26 Jul

Having been at this downsizing enterprise for some years now, I find myself both reflecting back and looking forward as I move towards the final push. I know that I’ve referred in past posts to weighing up different factors in decision-making about what to keep and how to disperse the remainder. But in this entry, I want to examine three key factors: personal value, time, and money. 

Let’s put aside for a moment those items that have mainly practical value—your kitchen implements, clothes, furniture, linens, pieces of technology, items associated with hobbies you pursue. Sure, some of these will spark more joy than others, and no doubt you have more of these things than you need, but I want to deal with the hard stuff here. 

Personal Value: What objects/artifacts have high personal meaning to you, either because they give you joy, are associated with your life story, or have connection with people you care about? 

Time: Which objects/artifacts or categories of objects will take time to sort through carefully, try to sell/donate, or preserve in some way? 

Money: Which objects/artifacts are worth something in the marketplace? How much money do you hope to make overall, if any? 

OF course, it’s not as simple as that, is it? 

These three factors all interact in some way. For example, you might decide to part with something of moderate personal value to you (let’s call it Object A) because you believe you can get a lot of money for it. But how much time are you willing to put in to find a buyer at the price you hope to get? As I’ve discussed previously, most of your stuff probably isn’t worth what you think it is. If you find out that Object A will only fetch $50, how does that change the equation? If it’s an easy $50—i.e., little time is involved, you might go for it, but if it involves several hours, including emails, phone calls, and delivery, you might make a different decision. Or perhaps you feel it will be worth it because by paying $50 for Object A, the buyer must want it, at least to some degree, so you will feel it’s gone to a good home. 

Sometimes the choices are even more complicated, whether or not money is involved.  How about all those event programs you’ve saved over the years? They take up two file drawers, and you don’t even remember much about many of them, but they were valued experiences at the time. You just don’t feel you can keep them, and it’s not clear that anyone really wants them, except for maybe the one starring Katherine Hepburn and few others like that. You can make a list of all of them, take additional time to add relevant details, take even more time to cull them down to the covers and cast list so you have some tangible evidence. Or you could scan/take pictures of the covers. OR you could just keep a handful of your favorites and chuck the rest, a much less time-consuming task. It all depends on how high the personal value of the collection is. 

Rule of thumb: The higher the personal value of an item or group of items, the more time you may be willing to put into it (either to find a good home for it or to preserve it in some way) and/or the more money has to be offered to make you part with it.  And the more money something is worth, the more time you may decide to spend on finding a buyer. 

Conversely, the lower the personal value and monetary value, the more ready you should be to trash, recycle or donate in the easiest possible way (the least amount of time). 

Here are a few ideas for dealing with these complex interactions: 

Assign personal value. Choose your KEEPERS. Some objects/artifacts are off the table—these are the “you-will-have-to pry-them-out-of-my-cold-dead hands” KEEPERS. Case closed (maybe). The rest are high, medium, or low personal value. 

Decide how important money is to you. Generally, money-making requires time. Time to find the right venue, to communicate with the vendors, to make your exchanges or take items around for consignment or auction, to set up yard sales, to create and follow through with on-line sales, including arranging pickup or drop-off. 

Ask one or more knowledgeable people to help you assess whether your items are saleable in the current marketplace and what is the best way to sell these items. (Marketplace values change. Vintage and antique items, with exceptions, could fetch more at one time than they can now.) 

Use an appraiser for potentially high monetary value items (e.g., jewelry, some artwork). Yes, appraisers cost money, but you will have a more realistic starting point with an expert’s assessment. 

Identify key sources for donation for low and medium personal value items without much marketplace value. Do you have some favorite causes or organizations that take donated items? A few phone calls won’t take much time. 

Get as many of the low personal value and low monetary items out the door as quickly and efficiently as you can. These are the low-hanging fruit. With paper, do a quick sort through and then recycle or shred. With things, drop off as many as you can manage at a time at a donation center, like Goodwill, or arrange for pick-up from places like Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

Use local online donation sites for medium personal value but low monetary values. This one-on-one approach takes some of the sting out of parting with items that have some personal value. Giving to willing family members and friends is another possibility. Is it more time-consuming than donating many items to one organization? Sure—you may have to reply to multiple messages, repost if necessary. But, as I’ve shared in previous posts, it can be more satisfying. 

Go for the most efficient scenario (i.e., the least time-consuming), such as consignment, for low and medium personal items with some monetary value. Consignment will allow you to try to sell a number of like items (such as clothes or jewelry) in one place.  Some larger consignment stores may sell a range of items. Once you’ve found the right place, consignment is relatively quick. The downside is that they won’t take everything you have to offer, and you aren’t likely to sell everything. (Will you let them donate what they don’t sell, or will you fetch it back and then have to search for another home?) You also don’t get to decide the price, and the consignment shop usually will keep at least half of the profits.  Some people like to organize yard sales because they can keep all the profits. Books, records, or household effects/furniture in decent condition, can sell well, depending on a host of factors, like time of year, location, prices assigned. But yard sales take time to organize, and not everything will sell. (And don’t forget to advertise!) 

Try for outright sales to vendors for low and medium personal value items that have high monetary value. But finding the right person takes time. Two big advantages of outright sales are 1) the possibility of selling multiple items without them boomeranging back to you, and 2) that once they are gone, they are gone! Higher monetary value items can also be sold to individuals, through sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s List if you are comfortable with that route.   

Research collectors for your high personal value items that aren’t worth money. These items may be worth something to someone (such as museums or archives) or to individual collectors, but research can take time and lead to many dead-ends. As I’ve shared, my secondary school and college both took my respective papers and memorabilia, but finding homes for other high personal value items, such as my mother’s school papers, has proven more challenging. At what point do you give up? What will be your plan B? 

The personal value vs time vs money equation involves a juggling act, to be sure, and finding the right balance for you will involve trial and error. 

Image credits: In order, Nick Fewings, Jon Tyson, and Susan McCutcheon on Unsplash

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