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Less is More


“Please take all of it, I don’t need anything!”

I get lots of calls from women who are ready to ‘downsize’, and have helped hundreds over the last thirty-five years, but never heard the line above until recently. It used to be a different story: “I am keeping most of the jewelry, the children want some of the furniture, and I would never sell my mother’s china or the silver,” but…

These days a wind of change is blowing more property into auction rooms.

Whether through divorce, death, illness or financial change, many women find themselves in charge of large amounts of ‘stuff’, often with little or no emotional attachment, or any real attachment at all. If your response is to let it all go, don’t fight it, but I suggest following the advice below anyway.

Over the years I have developed this series of simple steps (to be followed in order) for anyone making these decisions, whatever monetary value may be involved, and am delighted to share them with you through my old friend Brenda. I hope it helps:

  1. Figure out your objectives. This is an essential first step, and most professionals are reluctant to talk until you are at least at this stage. The primary choices are sell, keep or donate, (or a combination). Have a clear idea of what your goals are, and when you want to achieve them.
  2. If selling, decide what you want to keep. It is much easier to make this decision than deciding what you want to sell. Try it.
  3. Don’t be an appraiser. Seriously, back away from the computer. Whatever you paid, or whatever you think it is worth, it probably isn’t, and that stuff you don’t value is probably worth more than you think so don’t throw or give anything away until step 4.
  4. When you are set with steps 1, 2 and 3, call (better than emailing) for professional help. Remember, the person you reach has done this plenty of times before… You are new at it.

Whatever the circumstances, a good auctioneer is your best first call. No charge or obligation, and you will get an objective opinion. Try to get a referral, and ask the person you choose for references, but settle on someone you like and trust. Auctioneers, once hired, work for you on commission, so you are safe in the knowledge they are on your side.

  1. Take the professional’s advice. This may require ‘biting the bullet’, but is smart if you have picked the right professional.

There is plenty more advice to give, and plenty more subtlety, but these simple steps will save you a lot of angst if you follow them in order. Remember, you never own art and antiques. You are only borrowing them while you are here.

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Nick Dawes is Vice President of Special Collections at Heritage Auctions in New York and a former Sotheby’s Vice President and Auctioneer. He is familiar to many through 20 years of regular appearances as an expert appraiser on PBS Antiques Roadshow.

6 thoughts on “Less is More”

  1. Welcome, Nick! I’ve purged every time I move, but I still have an awful lot of stuff. I’ve quite envious of buddhist monks: one robe and one bowl sounds perfect. You’ve provided some excellent advice as I tend to just give everything away and I’m not sure it always finds a good home. Other things I hang onto, sure of their value. I need to get a professional involved!

  2. Two years ago my friends did a major downsize and a move. Trying to get rid of a lifetime of collecting was a nightmare for them. Thanks for the expert advice, Nick. xoxo, Brenda

  3. We may have less than most people who’ve been married as long as we have, but only because we moved so much. Moving makes you re-evaluate a lot of ‘stuff’. This is great advice, especially with people our age who have been blessed with trying to clean out their parents stuff!

  4. After clearing out 2 family homes, downsizing twice, and still having too much stuff in storage, the only thing I place any value on is family photographs… always priceless…

  5. I’ve been in my home 22 years, and am beginning to pare down. Having a favorite charity makes it much easier to get rid of things I have held on for far too long. My children have said “please clean out your attic before you die!” Interestingly, most of what’s there is their STUFF, things that mean so much to me but no so much to them. As Sara said, photos and memories are all that really matter.

  6. I wish I had known this last year. I learned some hard lessons the hard way, downsizing my mother in law. Enough said.

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