Bygone Treasures - A Lifetime's Clutter - Letting Go

By Michael Rice

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You’ve all read about how to declutter and downsize your home when it comes time to move. At my talks to retiree groups on the subject of antiques, I ask, “Who’s thought about downsizing?” and get a show of hands. My next question is “Who’s psychologically ready to start downsizing?” and the hands are far fewer.

Surprisingly, many things we own were inherited from past generations. We’ll never use them, we won’t display them, and sometimes we don’t know where they are. They could be in a drawer, in a box in the basement or, worse yet, in a storage unit a mile from the house. We live with the responsibility of ownership and along with this comes the guilt we think we’d experience if we were to let them go.

Items that once belonged to Grandma, Auntie Mabel or Dad, were acquired in the same way we accumulate today. The memories attached to them are someone else’s, not yours. Auntie Mabel may have liked it, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

The steps to take when decluttering are - in order – “keep, pass on, sell, donate, recycle, discard.” The “keep” pile should be the smallest and should include items that have a definite personal meaning to you and those that you can use at your new home. As an example, look in a kitchen drawer. How many corkscrews, measuring spoon sets, bottle openers and potato peelers do you need?  The baby fork you used as an infant is worth keeping. The bent forks in the cutlery holder (assuming they’re not Elizabethan silver) can start your discard pile. Once you begin, it gets easier. Throughout this exercise, keep asking “Will I need this at the new home? Will I have room to display it? Does it mean anything to me?” When your keeper pile is complete, go through it again.

In the “pass it on” phase, you invite the family (first) and friends (later) to work through what’s left. Where you can, provide relevant history and anecdotes, and remind everyone that what isn’t selected and taken away will be sold, donated or thrown out.

The “sell” phase can be the most daunting depending on how much work you want to undertake. After family and friends have removed what they want and before you donate, recycle or dispose of anything, contact a reliable dealer in antiques and collectibles who’s willing to make a housecall. That person will go through everything (even your discard pile) and might find unbeknownst valuables. Would you have thought you could sell tobacco pipes, fountain pens or old calendars? You’ll receive an offer for items of interest, and don’t be shy to ask for advice on what to do with the rest. To be fair to the dealer, don’t expect a free appraisal if you have no intention of selling. Also, expect to receive an offer, which will allow the dealer a reasonable return. The key rules in this phase are one, do not throw anything away until it’s looked at and two, do not clean or try to fix items.

Countless books are available on how to hold a successful a garage sale. If you do choose to have one, here are some thoughts to keep in mind: have lots of help, group similar items together for display, price everything to allow some haggle room, keep the cash box with you, wear a hat, expect to lose some things, and be prepared to deal with buyers who turn up well ahead of the posted start time.  You want the stuff to sell, so don’t overprice. Remove anything broken, chipped, cracked or not working and place these in the garbage. Clothing and shoes rarely sell unless they have designer labels and are in top condition. Please note: don't try to sell things you borrowed from your neighbour last year!

When it comes to donations, respect that thrift shops can’t use your cast off junk. They need clean sound clothing and household utensils in good operating condition. They do not want mattresses, cracked hockey helmets, National Geographics or your stained Expo ‘86 T-shirt.

From what’s left, recycle all you can and invest a little of your sales revenue to have the rest cleaned up and hauled away. Some haulers may take things in trade to partly offset their fees.
Allow plenty of time; this isn’t a couple-of-weekends process, especially if you’ve lived in your home more than 20 years.

When you’re done, there are a host of rewards. You have more space where you are, and much less to move. You’ve helped out your favourite charity shop. Your family and friends have some items, which they can now treasure. When money changes hands for something, it regains respect and there is comfort in knowing it will be enjoyed and displayed once again.
As a bonus, you will have enough money for a nice dinner out because your nephew inadvertently sold your frying pan and your entire saucepan set.

Comments and suggestions for future articles are welcome, and may be sent to Michael Rice P.O. Box 86 Saanichton, B.C. V8M 2C3 or by email to


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