31 May

Even slow downsizers will find they need help from others at some point in the long process, all the way from hand-holding to providing you with the connections you need to move your things out the door.  In this post, I will share John’s and my experiences with two different kinds of help and how these propelled us forward in ways we hadn’t anticipated. 

Support, Formal and Informal: Early on, John and I both attended an opening session for a multi-week decluttering group, sponsored by our local Council on Aging. The sessions were free. 

Led by two social workers who themselves had clutter issues, this form of support appealed to my husband, but not to me. I was already on a good roll by that point, while he still needed to get charged up. 

As a member of the group, he set regular goals for himself that encouraged him to follow through, learned valuable tips for downsizing, heard others’ stories (sometimes from people in challenging circumstances), and had an opportunity to share his successes. 

The group has continued to meet for multiple sessions at least two to three times a year, providing John with some continuity. During the pandemic, the sessions resumed online and have continued in that format. 

I recently received an invite from a professional organizer who was running a more sophisticated downsizing group, but this group had a high price tag. Nevertheless, this sort of thing can be a good option for some people. Lacking similar groups in your area, if such an idea appeals to you, you could form your own.  Or some people just need a “buddy,” maybe a friend with similar goals. 

Professional Organizers/Downsizing Experts: After years of tackling my own downsizing, I hit some roadblocks when it came to my possessions with stronger emotional meaning. I’d had some luck consigning most of my mother’s lovely vintage clothes that didn’t fit or suit me, but what was I going to do with her collection of fur pillbox hats, her Persian lamb jacket, all that lingerie (which my local consignment shop wouldn’t take), that 1930s maroon wool bathing suit, or the items I’d already tried to consign without being able to sell and that boomeranged back to me? And how about my beloved collection of miniatures, including doll house furniture? Or the family antique brass and copper? In the future, I would have room for only so many pieces.  Or the 400+ New Yorker covers mostly from the 1960s I’d rescued from the family trash can? The list goes on… 

In this past year, I decided to invest in professional help. The field of professional organizers has grown exponentially as the baby boomers have aged. I first went to the database of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) to find professionals in my area whose types of expertise matched what I was looking for. I chose and interviewed three. The one I settled on was unable to put me into her schedule, but she referred me to a couple of others, and I found one who seemed experienced, enthusiastic, and flexible. 

As fees can be high, I determined how I wanted to use my expert’s time while being open to ideas that had not occurred to me. John’s and my main objective was to learn about dealers and organizations that might be interested in our things---for selling, consigning, or donating. We could have done the research ourselves (and indeed, we did some), but we felt it made more sense to turn to people who had more knowledge than we did. We didn’t need to make money, but we did want to find good homes for our valued possessions and perhaps cover our downsizing expenses. 

You may have different goals from us, but professional organizers offer a variety of services, including help with moves. Sharon was clear that she did not want to sell our items herself but would be the conduit to others who could consign or buy outright. Maybe you want someone to help you use sites like Ebay so you can sell your own things and potentially make more of a profit. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, we didn’t want to spend our time that way even though we weren’t in a rush. 

After an initial phone conversation, “Sharon” came by to see what we had and discuss more fully the scope of the project. She took some photos and left that day with a carload of items we were willing to donate to Goodwill, providing us with the incentive of convenience to gather up some unwanted things. From Sharon, I learned what might be saleable and what probably wasn’t—but she was optimistic about our chances of selling more than we had envisioned. 

Because a big priority was to find homes for our vast collection of art, especially my mother’s large paintings and many original silk screen prints, John’s fine art photos (framed and unframed), and my watercolors and collages, on her second visit Sharon brought a colleague, “Karen,” who was going to do some research for us. (Sharon took a second carload of items for donation as well!)  

Sharon encouraged me to make Google photo albums of my different categories of items. I was hesitant with this new technology at first, but once I mastered it, I found it a terrific and quite simple way of cataloguing my possessions, both to share with others who might want them but also as a record for myself. Each album pages allows you to provide descriptions or other pertinent information. 

Sharon had contact with a man who owned a large consignment store about a half hour from us (but which was unknown to us) and who also ran online auctions for more valuable items. (Sadly, we didn’t really have any that fit this category.) He had liked the photos Sharon had sent him of our things, and we were able to make an appointment with him to check things out for himself. We were surprised that he was happy to take coffee table type books (art books and cookbooks, in particular). In fact, he was open to consigning a lot, including the art and old prints and maps (over time), some of the household decorative objects (brass, copper, and some knick knackery), my miniatures, small rugs, vintage jewelry, and two Steiff stuffed animals from the 1950s. 

Our consigner detailed his working policies. We would receive 50% of the asking price, with payment occurring once a month. On his next visit, he filled boxes with our things, and within two days, everything had been neatly catalogued with prices. We know that Sharon’s connection with him got our foot in the door of this place. Of course, we may not sell everything he took, but we’ve made a great start. (Typically, you can retrieve unsold items after a length of time, often two months, or more if you don’t mind prices getting reduced, or your items can be donated.) 

Karen, Sharon’s researcher, came up with two invaluable contacts: a woman who bought outright the remainder of the vintage clothing, including the lingerie and the fur items, and a man who deals in “ephemera” and was interested in my New Yorker covers and Cunard Steamship Line memorabilia. After an hour-long conversation with him, I understood that his interests were broad, and I began to pull together items I thought I would have to recycle. (More about ephemera in an upcoming post.) 

Working with Sharon and Karen was a game-changer for us. The consigner that Sharon connected us to gave us such positive feedback about our art that we felt acknowledged and encouraged. We also trusted him because he regularly did business with Sharon’s other clients. With Karen’s vintage lady, I was able to shed a closet’s worth of clothes and accessories in one fell swoop. I hope that the same thing happens when I complete negotiations with my ephemera guy. Both Sharon and Karen continue to provide us with contacts we can follow up on as well as ideas. 

Although we had been making steady progress over the years, we felt like we’d reached a new level in our quest to downsize, and we both approached our next tasks with more confidence, gusto, and decisiveness.  Having had some success in the marketplace, we were now more ready to give away things, including our art. In fact, John emailed members of our local arts group for suggestions of arts and non-profit organizations that held auctions and sales as fundraisers (a little help from our friends), and we have both contributed to two such organizations in this past week. More art out the door, going to worthy causes! 

In my next post, I will provide more general tips about seeking and using help in downsizing.

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