After my mother died, it took me nearly two years to . Deciding what to let go of was a tedious, sometimes tearful, process. My father built their house and my mother had lived there for nearly 60 years. Her Depression-era childhood, nostalgia and love of pretty things fueled her hoarding and collecting. I experienced a mild sense of guilt about not keeping some items and a sentimental attachment to others. Ultimately, I hired an auction company to dispose of what remained.
Oftentimes, we hold on to items thinking they will prove valuable to our children or grandchildren, but in reality, they become a burden. Here, we asked the experts which most-often-saved items are usually overvalued and unwanted:
1. Antique Furniture
If you're saving your great-grandmother's ornate, marble-topped dresser thinking it will be treasured, or expecting it to bring a hefty price, you're mistaken. Keith Meissner, of Meissner's Auction in New Lebanon, New York, says he's seen a tremendous decline in the value of antique furniture. "Dressers that used to sell for $1,500 now sell for about $200," he says.
Patsy Robertson of Wham Auctions in Greer, South Carolina agrees. "Heavily carved furniture, often referred to as parlor furniture, is no longer popular, neither is oak," she explains. "There is still interest in mid-century furniture, but people really don't appreciate craftsmanship anymore. The current generation shops at IKEA, and if they do buy antiques, they repurpose them."
"The market for furniture comes and goes," adds Charlotte Hall of Landrum Antiques and Furniture Company in Landrum, South Carolina. "Right now, mahogany dining room sets are selling well, but sometimes big furniture doesn't move. And I can't think of any dealer who would take a pump organ. They just don't sell."
2. Coin Collections
"People get sucked into buying shiny, new mint products thinking they will be valuable for their grandchildren, but mint products often sell for less than the purchase price," says Randy Briggs, owner of Coops Coins in Redlands, California. "Ten good coins bought 40 years ago are more valuable than lots of different saved coins. Most collections just aren't that valuable, and Millennials aren't interested in old things."
Remember several years ago when "We Buy Gold and Silver" signs appeared everywhere? You may have noticed those signs aren't as prevalent now. "When the price of silver was $34 an ounce, a silver platter would sell for $1,000," Meissner says. "Now, at $18 an ounce, silver isn't as popular."
Briggs believes silver prices depend on the area of the country. "In California, people don't care about a silver tea set or serving pieces. Silver still has appeal in the South, really on the east coast, but if someone is saving their silver for a grandchild on the west coast, it probably won't be appreciated."
All of the experts agree that sets of china don't bring the price people think they will. "Today, most people entertain with paper plates," Robertson says. "You don't see the type of formal dinners people used to host." Hall concurs: "People don't want china. You can't give it away."
"Barbie dolls aren't as valuable as they were 25 years ago," says Hall. Meissner extends that valuation to other dolls as well. "We've seen a big drop in the value of German bisque dolls. The market for these used to be huge, but the younger generation just isn't interested in them."
In the past, owning an Oriental rug was somewhat of a status symbol. Today, it's different. "Designers and decorators tend to follow the trends on home-improvement TV shows," Meissner says. "Because neutral colors and geometric patterns are the trend now, Oriental carpets are no longer in demand." Meissner adds that high-end items still retain their value, but the prices on mid-range items have dropped dramatically. (And let's be realistic, what most of us have, or will inherit, is mid-range.)
Learning to let go
Here are four ways to conquer the clutter so your children won't have to deal with it later:
- Determine the items' actual usage. Think honestly about whether you use inherited or collected items. If they're packed away, they really aren't part of your life.
- Stop buying. After cleaning out my mother's house, I've stopped buying accent pieces like pillows, wall art, knickknacks and decorative seasonal items.
- Purge periodically. Often, we keep things thinking we'll use them some day. I saved picture frames from my mother's house, intending to reuse them. Six years later, I found them in a box and immediately donated them. If you haven't used saved items within a few year, you're not likely to.
- Think practically about loved ones' lifestyles. When saving items for family members, think: Will they want this? Do they have room for it? Is the item valuable only to me? The answers help with decisions to save or let go.