Your Next Step: The Art Of downsizing

By Carolyn Mani

With overall market difficulties and an aging baby boomer generation, many of us in the auction business are seeing an increase in clients seeking to reduce their collections and personal possessions. When individuals are faced with the prospect of thinning the herd after years of accumulating objects, the process can seem overwhelming and daunting. Younger generations are living with a "less is more" mentality, and the inheritance of property from previous generations is no longer the welcome family treasure trove it once was. The next generation does not seem to be enthralled with keeping things from the previous generation that clash with their preferential modern, simple and uncluttered spaces and lifestyles.

Downsizing can occur for a lot of reasons: selling a larger home to go to a smaller home; moving across a great distance; elderly relatives moving to assisted living; change in lifestyles; empty nesters; or even just redecorating. It is our hope that this article will provide a guide for you and your clients in ensuring their affairs are in order.

  1. An honest determination as to what you actually have. Usually this would be the time to sort through the belongings to see what is of value and what is not. Old insurance appraisals or purchase receipts can help as a guide initially with identifying the potentially most valuable items. We recommend to all of our clients to maintain an updated appraisal or inventory of their collection. Once items can be identified and vetted it makes the downsizing process much easier. There a number of collection inventory programs that can be used to facilitate inventorying — some even with online access and storage capabilities. Heritage Auction's "My Collection" is a free inventory platform available to registered clients through the website.

  2. Sorting through the property. Documents and old paperwork should be reviewed, shredded or stored if absolutely necessary. Electronic scanning and storage is advisable for important documents so that they are accessible if needed — but don't take up the space. A good comprehensive overview of a collection can shed some light on the focus and direction of the collector. There is occasionally a fine line between collector and hoarder! Patterns of quality, type and volume can be seen and will help with the next step — making decisions.

  3. Deciding on what to keep and what you can part with. Sentimental attachment and value can often cloud our judgment — making this probably the most difficult step. This is where an objective third party can help us in making clear choices. If downsizing is due to a move, it is suggested that you create a layout of the new quarters to ensure that all will fit before making your final list. If items such as art or smaller collectibles are just going to be boxed and stored in closets in the new location, maybe they become obvious choices for sale. Ask family and friends what they may want.

  4. Dispose of the items you are not going to keep. You can either give them away or sell them. Items of little or no value should be donated to thrift stores or gifted to friends and family. Donations usually result in some form of a tax deduction — be sure you donate to a non-profit charitable entity with 501(c)(3) tax exemption status. Many will arrange pick up and provide a receipt.

Some items produced for the collector market, such as limited edition porcelain and Franklin Mint collectibles, have a market only in the online realm through online auctions or resale listing sites (i.e. ebay or craigslist). More valuable items may be appropriate for the regional or national auction market, a gallery or dealer. Heritage Auctions has 33 auction categories with in-house expertise that can assist with identifying the best market for different types of items. The archives online can provide a great starting place to seek information on the value of many collectibles, coins, comics, sports memorabilia, art and more.

Once we have lightened the load we can have a renewed sense of well being to know that we have less on our minds and in our homes and can enjoy the items that we do keep. Plus it may give us an excuse to start collecting again!