How to Break Up with Your Stuff

“Breaking Up is Hard to Do”, crooned Neil Sedaka in the 1960s hit. He was right. Of course he meant romantic relationships. What I want to discuss is the relationship you have with your “stuff”.  Whatever the reason: divorce, death, relocating or just plain old downsizing. Letting go of some or all of your possessions can be nearly as emotionally difficult as letting go of a personal relationship.

At Rusty’s, we see it every day. We talk to people who are ready to talk about how to let go of the stuff. But that doesn’t always mean they ARE ready. Talking about something and actually doing something are two different things. For example, you can talk about being a farmer, but actual farming is an entirely different proposition. But you have to start somewhere. And most of us start by thinking and talking about it before we actually get around to doing it. We get it.

Eventually, though, the stuff just has to go. So how do you decide? There are many things that factor into the decision. Sometimes there are several things to consider for just one item. Who gets Mom’s jewelry? What happens to Dad’s tools? How do we split up the china or furniture? Will this couch fit in the new house which is less than half the size of the house we’re selling? There are a whole host of considerations. Each person brings their own unique set of circumstances to the process.

And THAT is why breaking up is hard to do.

But here is a checklist of things to do once you’re ready to pull the plug… so to speak.

  1. Gather all the important papers. Legal documents, deeds, banking info, investment, vehicle titles, licenses, Computer passwords. Take them to a safe place away from all the rest of stuff to be sold. It works great to have one safe, dedicated room in the house where it can all go.
  2. Computers, Laptops, tablets, phones. All are loaded with personal information you probably don’t want a stranger—read “new owner”—to have access to. So put all that stuff in that safe room or get your 12 year old nephew to wipe them all clean before you hand them over to sell.
  3. Disperse all personal items to family and friends. This can be very tricky. It could be the topic of a book instead of just a few lines in a checklist. Family dynamics intensify and break down in many of these life changing situations. Our advice? Play fair. Maintain family harmony. And decide on a time frame for family and friends  to come and select the cherished things they must have to properly remember the relationship. Once the time is up, let them know that they can obtain anything else they want in the auction.
  4. What to keep? This is a corollary to #3. To remember a  relationship, choose something that evokes powerful feelings. Good feelings, obviously. A few select things are better than closets full of stuff. If you are in a downsizing situation, then down size for goodness sakes! If you haven’t opened those boxes in the garage or closet in the last two years, it’s time to give it away or sell it. You can replace most stuff inexpensively at auction. Or you can have fun buying new stuff once you get into your new digs. Stuff that actually fits the space.
  5. Clean out the fridge, freezer, pantry, bathrooms, underwear drawers (always a good hiding spot for valuables), opened paint cans, cabinets under any sink and all plastic TOGO containers.
  6. Storage for valuables. Think safety deposit box, not Public Storage. I can’t tell you how many clients have lamented how much they could have saved in labor and expense if they didn’t have to pay storage fees. Of course, if everyone thought that way it would destroy several reality TV shows based on storage units.
  7. When to bring in a specialist. Most people do not have stuff that rises to the level of a Sotheby’s auction. Some do. If you have a Superman #1 in mint condition. And you want to sell it, of course you should take it to Heritage Auctions here in Dallas where they routinely sell such things for high dollars to those with the means. Otherwise, deep, lifelong collections of coins, stamps, art or other luxury items should also be evaluated for sale at a prestigious auction house or gallery. Just remember that there are expenses to consider when going that route. Shipping, insurance, marketing, appraisals, marketing and commission should all be weighed.
  8. Finally, after all this you have things left to sell. Try to be open minded about values. Stuff is rarely worth as much as you paid for it. The condition of the item and the market have much to say about value.

Well, there you have it. Or at least part of it. We could go on and on about any one of these points. We understand the emotional and practical aspects of the process. So, if you are considering breaking up with your stuff, we would love to talk with you.