The Baby Boomer generation is increasingly moving into retirement age, and the urge to downsize is strong. However, this is creating an interesting and growing problem: no one wants their stuff.
Traditionally, a person would be likely to keep the majority of their belongings as they aged, then move to a smaller home or living facility, but most of their belongings would still be present. Prior to the Baby Boomer generation, the Silent Generation (born circa 1925-1945) and the G.I. Generation (c. 1900-1924) didn’t accumulate as many material belongings. Few had to question what they would do with their parents’ things, because there were so few by the time of their passing that it was easy to disseminate to children, grandchildren, other family members, or charities.
Now, however, Baby Boomers are finding that it’s difficult to dispose of some of their material belongings. Some in the Gen X and Millennial groups have already been faced with the unfortunate task of administering a parent’s estate and disposing of assets, including physical property. What they have been faced with has included disposing of large, heavy antiques; china sets; tchotchkes; collectibles; or outdated furniture.
The problem is that the Baby Boomer generation is very large, and the sudden influx of items into the donation bins of local charities has created a classic supply-and-demand problem. There’s much greater supply of certain items than there is demand. Some charities, consignment stores, and auction houses have even begun turning away specific things because the items don’t sell. Antique furniture in particular is a common problem facing Boomers – their children and grandchildren tend to be much more mobile and place less importance on the material status objects that Boomers so coveted. The antiques are rejected by younger family.
What, then, should an older adult do? Rather than leave it all until the very end for your children or grandchildren to deal with, you can begin taking steps to address your items earlier. During the downsizing process, you can speak with professionals who can advise you on the best way to move along some of your belongings.
Some items may fit best in a consignment store – typically clothing, fashion accessories, maybe some art or small furniture, books, office equipment, etc. Others may be more suitable for an auction house. The appeal of an auction house is that the auction will be able to reach a wider market, and a piece of furniture that is less appealing in your current location may be very valuable in a different state. Also, you could try to sell some of your things online through yard sale groups, eBay, and other online sales portals. Keep in mind, however, that prices in these groups tend to be much lower than what you could command through an auction or consignment, and you have to do all the work yourself. Finally, there’s the option to donate, which could grant you a tax write-off, but keep in mind that some of your items may be rejected.
Addressing the clutter of items early on is a boon for everyone. You gain more useable space in your living area, and perhaps even an influx of cash that may help if you’re on a fixed or limited income. You also take some of the burden off your beneficiaries, who would be faced with similar questions of what to do but also perhaps increased guilt at letting Dad’s beloved solid wood table go to auction because they just can’t fit it into their townhome, or giving away Grandma’s favorite books because there’s no room to store them.
As always, feel free to reach out to professionals in your area for advice. Many will offer a free consultation, so you can meet them and choose someone you’re comfortable with to offer advice on how to downsize or reduce your clutter.