what are we gonna do about the stuff?
June 2, 2021 12:59 PM   Subscribe

this is a multi-part question about downsizing a home's worth of interesting stuff, including books, objets d'art, "stuff" etc.

consider a household, where the homeowner has spent a lifetime collecting nice things, but now feels overwhelmed by them. These things include:

- an excellent home library, including really good sections on psychology; art history; world history; Jewish history; psychiatry

- a colossal and useless collection of high quality "coffee table" art books (representing museums, artists etc)

- objets d'art, mostly from travels. Genuinely beautiful, high quality and in most cases expensive things, of interesting provenance. But mostly just decorative; ie having no purpose other than to be looked at.

Are there services that will send someone out to look at any of this stuff (or maybe review photos of them?) and give an opinion about what's sellable? It would be very useful to know what of these things might be eligible for a second life somewhere else, and which of things are ultimately destined only for a trash bin. (I'm assuming the encyclopedias are bin-only.)
posted by fingersandtoes to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My only advice is on the books — gifting them forward in some way to those you love or targeted to community groups who would care for them (local Hadassah or something for art).

I’ve put the LibraryThing app on my phone and scan in the titles as I go, noting their status such as donated, de-duped (I have in digital) etc.
posted by tilde at 1:07 PM on June 2, 2021

This sounds like a great use for a garage sale. Find things a new home, and goodwill the rest. Before that, choose exactly how many things you'd like to keep (One box full of doodads) and pre-commit to give away the things you didn't garage sale!
posted by bbqturtle at 1:10 PM on June 2, 2021

There are services that sell housefuls of stuff as estate sales - advertising, pricing, staffing, disposal. I doubt you get a lot of money out of it, but it might maximize reuse with minimum trouble to you.
posted by clew at 1:12 PM on June 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I asked a vaguely similar question not too long ago, though most of our higher value stuff that we needed to get rid of was furniture (we kept most of the art and the more interesting books). We ended up using a combination these approaches:
  1. We found a local home consignment store that sells high end furniture and art. They took most of our nicer stuff, sold it, and gave us a cut (they came to the house, gave estimates, and then hauled it away for us when we agreed).
  2. We directly sold some items on Facebook Marketplace (mostly stuff that the consignment people didn't want but that we thought still had a decent value).
  3. Of the remaining stuff after the first two steps, we gave away anything we could to friends or neighbors who wanted it.
  4. Anything in decent shape that was left, we donated to charity (there was a charity that came to the house and picked it up).
  5. The rest went to a junk hauler.

posted by primethyme at 1:15 PM on June 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

When my parents were cleaning out my grandparents' house, they used a very similar approach to the one primethyme mentions just above. After letting family members get first pick of everything, they first called a high-end antique dealer to pick through and claim what they thought might sell in their store (Grandma had a lot of antiques). Then they called another store that was the next step down in terms of auction/antique dealer and let them have a look. Then the rest was distributed to other friends and then to charity.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:24 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: When a professor I knew died, his widow invited his friends and colleagues in to choose among his books. I thought that was a nice way to recognize the value of what he owned and who he was and to pay it forward.

If your goal is to get as much money as possible and these things seem potentially valuable, I would start with an auction house. People who go to garage sales are looking for bargains. And it's disheartening to see someone haggle because they don't want to pay 25 cents for a tea kettle (real example).
posted by FencingGal at 1:41 PM on June 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

An aside: I know of a verrrry cheap Yankee dowager who was the last of her family. She invited local librarians and other Learneds to go through the home's library, and select books they thought were of interest. Then she kicked them all out, empty-handed, and enjoyed the fruits of their knowledge.

There was an early Hobbes' Leviathan, I believe, that the disappointed scholars left behind, among many other interesting and valuable titles.

Don't be that lady.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:45 PM on June 2, 2021 [19 favorites]

Response by poster: wenestvedt, that is hilarious. not something I'd do, but hilarious.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:19 PM on June 2, 2021 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: ugh, I forgot, there's also a whole section of the library on natural history and especially birds. Does that make a difference? Are there like bird enthusiast clubs where such items might be advertised? I wouldn't expect any money from them, just hate thought of filling a dumpster with them, would be thrilled to find bird book enthusiasts who'd take them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:21 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

An excellent home library is probably not one that would be of much value to your local public or university library, because they probably have a lot of that stuff already. I'm mentioning this because inevitably folks want to donate books to libraries, and many libraries will just put those books into a book sale for fundraising.

I think all this also depends on how much effort you want to expend to extract value. I'm not sure I'd trash the books, but I might seek out a local Buy Nothing group and (for example), when there's a nice few days coming up, put the books outside with a "Free" sign and let folks who want them come look. Then the effort you expend is moving the books, not selling them individually. There could be one or two really valuable books, but it's very hard to know that without looking up each title.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:31 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since it sounds like the goal is less to make $ and more about a second life...

Books: contact the department chair of any relevant departments at nearby universities (so in your case, Jewish studies, history, art history, psychology, etc.) since grad students may be interested, provided that we're talking scholarly books. For the bird books, maybe contact whatever chapter of the Audubon society is nearby (if any). Another option is calling up all your local bookstores and see if they might offer a price for the whole lot.
posted by coffeecat at 2:31 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So I work at the local Friends of the Library book sale, accepting donations and figuring out what we can sell. Here's my take.

Part of this depends on how well kept they are and how old they are. Obviously if they're moldy and musty they sadly need to be thrown away. If they're sun-faded and dusty, they'll be less valuable but not necessarily useless. Especially if you're more interested in giving them another life rather than making lots of money, your collection sounds like it's very usable.

If you donated those books to me, we'd sort through them and keep the good quality ones (I'm sadly not the person who knows which are which) and sell them, in the end, to used book dealers who will value them and find the right buyers. This means that they will get a bunch of books for $2 to $10, and they'll resell them for anywhere from $2 to $100. I am losing out on the top price in exchange for not having to research every darned one.

If you were in eastern Massachusetts, I'd give you the names of specific dealers you could call and offer the collection to. Since you're not, I'll point you at the website we use to advertise our book sales, Book Sale Finder. Anyone advertising a book sale on there probably accepts donations, and I know we get a lot of response from dealers from our ads there.
posted by gideonfrog at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Cleaning out my grandfather's house was a similar undertaking except books on his very specific academic topic and also thousands of classical records (vinyl). What helped us was

1 - Cataloging the entire collection (I know, I know)
2 - Sending that catalog to nearby university departments that my grandfather had been affiliated with.

Obviously how doable this is depends on time and amount of energy available, but for my mother and I the process of cataloging and having that catalog was actually invaluable to the mental process of saying goodbye, especially the feeling that we still had this catalog to sort of capture the portrait of a life that a person's lifetime of belongings can paint. And when we sent the catalog to his old department, the grad students frothed at the mouth at all the free hard to find books in their fields until the secretary of the department just brought a vanload of students to the house and they took all the books. The vinyl mostly was disposed of piecemeal through an estate company, but the cataloging process made that easier too.
posted by theweasel at 2:56 PM on June 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

When my mom passed, I donated her extensive book collection to the local women’s prison and her clothes to a local women’s shelter to give to women who needed clothes for interviews, etc.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 3:01 PM on June 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

If your town has a lot of little free libraries, you could take a few boxes of books and go around and fill those up. I have a little free library, and I recently picked up like seven boxes of books for free at an estate sale where they were just giving away all the books.
posted by Slinga at 3:24 PM on June 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Perhaps there is a synagogue in your relative's community that would be interested in the Jewish scholarly books?

My deceased mother was an art historian, so I had a lot of books that were of little interest to libraries or booksellers - think multiple editions of Janson and Gardner texts. I donated them, along with a huge pile of gorgeous coffee-table books and show catalogs to an elementary school art teacher. She is free do do whatever she likes with them - cut them up for collages or teach from them. She was very, very pleased with the donation, and took 4 or 5 boxes.

I also cleared out the stuffed home of a deceased elderly aunt, a confirmed and frugal collector. She had over 100 sweatshirts from every destination she ever visited, all unworn (women's shelter), 150 decorative linen dishtowels, unused, ditto and ditto. Endless unopened small appliances from bank gifts (toasters, coffeemakers), also to women's shelter. So. Many. Towels! SPCA.

At least 100 Hummels. Who wants Hummels these days? Someone hit the Hummel jackpot at the local Goodwill. The dining room set, with extra leaves, 12 chairs, and 2 sideboards went to the curb. Nobody wants dining room sets!

It was an incredible slog, as there was also a garage full of old holiday decorations and ancient, broken garden tools, wooden Army trunks from the 1950's, and every scrap of family detritus. All to a dumpster. It was an exhausting and disheartening experience. I have resolved to downsize!
posted by citygirl at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I sort through books I don't want to keep by seeing if Powells will buy them used (you just enter the ISBN). If so, I put them all in a box and send them off to them for whatever price they'll give me. If no, I stick them in a local Little Free Library. Powells will either give you a payout by Paypal, or a bit more in store credit. I take the store credit and use it on books to gift to kids of friends & family.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:48 PM on June 2, 2021

My library's book store quietly knows a couple of used book people who scout the donations for good stuff, pro bono, and the rest is sold for a dollar each. Scanning barcodes is slow and sometimes the staff finds people crouching among the shelves, slowly scanning book after book. It blocks traffic and also they already pulled the valuable stuff!
posted by wenestvedt at 3:53 PM on June 2, 2021

A friend how had a lot of sailing books donated them to a private school that had some connection with things maritime. Look past colleges and public libraries to match a particular interest if you can.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:21 PM on June 2, 2021

Best answer: Piggybacking on deludingmyself's post, for the books you can try entering the ISBNs (or scanning them with a phone if they have a bar code) on bookscouter.com; it searches multiple sites that pay cash for books (including Powells, who will also offer store credit). Over the past two years I've sold off the majority of my library this way and put the $$$ in our retirement account. Most of the book buyback sites pay through PayPal.

If you have a lot of time to put into this venture you could check eBay to see if any of your books or art objects sell well there, though that's a lot more hit or miss.
posted by sencha at 5:36 PM on June 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Where are you at? I have a spare USB barcode scanning gun you can have.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:05 PM on June 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Someone who stages houses for sale might be interested in the fancy coffee table art books. Probably wouldn't pay you a fortune for them, but it might be a way to get rid of them as a lot and pocket a little cash.

Also, do you have a local or regional theater that might need furniture or smalls or decorative items for their props collection? Again, not necessarily lucrative, but could be very satisfying to know that your things were being used in that way.
posted by mccxxiii at 8:14 PM on June 2, 2021

We moved from a free-standing, two-story home with a utility basement that we'd lived in for over 40 years to a condo about five years ago. We did a lot of things ourselves including taking resalable crystal, silver, and dinnerware to "Replacements" in NC. (Incidentally, not a lot of money but at least the eventual owner would want them.) We sold a very few pieces through a local auction house. We had tried, years before the move, to sell lps at a local used record store: our taste was too "old folks." A tranche of our books were given to a community home on the appropriate subject: i.e. several hundred books on gay topics to the gay community center. Most of the rest went to our library's used book sale. We had a yard sale which was quite productive albeit a lot of work. Goodwill; Goodwill. Trash; trash.

There is a loose affiliation of "Senior Move Management" consultants. We used a local one towards the end and she was very helpful. In addition to giving advice gained from her experience, she knew reliable vendors for moving, directed them, etc. She was worth the money.
posted by tmdonahue at 6:38 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Apropo books, except for a few very rare and valuable books, libraries don't take old books in. Except for their fund-raising sale. Many libraries are trimming their collections as the internet has made much printed matter obsolete. Sad, sad, but true.
posted by tmdonahue at 6:40 AM on June 3, 2021

Also: good for you! The Swedish have a term "Dostadning" that could translate as "death cleaning." While one lives, one starts to clear things out. Give things to family and friends, donate things to charity, go through papers you've kept for no reason and throw away as many as you can. The purpose: to make life easier for your survivors.
posted by tmdonahue at 6:43 AM on June 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have similarly been trying to find good homes for some of my stuff. Once you identify the stuff that's not worth anything... I put together boxes of similar items (craft supplies, cookbooks, etc.) and list them for free for people in my area (I use NextDoor, but you could do Facebook marketplace or craigslist too). So it's not too much hassle for me, I try to have everyone come on the same day to pick things up.
posted by beyond_pink at 8:19 AM on June 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Another option once you’ve reached the give away stage is your local “buy nothing” group on Facebook.
posted by azalea_chant at 1:38 PM on June 3, 2021

Not sure where you are at but in Providence, RI, the students at Rhode Island School of Design used to throw away so many lightly-used art supplies that a store was built around it!

Open year-round (until COVID), 2nd Life would accept donations of art supplies for sale at rock bottom prices. Their policy was very liberal: tools, leather, fabric, electronics, and hardware were common items, and I rarely paid more than a coupe of bucks for something.

If there is an art school near you, you may have a similar store. And I think some areas have a similar place set up by and for teachers of K-12 kids.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:23 PM on June 3, 2021

Best answer: When I had to deal with this in my Dad's condo, I took what I wanted, invited all my friends to come over and help themselves to any of his books, and called in Everything But The House to deal with the rest. We got a bit of cash out of it, mostly for the jewelry.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:48 PM on June 3, 2021

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