What Do You Do With All of Your Stuff?

So you've decided to pare back and downsize.  You're in the process of decluttering your life.  Fantastic!

Here's the hard truth:  No one wants your prized possessions.  Not even your kids.

thrift shop

A different generation

Okay, "no one" might be a bit of an exaggeration.  There are probably a few Millennials who would love to have a china hutch or a vintage Ethan Allen bedroom suite.  But May Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) has it right when she says,

This is the Ikea and Target Generation.  They don't have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did.  And they're more mobile.  They don't want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move across country for a new opportunity. 

Young couples starting out don't want the things that generations before them saw as marks of sophistication and middle class comfort, such as formal china, crystal, and silver.  And they definitely don't care about collectible figurines, souvenir spoons, or photo albums full of people they don't know.

This isn't all bad, of course.  I would be the first to applaud a broad interest in minimalism and lifestyles that focus on learning and experiences rather than accumulating more stuff.  However, I'm not sure there's a rush toward minimalism among Millennials.  They still buy plenty of stuff that is modern, cheap, and destined to enter the landfill in a few years' (or even a few months') time.

The point is, as a downsizing Baby Boomer or Gen Xer (or as the person responsible for clearing out the home of an even older generation), you've got dining room tables, entertainment centers, tons of books, wall art, lamps, china, and more to declutter.  And I know you paid good money for those things.  I know you think you're being generous when you offer them to your children.  I know those items still contain some useful life.  And I know some of them are part of your family's history.

By all means ask younger family members if they are interested in any of the things you want to remove from your home, but get used to the idea that the answer may be no.  It's not that they don't love you – they just don't love your stuff.  And you must respect their feelings, cautions estate appraiser Julie Hall.  She says,

No means no.  And if you assert a "yes" into that "no," then that's your wishful thinking, but it becomes a burden for your children down the line.

So what do you do with all of your stuff?

4 tips for home unfurnishing

used furniture
1.  Midcentury, yes; mass-produced, no.

Some kinds of furnishings and housewares will attract the interest of buyers.  For example, Midcentury Modern items – like Eames chairs, Barcelona chairs, Saarinen tulip tables and the like – are quite trendy.  True antiques (150 or more years old), especially if they have been passed down in your family, might be quite valuable.  And very high end pieces such as good jewelry, artwork, and rugs might be worth more than you realize.  You could research the "sold" listings on eBay or other auction sites, or hire a personal property appraiser.

The problem most of us have is that we or our parents bought items that were mass-produced.  Even if they were well made and are in excellent condition, most antique dealers won't be very interested.  Entire dining sets often sell for as low as $100 to $200.

2.  Get liquid with a liquidator.

Liquidators may represent the fastest way to clean out an estate.  They may either hold an estate sale (accepting commissions of 30% to 35%) or perform a "buyout," in which case someone from the firm shows up, makes an assessment, writes a check, and takes everything away.

3.  Find a local buyer.

If you have name brand clothing or accessories in good condition, national online venues such as Poshmark or ThredUp might be your best bet.  But to find local buyers for furniture, tools, unwanted tech, kitchenware, baby items, even collectibles, try Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, NextDoor, or 5Miles.

4.  Save time and effort by donating.

Trying to sell items will keep them in your home longer.  If you want the satisfaction of a quick clean out, or you want to avoid second-guessing your decluttering decisions, donating might be a better idea.

You can take things to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army (or Oxfam in the UK), although they have become pickier since they're experiencing a glut of donations (some of it trash, which costs a lot of money to remove).  Dress for Success will accept professional attire to help women in poverty find jobs and thrive in the workplace, VSP Eyes of Hope accepts eyeglasses, and Operation Paperback provides books for American troops overseas.  You can also donate books to your local school or public library.

old home decor
Clean blankets and coats are often a welcome donation at your local homeless shelter, and animal shelters will usually take even tattered bedding.  If you have unused cosmetics that you don't want, consider donating them to your local women's shelter.  Preschools and day care centers will often accept clean, gently used toys, and your local senior center might be interested in unused craft supplies.

You should recycle old cell phones after purging all personal data (call your local solid waste disposal company for information on recycling hazardous waste), but your old computer could be donated to a school or the library.  Tools and working appliances are welcome at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Unfortunately, there will be stuff you need to throw out – maybe a lot of it.  This should be the last resort, reserved for things that are broken, damaged, or truly no longer useful.  You don't want to unthinkingly add stuff to the landfill, but you also don't want to burden a charity with items that should be trashed.

The time is now.

I think I should warn you to prepare for disappointment.  The items you are able to sell won't be worth as much money as you might think – in fact, you will most likely recoup only a small fraction of what you paid for them.  Adjust your expectations or you will find it hard to sell anything at all.

Mary Kay Buysse cautions:

For the first time in the history of the world, two generations are downsizing simultaneously.  I have a 90-year-old parent who wants to give me stuff... and my siblings and I are in our 60's and we're downsizing.

Here's the most important piece of advice:  Don't put this off.  As Julie Hall warns, "The thinning out process should happen sooner rather than later."

Let me leave you with one last thought, from author and blogger Joshua Becker:

Let your regret about how much you have to throw away reinforce your determination not to buy so much in the future.

Updated August 2023


  1. I was raised in a very large home with my two brothers. When our mother died at age 87, she was still living there (3 floors and full basement). Every room, closet and cupboard were stuffed with things. It took months of very hard work to clear everything out. So many difficult emotional decisions had to be made. It nearly killed us. I decided I would not put my own children through that and would downsize to the point where it would only take one day for them to deal with my things when I die. I started slowly and ten years later at age 68, I own a small uncluttered but beautiful condo with a 1 car garage and am so at peace. Saying good bye to many things I loved was not always easy, but I kept remembering the nightmare dealing with Mom's house and my goal to never put my children through that. And the bonus is I'm not spending my precious time cleaning and caring for a large home. God bless.

    1. Thank you so much for reading, NiceKaren. Many of us remember similar experiences clearing the homes of older relatives and wound up feeling as you do. You have given your children a gift, but you've also made life simpler and more peaceful for yourself! Rather than being sort of "held hostage" by a huge house full of stuff you don't need, use, or even really want, you have the time, energy, money, and freedom to pursue the things that have true value for you. Congratulations!

  2. I have found it easier and easier to look at something I own and ask how that item is adding value to my life. There is not one item I regret passing on to someone else. Everything has a "home" and it is so easy to tidy up now. Divorcing myself from my fantasy self made the whole process a lot easier and provided me with plenty of opportunities to laugh at myself. It requires you to get in touch with those things, activities and people who bring joy to your life.

    1. It does become easier and easier to decide whether or not something is contributing value to your life. That's the benefit of "practicing" decluttering -- we get better at it! And yes, our fantasy life can cause us to hang on to a lot of things. But it's so much better to face reality. Not only can we get rid of stuff we're not using (and make it available to someone else), but now we have room for what we really care about. Thanks for a great comment.


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