Too much storage unit, too little time.
November 24, 2017 10:19 AM   Subscribe

My mom died a couple months ago (expected, peaceful, but still really hard). There is now a huge storage unit full of stuff for my siblings and I to deal with.

Some stuff may have some value (antiques she paid a bit for back in the day); some we'll want; some will need to be sold/donated. All of us live in different places and all several hours away from the unit's location, and getting us all there together with time to sort through would be pretty difficult. What's the easiest and most efficient way to deal with this? Will an estate sale firm handle it? Do we need a separate appraiser? I also want to get pictures scanned in I think. Location Cincinnati. Thank you!!!
posted by Cocodrillo to Human Relations (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am sorry for your loss. The first thing to think about is how much money you have versus how much time you have. And how huge is the storage unit? Since Winter is Coming, if you can afford it, leaving this til weather improves would likely be easier (and is okay to do). If you can't afford it, it's worth thinking about whether you need to extract maximum value from this (i.e. really make some canny sale choices to optimize getting $$ in which case you need an appraiser), or maximum sentiment (u.e. everyone is satisfied that they got the things they care about) or something else. Also: who lives most nearby (or is everyone equally not-convenient?) and/or who could be free to do a little extra (paid) work here? And does everyone mostly get along or is scrupulous fairness of the essence? Does anyone have space they could use as a "staging area" to get stuff out of the storage unit?

I assume you have legal issues settled and are all able to do this (i.e. if one of you is the executor, they will have veto power over the others, if it comes to that) and you don't have to have things appraised for the purposes of the estate, if there is one?

So, depending on some of these answers, I'd suggest the following: If possible, give one person a job to manage this and put your trust in them. They sort the space and divide things into trash/sell/keep piles. Get rid of trash. Take all the keep stuff (i.e. photos to scan) to someone's house for further storage. Call local consignment places to see about taking the remainder. If this is impossible, try to get a sense of which special things any one sibling wants and take a "OK each person gets three things" sort of attitude and have people recall from memory what they might want. This is a little more slash and burn but is quicker and easier. It still requires a sibling to go get those things.

Think about these options and listen carefully to your own and your siblings objections to them if you have any. Since everyone's dealing with grief, there may be some tough choices that have to be made. Unless there is a need for either quick money or an emptying of the space (or both) keep in mind that if you have the option of more time, that may make a lot of this easier. I also lost my mom a few months ago and one of the things she told my sister before she died was that it's important for us to (continue to) get along and so if dealing with arrangements were going to make us fight, it was best to leave things until we felt we could agree on things. This is a position of privilege I was lucky to have (i.e. we did not have to immediately vacate an apartment or anything) but it's worth being able to assess what you have more or and what you have less of: time, money, effort, harmony, something else. I wish you luck working through this.
posted by jessamyn at 11:02 AM on November 24, 2017 [13 favorites]

I let a storage unit full of my final deceased parent's things languish far too long -- like, a couple of *years* too long -- and finally gave in and paid a personal organizing team to deal with it for me. It wasn't cheap, but the whole problem got solved in a day or two with minimal effort/emotional trauma/physical labor by me.

They were a godsend! They sent two people for a LONG full day of work to sort through all the stuff, separate the trash from the donations from the sellables. They know the area and the market, so they could tell me realistically what was what, and they arranged for the donation truck and the estate sale person to come and make the pickups. They were very hands-on with the whole process, all I had to do was walk around the storage unit and say "keep this, don't keep that" -- they did all the unboxing and re-boxing and shuffling stuff around.

I *really* wish I had done it all at least year before I did, would have saved so much money on storage costs!
posted by mccxxiii at 11:31 AM on November 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

When I had to clean out my house full of my late husband's things, I used an estate sale firm. They take a % of the proceeds from the sale. Whether they will work with a storage unit will probably vary from firm to firm, so you may have to contact a few. However, someone will have to be able to meet the representative from the estate sale firm to look at what is in the storage unit and indicate which items are to be sold and which are being kept. An estate sale can make things easier because they will price and manage sales, and then you can instruct them to donate anything that doesn't sell.

I think in your situation the key thing will be designating one person who is a) willing and b) everyone trusts to manage this, because I don't see a way around someone having to physically be there to manage any helpers that are retained for the work.
posted by jeoc at 11:37 AM on November 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

some we'll want

An estate sale company can handle almost everything you need, but they may be unhappy about going through the labor-intensive appraising & pricing & photographing stages if you will be pulling a lot of items from the sale once you see them pictured and decide you want to keep them -- if you know the specific things you all want, they'd probably be happy to find and ship them to you, but if you'll need a full pre-sale cataloguing, you may have to discuss it as a separate service outside their standard contract.

you and your siblings could also let them do all their sorting and listing, each of you buy the things you want from the sale, and let the proceeds be eventually distributed among you minus the estate sale percentage. this sounds like a long way around to get items that are already yours, but if there's any concern about how to fairly divide up items of value among all of you, it makes that easier.

you can definitely do most of this from a distance. It may be better anyway not to have to see strangers handling and assessing your mother's possessions, even if you know it's happening.

I believe the contract I signed gave the estate sales company discretion over pricing, so you may want to discuss that in some detail with the companies you consider before hiring them -- they vary widely as to how much expertise they have in which fields. it is common to assume that grieving heirs will over-value their relative's possessions, so you'll want to work with people who won't dismiss your knowledge of what specific antiques are worth. but if they make a persuasive argument about the current market, they're probably right.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:08 PM on November 24, 2017

Alternate suggestion: everybody was living without this stuff before. Let it all go and don't spend another second thinking about it. Let the storage company auction it off or have estate sale company get rid of it.
posted by flimflam at 1:32 PM on November 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Sorry for your loss. My family had a similar situation when my grandparent passed away. The nearest relative spent a day photographing everything in the storage unit and posted it online. Everybody commented with info/history about posted items and preferences for things they wanted. It was a lot of work, both physically and emotionally, but I think in the end everyone felt like it was fair.
posted by beandip at 4:41 PM on November 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

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