Saturday, 28 April 2012 22:01

Trash or Treasure

Written by  Gina Roberts-Gray
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How to know when it's time to keep, toss or sell;

It’s important to do your homework before selling, donating or giving away yours or your family members’ possessions. That cookie jar that you’ve had for thirty years could be worth gold coins. It could also be nothing more than mere crumbs. But, it’s hard to know what you should hold on to and what’s OK to let go. And, how to find out how much the possessions and family heirlooms you’re considering keeping are worth or what you should consider having appraised.

Whether you’re clearing out your attic or cleaning up a parent’s basement, your first inclination may to be rent a dumpster and start tossing. Before you do, experts say it’s important to give family treasures and collections the “once over” before casting them off, donating or selling them.

As you’re wading through years of memorabilia, Audrey Thomas, certified professional organizer in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area and author 50 Ways to Leave Your Clutter, suggests first grouping like items to gain organizational control over the space. “It’ll be easier to know it’s OK to part with something when you see you’ve got several of the same, or similar, items.”

What’s it worth?

After you’ve formed groups or piles, it’s time to assess each item’s potential financial, emotional and spatial worth. There are no clear cut rules to do this, but Thomas suggests weighing a piece’s emotional value the heaviest. “Something may be worth peanuts at a flea market, resale shop or antique store, but be priceless to you,” she says, “and that’s something you may not want to part with.” You may run across items that may be monetarily valuable but don’t hold any sentimental value. A piece may take up a lot of space but be closely tied to fond memories.

One way to determine your emotional attachment and best seal the fate of clutter and memorabilia, Thomas recommends, picking an object up (if it’s too big to hold, look it over). “Ask yourself, “If I got hit by a bus today, what would I want to happen to this?”. Many times this one question helps you “release and relocate” things taking up space you no longer need.”

“Avoid making snap decisions on items handed down from generations or that hold significant sentimental value. You can always make the decision to get rid of it, but it’s nearly impossible to get something that’s discarded back,” she adds. This will help stave off a bout of seller’s or donor’s remorse.

X Marks the Spot

“Obviously you can’t hang on to everything, forever,” says professional estate coordinator, Cathy Rissler, president of Total Estate Solutions in Atlanta, GA. So once you’ve identified items that have a high emotional worth, it’s time to consider the financial value of your belongings. “That doesn’t mean you have sell or part with these things” says Rissler, “But it’s good to know what they’re worth to make sure they’re properly insured, preserved and protected.”

As you’re giving the piece the “once over” to assess its emotional value, look for clues that it may hold financial worth, too. Look for maker’s marks, signatures, labels and other identifiers of an item’s age, rarity or authenticity. “These things significantly influence value,” says Rissler.

Check the backs and bottoms of things like china, stem and flat ware, metal ware, like pewter and silver, ceramics and pottery. “You can check the prices of similar, new or used pieces at sites like Just know this is not the price you’ll get upon resale (you can expect to get a little less because you have less overhead) but it provides a good idea of the approximate retail price. And keep in mind, size does often matter. “Serving dishes will sell more than dinner plates, which sell more than salad plates, etc.,” says Rissler. If you have the original box for flatware, china and serving pieces, that ups the price, too.

Jared Walker Dostie, carpenter and furniture designer on HGTV’s Rate My Space says the rich patina and aged look of old wood is invaluable. “Vintage furniture makers spend hours trying to replicate this look through a process called distressing. It’s time consuming and never truly duplicates nature so it can be easy to spot a reproduction.” For a starting point to determine the approximate age of a piece of yours, turn it over. If it’s screwed together, it’s newer, most likely late 19th to early-to mid-20th century or later. If it’s glued and tongue and grooved or has dowel rods holding things like table tops on, it’s an older piece. “Likely from the late 18th to early-to-mid 19th century,” Dostie says. And if you can pick the furniture up or move it with one hand, it’s newer. “Old furniture, because it’s made with heavy hard woods, is usually heavy and solid feeling,” Dostie says.

Another way to determine age of furniture is examining the wood’s grain. Science has sped up the growth process of trees and it now takes about twenty years to grow a tree to the size that used to take fifty or sixty years. “That technological advancement is evident in the growth rings,” Dostie says, “They’re farther apart in trees that are grown faster, leaving newer items without the tight grain pattern of old lumber.”

Dostie says most furniture manufacturers do stamp the pieces. “That’s another way to determine value.” If a piece has markings like a signature, label, serial number or a stamp, that’s the best way to date it and know what you have,” he says. And if the piece is signed or stamped, Dostie suggests giving it some TLC. “If the finish is worn or it needs minor repair, it’s worthwhile to have it restored. The piece will be worth more refurbished,” he says. And, even if a piece is in piece, don’t throw it away! Says Dostie, “You may still have some very valuable wood to work with that a carpenter of collector may want.”

Being in new, unused or in mint condition ups the value. Conversely, if it’s barely hanging together, has lots of nicks, cuts, scratches, chips, pieces missing, etc, that lowers the value. The completeness of an item is equally important. “Having all its accessories, parts, original paint or mechanisms, packaging and boxes, etc. increases the value, too,” Rissler says, “And collections and groupings, like stamps, coins, records and war memorabilia, are often worth more when keep as a set.”

Get a second opinion

If you suspect you’ve got a treasure trove of valuables, instead of “guess-timating” its value, or spending hours researching pieces on-line, you can consult a professional appraiser. “Look for an appraiser that follows the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, the generally accepted standards for professional appraisal practice in North America,” Rissler says. This will give you peace of mind that you’re getting an accurate appraisal.

When getting things ready for an appraisal, Rissler says in addition to checking certifications; make certain you are going to the right person. “Do not take coins to someone who specializes in western art. And, set a time limit for the appraisal since many charge by the hour,” she suggests, “It’s not uncommon to need several hours and opinions for an eclectic lot of personal treasures.”

One mistake Thomas says often made is trying to deep clean the basement, garage or attic in one day. “It takes years to collect that much “stuff”. It’s hard to purge it all in just one day.” Organizers and auctioneers also caution against purging items strictly for financial gain. “After the cash influx, sellers often regret parting with most items.”



According to a recent survey commissioned by Kijiji, an online classifieds web site, nearly 90% of American households have at least one unused item lying around at home, and over a quarter (26%) plan to sell them.

Those looking to sell their items online themselves (without the help of a broker or auction house) are considering doing so by pointing and clicking instead of plunking “garage sale” signs in their front yard. If you’re among the many first-time users are looking to sell items online, Franco Lagudi, founder and CEO of says here’s how to make the most of an on-line yard sale.

  • Use a digital camera to photograph your items against a neutral background such as a large sheet of oak tag paper, or a light colored wall.
  • Make sure there is plenty of natural light. Set the item (if possible) on a table in front of a window or outside.
  • Use a close-up or macro setting if your camera has one. Some cameras even have a special setting for taking photos of products you want to sell online.
  • Take several photographs of each product from different angles to highlight details which will be attractive to buyers.
  • Take photos of any damage or wear for prospective buyers to best gauge the condition of the product.
  • Read all the fine print and disclosures of the selling site. Some sites charge commission or listing fees for every product sold. And, those fees can cut deeply into your profits.
Last modified on Friday, 04 May 2012 01:49

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