Getting the stuff out of your home

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Oh my gosh I love this! Yes yes yes! I talk to people about downsizing all the time and the first thing is that they just want to try to sell everything. I generally recommend listing it once and if it doesn’t sell, donating it after that. Trying to sell it can sometimes just be an excuse to keep it for longer before you have to part with it.

    When my partner and I moved from Texas to Louisiana, when it got down to the wire of what we could put in the uhaul, we literally put everything else out on the driveway, posted on craigslist that we had free stuff and let people come and take. I’m sure some people may resell it, but it wasn’t in my house so I could care less. It felt so good to just let it go and not think about it, too, and with the exception of our bikes, we haven’t missed any of it. Even the bikes weren’t that great, hah!

    Great post!

    Chris |

  2. Colleen, good information. This has not been a problem for me but is for Mom. She used to feel we should get good money for things because we paid good money for it. Many times things hung around for a long time because she couldn’t understand that hanging on to it wasn’t going to change things and she wasn’t going to get good money for used items. Even many antiques no longer bring in good money because people no longer want “that old stuff.” It has to be high quality, in demand items before they will sell well. I think she is finally getting it. The last two times she has decided to declutter items she has just given it to me and told me to take care of it. So off to the thrift shop it goes. Love it.

  3. I have to agree that its not when it goes in the bag BUT when it leaves the home that I feel the relief…. however I must also admit that I am the type that want the item to have a “life” after leaving my house.. so I am usually finding someone to “adopt” what I am getting rid of.

  4. My mother passed away just after Christmas. She was a dear, kind person, but an uncontrolled packrat. I would call her a hoarder, but she was clean, and free of vermin. But every inch of her house was packed, treasure amid trash.

    After I began to collect my wits after her death, I began the staggering task of sorting wheat from chaff. I spent weeks looking up prices on potentially valuable items. I finally took a friend’s advice and contracted a reputable auction house.

    Smartest thing I have done with regard to Mom’s things.

    In a few hours, three professionals had sorted through furniture, art, china, porcelain, “collectibles” and ordinary household goods. They loaded up what could be auctioned, gave me cash for a lot purchase of small “collectibles,” and of the remainder, told me what was worth selling on Ebay (or other means), what should be sold at a yard sale and /or donated to charity, how much it was likely to fetch at a yard sale (so I could compare time invested in the sale to what I would get in return), and what to recycle or discard. Such a FREEING feeling! They even sorted items into boxes in the appropriate categories for me!

    I was also reminded that getting hung up on Ebay could become a second full time job, and that asking prices on Ebay seldom reflect the true value. Look at “sold” prices for comparison.

    If you do not have enough unwanted items of possible REAL value to call an estate professional or auction house, here are some guidelines I learned from the professionals:

    1. Unless you have real Tiffany, Wedgwood, fine art, fine antiques or similar that are worth restoring for an auction house or antiques dealet … anything chipped or broken, like granny’s Victorian vases from Italy, are virtually worthless. Sell them at a yard sale in the range of $10 to $20 or donate them to a community theater as props for period plays, where the minor damage will not be noticed. Even minor damage to an antique vase of average-quality sources renders it nearly worthless. Native American items and items in the category of true ethnic antiquities worldwide are always worth getting an appraisal

    2. Except for premium antiques and art in excellent condition, Victoriana is on the way out worldwide, unless you are lucky enough to find an obsessed collector. So are baseball cards and porcelain dolls, and dolls in general. You are better off documenting an approximate value online and donating them to charity.

    3. If film production is an industry in your area, send photos of items to the propmaster. They are always looking for period stuff.

    4. If you have a yards sale, do not hold out for top dollar. Your goal is to rid yourself of things. Take your first offer. Those who do collect are the early birds and are likely to be your best offer.

    5. World War Two items, Mid-century Modern items (from furniture to fondue sets) music memorabilia and vinyl record albums, as well as 78s and 45s, are hot right now, and music items can be stored compactly. These can be worth the time to seek a “best” price, as well as autographed books and first editions. Again, condition is everything.

    Of course, seek references when choosing someone to deal with a large lot or an estate.

    Her big questions, still resonating with me, are these: “you have to ask yourself how high to raise your monetary bar — of course that is based on your financial need. But how many hours do you want to spend in hopes of getting $25, $50 or $100 out of an item? How much is your time worth? More importantly, how much is your free time and your physical and mental health worth? If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, would you want your last hours on earth to have been spent dragging a box full of your mother’s dusty dolls from one collector to another, trying to get more than $35 for the lot of them?”

    Seriously consider that! It opened my eyes.

    (Please pardon any.typos. The tiny screen on my phone is difficult to read.)

    • Dez – Great advice. Sorry about your loss though.

      • Thank you for your sympathy, Moni. Mom was a dear but I am keeping little aside from family photos, my paternal granny’s rocking chair, a quilt granny made, a very nice old teapot and matching platter, and two pieces of wall art. I already have my Dad’s casket flag and World War Two medals. That is enough. Mom had SO much in the way of delicate and fragile things. They crowded our home and were not cared for, dusted or displayed in the manner of a person who took pride and joy in them. She just HAD them. They do not suit my taste, life is short and as I cannot stand either dust or knicknacks, I cannot devote the rest of my life to keeping and dusting the Museum of Mom. No matter how much you love someone, they live on best in photos and memories, and sometimes in the things they handcrafted… not in the items they once inherited or purchased. (Note that I am keeping a quilt granny MADE, not the blankets she bought at Sears).

    • Dez, so sorry for your loss. You have good info here. I agree with the professional advice you were given. I watched things on eBay for some time because my mother always had this inflated idea of what things were worth. I knew at some point she would want the money rather than the item. So when it came up I had already done my research and had the info in hand to show her. It greatly helped to change her mindset.

  5. An interesting article Colleen and a great response Dez, thank you both.
    I have always donated to the Salvation Army and because of late I have been donating excess furniture as well as boxes of odds they usually pick it up from our home. The only downside is we sometimes have to wait a few weeks for the next collection.
    In the past couple of months we have sold my husbands business premises in our quest to downsize, we are relocating to the country in the next year. He had a lot of office furniture and other odds he didn’t know what to do with and finally listed it with an online auction house (Grays) here in Sydney. They came out and assessed whether it was worth listing and helped him through the process. He sold 15 out of 18 items for just over $1,000 although most went cheaply and one was very expensive. The benefit of it for us was that the purchasers picked up their items on assigned days and we didn’t have to drag it down 3 flights of stairs to dispose of it!

  6. That is the benefit of a good auction house. You will get FAIR prices for items of moderate worth, and they will not cheat you on items of true value, as both parties benefit. AND they take it away for you, using younger people with stronger backs. Even though I am fortunate not to have back issues in my late 50s, and I stay in shape, the weeks of sorting and lifting boxes trying to do it myself was exhausting and I had a constant backache. Now I only have to go through personal items, household items and other things for yard sale or donation. At this point it may ALL go to Salvation Army. I don’t know how the tax code works in Australia, but reasonable estimated value on goods donated to charity are deductible from US Federal income tax, with itemized receipts from the charity. As I am self employed, that option is better for me than earning $200 or less at a yard sale.

    • Hi Dez, in Australia you can only get a tax benefit if you donate cash to a registered charity. I’m no longer in paid employment so I no longer donate cash but I figure the goods I donate at least generate some income for the Salvos.
      With the auction house we used for the office the items stayed on our premises, we had to photograph them for the actual auction. They really were just an intermediary for us but as we’re clueless with eBay etc it was a handy solution for us.

      • Sorry I really should say money not cash in the reply above. I’m sorry about the loss of your mum Dez.

  7. This was a good reminder, Colleen, and a very informative comment by Dez! I live in a small area and drive about 15-28 miles one way to the thrift stores of my choice. I have plenty of room in my garage to keep a box that I am filling with items to go out. When it is full, I make the trip and make a fun afternoon of it. I enjoy looking around at the same place I am donating to! Although I buy very little these days, I occasionally find some little something that I can use or enjoy. Since I don’t shop otherwise, it is fun.

    I’m not obsessive about it, but do like to give to causes that I favor. I think it would have been much harder to donate my antique glass and such had I not had the friend with a great charity. Don’t mind one way or the other about odds and ends. Am just glad to have anyone take it off my hands.

    I have a coffee table currently sitting in my garage to see if we like living without it. We seem to. I would love to get some cash for it but will have to make a decision soon!!!

  8. This is great Colleen. Once I’ve decided to get rid of items I like them to leave quickly. I think it helps to be able to assess what else could leave. With less clutter, I find more things to declutter, almost as if it allows my mind to be more free to think through the purpose and utility of what is left, especially in closets where items might be stacked or hidden from view.

    I think your comments Dez are so true. Sometimes it’s best to call in help rather than add more stress to an already emotional situation. You made a wise choice and learned a lot in the process. Thanks so much for sharing that knowledge!

  9. The best thing about bringing in a pro — or even asking a couple of sensible friends for help with decisions (friends who value simplicity, of course) — is that you have little sense of second guessing yourself about selling, donating or discarding. The feeling of weight off your shoulders and mind is astounding.

    This is a lively discussion. This has all been very informative. Let’stand keep it going.