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Using Your Possessions to Create a Lasting Legacy

By: Laura Lewis, SpitSpot Organizing LLC

Making sure that your stuff doesn’t become a burden to your loved ones is a significant element of your legacy.  If you are contemplating a move to an assisted living like The Kensington or simply rightsizing your home the time is now particularly as property prices for suburban homes are very high.  Chances are, however, that you are overwhelmed by the mere thought of having to finally go through all your stuff and are clueless as to where to begin.  For many, this is a very challenging and emotionally overwhelming process, but it doesn’t have to be.  You are not alone as most of us have a hard time letting go of our things.  As a result, we put off the decision by moving things to the basement, attic, garage, or worse still, to a storage facility that we pay for and never visit.

This article will provide you with a different way to look at your stuff and simplify the decision-making process.

Marie Kondo believes the key to letting stuff go is to look at each item to see if it brings you joy.   Others suggest that if you haven’t used something in six months or a year, then let it go.  These are great approaches, and really work for those things to which we aren’t really emotionally attached.  But what about the many things we consider our treasures?  What about collections that we’ve built over a lifetime.  Often, our fantasy is that we will pass these on to the next generation – our children, nieces and nephews who will be willing recipients of our beloved items.  Often as not, the next generation is middle-aged or older and already living in homes that are fully stocked if not packed to the rafters.  Sometimes family members tactfully decline our offer, and other times we are surprised by the intensity of their refusal.  This explains why the secondary market is flooded with sets of fine china, crystal, and other “valuables” that are no longer considered to be worth anywhere near as much as we paid for them

My purpose today is to find another way to evaluate our stuff.  I want to suggest that that we look at each thing with intention by asking the question, “What does this thing do to illustrate what is important to me?”  If we can articulate a cogent answer, then we have identified a treasure that will help us create a lasting legacy.

We have all led varied lives and have accumulated a tremendous wealth of experiences.  How do we mine our memories to define the legacy we wish to leave?  What are the things that we want to be top of mind when loved ones think of us?  This list of Core Values is a valuable tool to help us on this journey of self-exploration.  I suggest taking about five or six minutes (don’t overthink it) to circle the top 5-10 values that mean the most to you.

Make sure you hold onto that list, so that as you evaluate your treasures, you can decide what you wish to bring with you to your new home, what you wish to transfer to others, and to what you must bid a fond farewell.

If you are reading this blog several years ahead of when you anticipate rightsizing, one strategy I suggest is to stop buying gifts for your loved ones.  Instead, give them the gift of something precious to you that expresses one of your core values.  Gift wrap it – just like a regular gift – and include a special note in which you tell the recipient how this object expresses a core value and how you recognize and wish to encourage that value in them. Holiday gift giving can come with expectations for both the giver and the receiver, so if it helps, also include a gift card to their favorite store inside the note.  If this is done with care and attention, you will greatly reduce your possessions and provide loved ones with many good stories to share with each other about you.  Depending on the size of your family and pile of treasures, you may want to expand your notion of family and include beloved friends and their children.

What’s that you say – you still have too many things?  How do you decide between a china dish that you used at every holiday meal and a porcelain ornament? Go back to the List of Core Values.  If you chose “family” which treasure best illustrates your love of family?  Next choose who will be the lucky recipient. Who was the person who most looked forward to those family gatherings, maybe they even helped you plan?  Take the time to write a note describing how happy it made you feel to see this person enjoying the holidays at your home and how much you hope that when it’s their turn to host, that they will use this dish and remember gatherings at your place.

Many of your things can be used to help strangers in need create their home.  There are charities all over the county that are in need of furniture and kitchen equipment to help a family who lost their home in a fire or a flood.  When browsing through the shelves of a charity shop, I came across some much used baking pans.  Taped to the bottom of each one, was a favorite recipe that the donor had baked in this pan.  Suddenly, somebody’s cast off was revealed as a thing to be treasured.

We still haven’t found a good home for the ornament.  Go through the List again.  What value does the ornament illustrate?  If you are lucky enough to have a family member who shares a core value of loving fine things, then perhaps you don’t have to choose, but for the most part today, fine ornaments are considered fragile dust magnets and it’s time to let the object go.

There are several ways to do this, such as by giving the gift to charity and obtaining a tax deductible receipt; selling it at either a tag/estate sale or online, or recycling it.  However, there is a wonderful hybrid approach that again can demonstrate a core value.  Most students are extremely tech savvy, and this is a perfect opportunity to use those skills to your mutual advantage.  If one of your core values is “charity” or “saving money”, how wonderful it would be to encourage those values in the young.  My plan is simple.  Make a list of all those things you want to sell. If the core value is charity, then make a list of charities you support with a two-three sentence description about who or what their work impacts and why that’s important to you.  If the core value is saving money, then write a few sentences about why this is such an important tool to have in life and include a list of money saving instruments and their pros and cons.  Then, speak to your young person and tell them of your plan.  Ask if they would be willing to photograph your stuff with their phone and post it for sale on several social media sites, such as Facebook Market Place or Ebay.  Review your list of charities and/or savings vehicles together.  Use this opportunity to spend time with your young person and listen to their ideas and concerns so that this becomes a genuine learning opportunity for both of you. Perhaps they have a charity that they support, and if so, you could decide on whether you wish to split the proceeds. Do you want to build in a cash reward or incentive for your young person?  If so, discuss whether they wish to retain a small percentage of the sale proceeds for their own personal use, and decide together what that percentage should be.  Make sure that your conversation includes a discussion that estimates the time investment; a commitment to that amount of time, and an end-date for the project.

If you would also like an infusion of funds for yourself, I urge you to think about selling your things on consignment, or through a professionally managed estate/tag sale or even an auction house.  There are for-profit and not-for-profit consignment organizations that are ready to take your stuff.  However, it’s important to think about their market.  For example, a consignment store in a high-end Westchester neighborhood where the homes can be large and gracious will have a different customer to that of a consignment store in urban, hipster Brooklyn where space is at a premium.

In addition, there are many online, for-profit, consignment companies that work very efficiently.  Most will send you a large prepaid, self-addressed envelope into which you put the clothing you wish to consign.  Each has a slightly different arrangement, but most will help you set a target price, and make price adjustments thereafter.  Should an item not sell, they generally donate it to the charity that you select from their list.

Deciding whether to host an estate/tag sale is a personal matter.  While a professional company will of course take a commission, in my opinion, their expertise regarding price point, access to repair services, payment and accounting services and their ability to move your furniture and stage your sale is priceless.  Some will also offer the option of taking a small collection of items for sale at another estate sale, setting aside the proceeds from your things of course.

For higher end items, including collectibles consider bringing in an auction house.  Most have specialists in a number of key areas, such as Asian art, European furniture, books, jewelry or carpets, and depending on the nature of your treasures, they can be very competitive.  They all charge a commission, which can be a flat percentage that may adjust up or down depending on the amount of the winning bid.  All will advise you on market value and setting a reserve price.  While there are many auction houses of international repute, don’t forget some of the smaller houses, based here in Westchester who will be happy to help you auction items that the larger houses may turn away.

Lastly, hiring an organizing company like SpitSpot Organizing LLC can be extremely helpful.  Organizers have existing relationships with all of these service providers and more.  They will meet with you to discuss your needs, and you can coordinate the entire or selected parts of the process for you. If you would like a more comprehensive list of places to off load your treasures, please call me, Laura Lewis at 914.721.0708 or send me an email at