.

Part of this process always involves making decisions about the items we most commonly get attached to: Books, clothing, photographs, sentimental cards and letters, memories – both ours and our kids.

When it’s time to curate these items, I find it useful to think about them in three ways:

  • Say goodbye with gratitude
  • Keep for my new life
  • Give to others

Say goodbye with gratitude

This collection contains items that are damaged beyond repair or are not worth your time or money to repair.

You can appreciate what they were in their original form and know that their time has come to an end. Anything that still makes you sad to let go of, you can take a picture of. That way you will still have the memory of the item.

Keep for my new life

This collection contains your favorites. Items you love so much you would use or display again. The ones that you would remember and miss if they disappeared. Better yet, they are the ones that fit into your new, simplified lifestyle. These are the best of the best!

Give to others (or giving items new life elsewhere)

This collection contains both high quality and useable quality items you don’t want. They could be of a high enough quality you could sell or consign them, or special enough that you would prefer to give them to a particular person or organization. In other words your decision to let them go is contingent on them getting to the right recipient or organization. This collection also includes useable quality items that could be donated to charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet

If they are not sellable but the recipient is important to you, do an online search by type in your area. For example “Senior center thrift shop near me.”  There’s a wonderful place in San Francisco called SCRAP that accepts donations of all types of craft and teaching materials (though they are closed temporarily due to Covid-19). Here are a few other examples of unique places to donate your higher quality items. (Due to Covid-19 some of these will be temporarily closed. Check before going.)

  • Senior center thrift shop
  • Church, school or charity auction
  • Thrift shop for a charity you support such as cancer research
  • Local animal shelter
  • Children’s thrift shop for low income moms
  • Re-use/repurpose non-profits

There are also online websites such as Nextdoor.com where you can post your unwanted items. Be careful not to post your personal information. Instead ask people to direct message you if they want your item.

Use “Say goodbye with gratitude,” “Keep for my new life” and “Give to others” with other types of sentimental items you have. Here are few tips for downsizing other sentimental household items:

Books
(If you are downsizing and you have an excess and need space)

First decide on the greatest number of bookshelves you will keep so you will know how much you need to downsize.

Keep books you still refer to or hold special memories or can’t find online.

Donate duplicate books, books you’ve never read, are not likely to read or don’t hold interest for you. Also donate books from a previous chapter of your life.  Someone is bound to appreciate them.  Take them to your local library or college. Most Goodwill stores will also accept books for donation but not text books.

Recycle any that have mold. Mold travels and will contaminate other books.

Sentimental Cards and Letters
(If you have more than will fit into a banker box or small suitcase)

These are often the hardest to let go. Keep the ones that express a personal sentiment to you, not a generic greeting. You can also photograph these and let the physical card go.

Toys and Childhood Memorabilia
(Yours or your adult children)

This is the stuff you’ve tossed in a “keep” box but never looked at except when you’ve moved. It could be anything from rocks you collected, to tickets stubs, to small medals you received as a kid to souvenirs from family trips.

They best represent the “memories” of your childhood. It’s likely none of it is valuable, unless it’s in its original packaging and in pristine condition. If you’re not sure, you can always check sites like Etsy or Ebay.

First sort those into two piles – usable quality and higher quality. As you come across anything that that you don’t want but are afraid of forgetting, take a picture of it! That way you will always have the memory.

If the items are small, you can display them in a large fishbowl, brandy snifter or inside a shadow box. I’ve seen these for just about out every imaginable collectible: medals, matchboxes, toy cars, record albums, sports memorabilia even old postcards.

Check out some “memorabilia storage” ideas on Pinterest or Etsy If you’re not up to this, ask someone in your family who has a talent for crafts or art to do it for you. What a perfect birthday or Christmas present!

If you wouldn’t pay to have the items repurposed into something new, chances are you don’t love it enough to keep it. You can always take a picture of it if you’re scared of losing the memory. If it’s a small quantity of items you are keeping, give them a home in a small treasure box. I always think of a the little cigar box the character Scout kept under her bed from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Giving away sentimental items to the right place or person is what makes it possible for you to let them go

Don’t use your kids as a reason to keep stuff that you don’t have room for in your new home. If possible, ask them to come and get it by a certain date. If they live far away or don’t care, let them know your plan to donate whatever is usable. Keep your favorites, the ones you consider “heirlooms” and limit them to no more than will fit into a small bin or box. Your kids won’t miss the rest and neither will you.

A final note about trash, landfill and forgiveness

It’s likely you will have to throw out more than you intended. Recycle as much as you can but accept the limitations of what is and is not recyclable in your community.

When you bought it 30 or 40 years ago, you weren’t thinking about whether it was recyclable. You needed it and it served its purpose. Again, dispose of it with gratitude. If it has to go to landfill, forgive yourself. Know that you have learned to be a more responsible citizen and consumer. Now you can enjoy and maintain your simple and spacious new life with the things you love the most.

 

 

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How Home Organizing Brings Your Family Together

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Family Closet

Editor’s Note:

Nanette is a home organizer who works with me as an associate of LET’S MAKE ROOM. We haven’t worked or seen each other in more than two months.  She and her husband, two adult children and their dog are sheltering-in-place during the Covid-19 health emergency.

Yesterday she shared a personal story with me of using this time to attend to her own home organizing projects. She is looking ahead to a time after her kids have moved on, when she may be ready to sell her home. Having worked with me for years, Nanette knows how the task of downsizing for a move can be daunting so she recently decided to take on a couple of her own projects.

Nanette’s story illustrates just how personally satisfying it can be to embark on a home organizing project, any time, but especially now, when families have the benefit of being home together more than usual. Here is her story:


The “shelter-in-place” order was the perfect opportunity to organize our cluttered storage closet. My 24-year-old daughter and 20-year old-son have been here with us and my husband is working from home.

The closet held toys, keepsakes, books, table linens, photos and homeless items.

With everyone home I could get their input on what they wanted to keep and what could I could donate.

I began by emptying the closet and sorting items by owner – me, my husband, daughter and son. I asked each to sort their items into two piles; “keep” or “donate.”  Each accomplished the task in their own unique way.

Our daughter sorted through her items alone and needed no help in her decision making. She donated all her collectible dolls, which she never liked, even though I had saved them for her. She kept the toys and keepsakes she felt connected to and that were usable or could be displayed.

At first, our 20-year old son said, “Mom you decide because I don’t know what I should keep.”

I got him started by sorting his bins and asked him first to decide on the big items. I am glad I did as I didn’t expect him to keep the miniature baseball bats. I then took the smaller items and sorted ‘like with like’ and asked him to keep what he wanted.

He grabbed toys he said he remembered playing with and he combed through looking for all the extra parts.

When done, my son told me sorting items into smaller categories helped him make decisions.

After dinner that evening, while we all still were at the table, our son picked up a box of his medals and sorted them. He selected the medals he wanted to keep and shared the rationale for keeping each medal.

After completing the task our daughter said she had kept all her medals and she later sorted hers as well.

The stack of beautiful table linens that I have never used, got donated. While beautiful and given to me by family members, they are not something I ever used. The matching napkins I kept as I do use linen napkins.

The silver items, all blackened from sitting in storage, unused, got sorted. My husband’s silver baby cup got cleaned and moved into the cabinet. The tarnished candelabra went into the Halloween bin. The utensils got polished and moved into the kitchen. Everything we kept now had a home.Everything else we donated. (Actually stored until the donation sites can open).

My husband did not want to make decisions right away so I put the items he had not made decisions about on his desk. He will make a decision at some point but I decided not to store the items until he committed.

My husband painted the closet and installed movable-shelves, replacing our fixed wood shelves.

I reused the smaller bins and stored the frequently-used items on the upper shelves.

I rolled my table runners and put them into a basket on the floor which opened up shelving.

I ordered a wrapping station to mount on a side wall.

I have more space to use for new items that come into our home and I love being able to find what I need.

Now I have a great functioning storage closet.

 

 

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a collector. Why can’t I get organized?

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The answer? It’s not because you are a collector. It’s because you don’t know why you are collecting.

Having collections in and of itself does not make you disorganized. If that were true every museum and gallery in the world would be a cluttered mess.

It’s more likely your collections need to be reviewed for their personal relevance to you the same way a museum, gallery or boutique will display and collect their collections to fit their particular vision, style or mission.

Are you collecting items that have meaning to you or are you attached to them for another reason? If your mother passed, and you have everything she ever owned, how is that honoring her memory? How does that enhance your life? Is that a collection or just a collection of stuff?

There is no such thing as the clutter-police.

No one is going to come to you and say, “you can’t get rid of that!” unless you let them. If an heirloom was given to you, you are the owner of that decision. Not the person who gave it to you. Not even your spouse or your children. Just you.  If you don’t like something you were given, someone else will. I was given a gift of a cookbook from a friend but I know I will never use it. Instead I am giving it to someone who I know will love it.

You probably have more collectibles than you have room to store them.  Prioritize which of those collectibles you want on display or to use yourself. The rest are just things taking up space. Consider giving them new life somewhere else as a gift or donation.

Your decision about what and how much to store, will depend on your available space and of course how much value they have to you.

Outside or external storage is like buying a house just for your things! Is that worth it to you?

You can be both “a collector” and still suffer from chronic hoarding disorder, a mental health disorder in which an individual excessively saves items that the consensus among the general public would be to view as worthless or to such excess as to render their living space uninhabitable or non-functioning.

Assuming you do not fit the criteria for hoarding disorder, (people aren’t hoarders, they have hoarding disorder) there are several possible causes of why you are disorganized.

Here are the most typical barriers to organizing your collections:

  1. Time. You perceive or believe you don’t have the time to get organized. You may have other more pressing or important priorities. Any organizing task, no matter how small requires some time investment. Even a minute can make a difference in how much time you spend tidying up your home. Spend a minute now, save hours later.  Take a moment now and think of all the things you could do if you just had one minute to do them. For example: Hang up a coat. Toss the junk mail. Empty the dish drying rack. Empty a trash can. Can you think of more? Getting organized is a habit not an event.
  2. Space. You have more things than you have space for. It’s a simple equation to fix.   Less stuff = more space for what you love, use and collect. There’s no getting around it. If you moved from a three-bedroom home with a cluttered garage into a two bedroom condo with no garage, you will have more stuff than you have room for. Even if you have the same amount of square footage, you will still need storage. This would include both built in storage such as closets and cabinets, as well as furniture that is built for storage. In short, you have to be willing to edit and purge what you no longer love, want or use.
  3. Mindset. Getting organized requires a large degree of logic, attention to detail, system thinking,  creativity, physical endurance, mental focus and to put it bluntly, a willingness to do it. Inertia, whether physical or emotional (caused by depression, anxiety or attention deficits) can be a huge impediment to getting and staying organized. Untreated mental or emotional issues can lead to other more serious conditions or risks. Consult with a physician or mental health provider about whether your own mindset may be interfering with your organizing goals. If you consider yourself “chronically” disorganized, check out the public resources available from The Institute for Chronic Disorganization
  4. Strategies. Even with plenty of time, space and readiness, you will need to have a plan for how to tackle different types of clutter. Is it things you are trying to organize or paper?  In my work with clients I approach these two types of clutter very differently. Organizing things tends to be easier for most people because their value is easier to assess, practical and emotional.  People struggle more with paper out of fear and a lack of clarity about what to keep and what can be safely tossed. Explore the web or your library for tips on organizing from others and see what’s worked for them.
  5. Purpose. The old expression if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there is true for organizing as well. Sometimes the goal is easy, such as clearing out a house to sell or decluttering a garage enough to fit a car. Most of the time the purpose is more intangible such as a desire to feel more peace and wellbeing or a desire to feel more comfortable having people over.  Ask yourself, “why do I want to do this?”
  6. Scope. No matter how motivated you are, sometimes an organizing task is just too big to do alone or the urgency too great. That’s when it may be time to call in ‘the troops.’  Put the word out to (nonjudgemental) friends. Reach out to local organizers in your area. Do a Google search for “professional home organizer near me.” Post a help wanted ad at your local community college for help or ask other trusted professionals in your life for a referral to a professional organizer. You can also check out the National Association of Organizing and Productivity Professionals or the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Just enter your zip-code and it will list credentialed or qualified organizing professionals near you.

Getting organizing requires a compelling purpose. What’s yours?

  • Just a desire to get organized is not enough to overcome the physical and emotional barriers that may keep you stuck in clutter.
  • Resolve to let go of things that no longer have value for you, even if they once did or if they were given to you by a loved one or friend.
  • Explore whether your mindset or other inhibiting conditions may be keeping you from meeting your goals.
  • Finally, gather your tools or more specifically your strategies. Have a plan to know what you will do in different circumstances or with different types of items. Struggle with downsizing books? Google tips on “how to organize your library.” Need help organizing your massive amount of clothing? Google “Wardrobe editing decision tree.”

Now that you know where, why, how and when,  decide whether you can do it alone or if you need help. Either way, congratulate yourself for making the decision to make more room in your life for what matters most.

 

How to find a new home for your old sofa

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Imagine you are moving (or remodeling) and you’ve decided not to keep your sofa or couch.

By the way a sofa is typically larger than a couch, seating four or more people whereas a couch is generally smaller, seating three or less. Now you know!

What do you do with your sofa (or couch) if you no longer want it?

As a relocation specialist and professional organizer, I see this come up with practically every home I downsize and every move I manage.

The answer will always depend on its condition and where you live. There are many potential solutions but you will first need to ask yourself these four questions about your used sofa:

  1. Is it practically new – less than four years old or an antique –  and in great condition? You may be able to sell or consign it.
  2. Is it four or more years old and in very good condition and definitely still usable without stains, tears or fading? You still may be able to sell it or donate it or offer it for free to someone in your community.
  3. Is it torn, ripped, stained or faded or in need of cleaning?  You may be able to arrange to have it picked up by your local waste management company’s bulk pick up service and depending upon how its manufactured it may (or may not) be recycled by them.
  4. Are you very concerned about it ending up in landfill? You may be able to recycle it but be prepared to pay for that. Recyclers generally won’t pick it up unless you are disposing of a large quantity – think dumpster – of items. On top of that you will probably have to pay recycling fees.

The biggest challenge in finding new homes or disposing of sofas and other large furniture typically comes down to time and transportation.

Time comes into play because scheduling a truck pick up of your gently used, usable or discarded item(s) must be done in advance, since many charities book as much as six weeks in advance.

If you are planning to move to relocate or remodel, be sure to add “sell/donate furniture” to your to-do list at least two months ahead of your move.

Why a so long? Let’s say you scheduled a charity to pick up your sofa. All charities will leave it up to the discretion of the driver as to whether or not to take your sofa. If they reject it when they arrive, you may then only have two weeks or so to find another solution before your move date. Chances are that means you will either have to schedule a hauler, which can be costly, a bulk pick up (if your city/county offers such a service) which also requires advance notice or find a way to move and transport it yourself; Rarely an option for most people in the midst of a move, especially if you are a senior or live alone.

 TIP: Plan ahead and read on to know your options.  By the way, these options apply to other large items of furniture as well.

Sell/Consign – For items that are practically new and in pristine or “gently used” condition, constructed from real materials (not particle board or composite wood) and of course, in demand, such as mid-century, some antiques, high-end contemporary and designer brands. you can try both local and on-line estate sellers.

TIP: Do a web-search for “Estate sellers near me” or “Furniture consignment stores near me” These searches will bring up both local as well as online options (The RealReal.com sells high quality pre-owned sofas to buyers throughout the U.S. Be sure to inquire about their policies and procedures for viewing and selling your items.)

Private Sale – For sofas that are in good condition but may be older or in less demand, or not acceptable to estate sellers or consignment services, try online selling sites like Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, LetGo, OfferUp or Trove. Plan well in advance to post your item on these sites as you are competing with many others who are selling similar items.

If your item doesn’t sell within three weeks of your move, consider other options. Keep in mind, you will also have to deal directly with the buyer and he/she will likely need to enter your home to collect and pay for the items. Some online sites will process payments for you and take a commission. For neighborhood sites, I recommend requiring cash only.

If you live alone, make sure to have someone there with you. If you are disabled or not particularly strong, you will need to let the buyer know to come with help. Carefully consider your personal safety before selling anything to a private buyer.

Donation – As Baby Boomers age and downsize, there is a glut of items being donated. So much so that charities can be much pickier about what they take. Most charities train their drivers to carefully inspect items. Pick up is always at the driver’s discretion. This can be a huge issue if you have a hard deadline to meet to be out of your home.

TIP: If you are remodeling, ask your contractors if they would move your sofa for you to the street for hauling.

Most charities will want to see photos of your sofa. Be sure to send them good quality photos, at least three, including front, side and back views and be absolutely candid about your item’s condition. Also, inform the charity about access to the item including outside and inside stairs, long hallways or whether or not there is an elevator.

I recently had a charity reject my client’s sofa because the driver and his assistant did not want to transport the item down a long flight of stairs.

TIP: Do a web search for “charities that offer truck pickup near me” to locate charities that offer free truck pick up of your donated furniture and household items.

Charities are looking for items that are sellable so don’t expect them to take anything that is damaged, in need of cleaning or repair.  To locate a charity that offers free truck pickup, check out http://donationtown.org/ but be prepared to enter your contact information on their website. You can also contact charities directly such as Salvation Army (SATruck.org), Habitat for Humanity Restores (San Francisco Bay Area only) or Out of The Closet.

One other option for donating your older but good quality sofa is to make it available for free to people in your community through sites such as Freecycle, Nextdoor or through the “free stuff” tab on Craigslist. If you can spare the time, having someone come and get your old sofa is in fact money in your pocket. Why? Because unless you have strong kids who are available exactly when you need them to help, you may end up paying for the labor it would cost you to have your sofa moved curbside for the bulk pickup: An unexpected expense and logistics issue often overlooked in crunch time.

Recycling/Disposal – You know that old sofa you’ve had for 20 years, the one that is covered in an old blanket because underneath your pets destroyed it? This is the sofa that no one wants but you will still need to dispose. In Oakland, California where I live, both the City and the County offer, free curbside bulk pick up. This is the last available free option for large old sofas and other large household debris that can’t be simply tossed in the trash.

TIP: Call your local waste management company to see if they offer bulk pick up service. You will still need to get your old sofa to your curb. If you live alone, or are a senior, you may have to hire a helper.

I recently used an online app called Lugg to help a client who needed to get her sofa and other items on the curb for bulk pick up. They are a platform for movers, haulers and helpers, for when you need a little or a lot of muscle.

In Oakland, the local waste management company will sort items and if they can be all or partially recycled they will be, I am told. But if you are very concerned about the footprint you leave on the environment, there may still be other options for keeping your sofa (or at least most of it) out of the landfill but it will most likely cost you.

Check out a website called, Earth911.com to find a recycling facility near you.  It may not be free and you will either have to arrange to transport your sofa yourself to a local recycler or pay to have it hauled.

The bottom line is no matter which option you choose, plan ahead. You want to have a Plan B (donate) and possibly even a Plan C (haul) if your original Plan A, to sell or give away your sofa falls through. Trust me, the last thing you (or your real estate agent) want to see the day you move is the ugly, torn, pet-stained sofa, you couldn’t get rid of still in your empty home.

Give Mom what she really wants! Less paper clutter, more family time

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Mother_and_Daughter

This year, why not give your Mom what she really wants for Mother’s day.

More time to spend with her family, and less time to feel overwhelmed by her clutter, especially all that paper!

Here’s what you can do:  Suggest to Mom that you’d like to give her the gift of organization so she can feel more in control of her life and less stressed by all the paper clutter in her home.  You can help her yourself or better yet, hire a Certified Professional Organizer, who can quickly identify and sort all it all.  Once sorted, you can purge what’s no longer needed and contain what’s left either in labeled paper or digital files according to your mother’s preference and ability.

If you decide to do this yourself, make it a time not just to plow through those piles but also to share the memories with Mom.  Whatever you do though, don’t chastise Mom for keeping everything. No one was born with an “organizing gene” and the rules around paper have changed considerably since she was young, especially now that we are in a digital age though she may not be.

Most of what we keep, as much as 80% according to several studies, we never refer to again. Old bills, especially utility bills, make up the bulk of what I’ve seen the most of when helping my clients tame their paper piles.

I’ve seen floors literally buckle under the weight of boxes upon boxes of retained paper.

Even if all the paper in these boxes were accidentally tossed the chances of needing anything in them is statistically small. That being said, there is always a chance that those boxes contain confidential information so to protect your Mom’s identity I recommend you arrange to have it picked up by a residential document destruction company in your area.

Shredding these papers protects your Mom from others using her confidential information fraudulently.  If you chose to to this yourself, be especially mindful when you are tossing documents containing the following:

  • Social Security Number (in full)
  • Credit Card Account Number (in full)
  • Driver’s License Number (in full)
  • Medical Record Number (in full)
  • Account Number (in full)

In recent years the practice of including full account numbers has changed to protect individual identities but that has not always been the case. If your Mom has kept documents for more than 10-15 years, it’s possible some contain this type of confidential information.  Note however, documents that contain just a name, address and phone number are part of public record (remember old phone books?) and nothing can be done with this information alone so it’s safe to recycle these.

To get started, you will need a cardboard or plastic box labeled “SHRED”  to contain documents for destruction. You will also need a supply of paper bags or boxes labeled “RECYCLE”  and a smaller receptacle for “TRASH” such as the plastic that contains magazines and other junk mail.  Lastly, you will also need a work surface. If table space is scarce, use a folding table or large ironing board if available. Use a “sharpie” for labeling if needed.

These record retention and destruction recommendations are general best practices and not intended to replace the advice for you or your Mother’s specific situation, especially if she is ill, disabled, or in dispute with the IRS.  In these cases, consult with your tax preparer or another legal professional.

SORT

To get you started, start with whatever loose paper is most visible on surfaces, tables, desks or the floor. Open all mail and sort all items, including individual files and documents into the following 5 categories:

  1. Financial
  2. Medical
  3. Legal
  4. Home
  5. Personal

Financial includes: old and unpaid bills, store receipts paid in cash (if you are tracking your mother’s cash expenditures), bank statements, investment statements, tax returns, pension documents, social security information

Medical includes: Medical history, prescription records, explanations of benefits, prescription receipts,  and health insurance and/or Medicare documents specific to your Mom

Legal includes: Life insurance policies, veteran records, estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, health proxies or living wills, birth, adoption, marriage and death certificates

Home includes: Property insurance records such as home and auto, mortgage records including records of satisfied mortgages, appliance warrenties

Personal includes: Educational and work history, cards, letters and other correspondence, general reference such as “project” or “idea” files.  Binders that contain old training material, photographs,  professional or published papers written or contributed to by your Mom and anything of a personal nature that could not be replaced if lost.

PURGE

As you do this you can toss the following: empty mailing envelopes, obvious junk mail, expired coupons, store receipts paid by by credit or debit card and old user guides or warranty information for products or appliances no longer owned.  Keeping a focus on sorting will make purging later go that much faster.

Next purge (shred or recycle) the following from each of the five piles:

  • Financial: Old paid bills, store receipts for low value items, checks from closed accounts, investment statements except current month or quarter, tax returns from more than seven years ago. ATM receipts – unless tracking cash withdrawals
  • Medical: Outdated medical information, explanations of benefits, receipts for prescriptions paid by insurance, any documents not specific to your Mom such as marketing and general information
  • Legal: Cancelled life insurance policies, cancelled or expired contracts
  • Home: Cancelled insurance policies, repair records for cars no longer owned, mortgage bills already paid, any reference material not referred to in over a year or that can easily be found elsewhere or online. Anything printed off the internet.
  • Personal: Any personal reference material that has not been referred to in over a year (such as old recipes, remodel ideas, maps, wellness or hobby information, old magazines, binders containing old training material, greeting cards signed by unknown people, out-dated resumes, any document that can be easily found online.  Children’s school records and drawings if not displayed. Take a digital photo instead. Personal papers such as these will most likely take up the bulk of your Mom’s paper files.

KEEP and CONTAIN (either file or scan)  

Use this as a guide for setting up your paper or or electronic file system

FINANCIAL RECORDS

  • Tax returns and current tax information including receipts used for deductions for future tax returns
  • Bank statements and investment statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – most recent three months unless your Mom will be applying for assistance under Medicaid or MediCal. In this case she will need the last 5 years of bank statements.
  • Credit card statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – last three months only
  • Life insurance by policy name – keep while active
  • Social security account information
  • Pension documents

MEDICAL RECORDS

  • Records of health history, prescriptions taken and major conditions
  • Lists of physicians, specialists and other providers seen or consulted with
  • Insurance/Medicare/MediCaid account information

LEGAL RECORDS

  • Estate planning documents (birth, adoption, marriage, death certificates)
  • Heath proxies, power of attorney documents
  • Veteran records
  • Records of satisfied contracts or any current contracts

HOME RECORDS

  • Mortgage documents for current home
  • Records of recently paid household bills (less than one year) – if possible, set up auto pay and have bills issued paperlessly via email.
  • Records of property insurance (home, auto, other assets)
  • Warranties, appraisals or certificates for high value items (value greater than $100 per pound)

PERSONAL RECORDS

  • School transcripts/Official records such as diplomas
  • Records of work history (most current)
  • Cards, letters and other correspondence if it has historical or resale value (emotional value is optional)
  • Professional, written or published work if it has historic importance to the general public or a particular industry for archiving purposes
  • Anything that could not be easily replaced with strong emotional value

TO-DO or ACTION Paper

Finally, identify any documents that require some kind of ACTION or to-dos that your mother feels are worth her time such as bills to be paid, forms to be filled out, greeting cards to be mailed, or items she wants to discuss with another professional. Put these items in a separate mail sorter on her desk or workspace, keeping the bills separate from everything else. Don’t put anything here that needs to be filed or contained. Any retained magazines should be placed where your Mom likes to read them.  Once she is done with these items they can be filed, contained or tossed as needed.

After you spend a few hours helping her, then take her out for lunch or dinner so you can both relax and enjoy some quality time together, knowing that you’ve made some room in your lives for what matters most.

 

 

What it takes to make make money selling your unwanted stuff

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Store selling vintage items

 

 

When you’re downsizing your home in preparation for moving, the first question you may ask yourself is, “Can I make some money on the stuff I already own?”

Much of what you own and no longer want can probably be donated as long as it’s still usable but if it pains you to donate items to charity because of the time, money and energy you spent acquiring them in the first place, here are some questions that can help break your paralysis around the dilemma of sell or donate?

Is it valuable?  

Sometimes the easiest way to find out is to do a little internet research on sites that sell similar items to see if any have sold recently and for how much? Be careful to check sold listings not just items for sale.  If there is a glut of similar items on the site, chances are they are waning in popularity.  You can check online auction sites such as e-bay, Etsy, Amazon or Shopify.  Another option is to get a formal appraisal but since this often is fee-based, consider it for items that you know have high value such as fine jewelry, furs or collectible art but not sure how much.

Is it an antique?

Just because something is old, does not mean it necessarily has value. Value is determined by how much a particular item demands in the marketplace now. Just because you love it, or your parents spent a fortune on it, doesn’t mean it has value in today’s market. One notable category for this is antique furniture, unless it was manufactured in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Mid-century modern furniture is particularly popular for the millennial generation of new buyers, those in their twenties and thirties now or those born in the twenty years after 1980.  Consider the fact that today’s young couples probably have no interest in either your grandmother’s china (unless it’s microwave and dishwasher safe), that early-19th century loveseat you bought at auction or those fabulous matching suits you wore during your career in the 80s and 90s.

Is it in excellent condition?

If it’s worn,  torn, stained, faded, damaged, needs more than a minor repair to make it functional or has a strange odor, chances are it won’t sell. But it could still be donated. Consider that oversized sectional sofa you have that’s just a few years old.  If the fabric looks new and it’s free of damage, it still probably won’t be easy to sell unless you do so through a community sale site such as on Craigslist or NextDoor and even then you should expect to get no more than 15%-20% of your original cost. (Remember someone also has to pay to have it transported out of your home.)

Is it a collectible item? 

Now here is the good news.  Vintage items such as art, jewelry, toys, used sporting goods, clothing and even some vintage office supplies are in demand now. Recently a client of mine was getting rid of an old banana-seat bicycle she’d kept.  Despite some metal rust and obvious wear, she was able to sell that bike for about $1,000!

Vintage is the new antique!

There are stores popping up all over now that carry a wide range of unique items that look like they were taken from a barn or a small town general store. Things like signage, county fair items, old store fixtures, barber shop poles and library card catalog drawers are finding buyers who feel nostalgic but don’t want their homes to resemble their grandparent’s homes.

If it’s clothing, is it less than 2 years old or more than 40 years old and in very good to excellent condition?

Resale of gently used designer and brand name clothing and accessories has become a big business. Sites like Thred Up and The Real Real have tapped into this market and so have brick and mortar consignment and thrift shops. But what if you have a basement or closet overstuffed with clothing you don’t want anymore that is more than two years old and maybe not quite “vintage?”  In general, consignment businesses are looking for items they know their customers want now! Don’t even think about bringing in that designer linen blouse if it’s still early spring.  Also, you probably won’t find a buyer for those unopened bags of clothes you ordered from online sites, unless they are designer brands, not just popular labels. If it’s a luxury item, such as a fur coat, you may be better off donating it as long as you have an appraisal or receipt that can testify to its current value.

Do I have time to do the legwork of selling?

This, more than any of the other five questions, should be the one you consider first. I left it for last because most people don’t even consider the value of their time when it comes to selling their household goods.  Also, if you are planning to move in less than a month, your selling ship has probably sailed. Y0u have much more urgent things to attend to especially if you are moving into a smaller home. Selling takes time. Time to research the value of your items to price them; Time to photograph or transport items (either by car or by mail) to buying-sites; Time to respond to inquiries or be available to show prospective buyers your items if you plan to sell them locally. When your move is imminent — that is in less than 30 days — time is not what you have an abundance of and you need that time to plan your move, hire your movers,  downsize what you can, pack, settle your accounts, plan your travel, meet with realtors, bankers, loan officers, etc.  If you have the time, then use it wisely. If not consider hiring a professional organizer or move manager to help.

Focus on the items that you know have value – think vintage collectibles or luxury items that would appeal to someone who is looking for what you have.

Donate it!

If you decide to donate, don’t let finding the perfect recipient for each item get in the way of your generosity. Find charities that you can drop off items to easily and do a internet search for charities that do truck pick ups nearby of furniture or larger quantities of donated items.  Keep in mind that charities that do truck pick ups, like Salvation Army, may need as much as 3-4 weeks notice. They also have the discretion to refuse your items if they are not in usable condition. Be sure to have a Plan B if this happens such as arranging for a hauler or recycler who will dispose of your items responsibly.

In short, if you are moving or selling your home, and want to minimize your stress,  try not to let the small decisions get in the way of the big ones!

 

 

8 household items that can make you money

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The folks at EVERYTHING BUT THE HOUSE (EBTH) had this great slide show I wanted to share that shows 8 pretty common household items you may have that could earn you money. Keep them in mind next time you get on your next decluttering binge.