Forget the Age of Aquarius; today we live in the Age of Acquisition. The quandary over how to get rid of too much stuff has become as overwhelming as the accumulated detrius itself. The good news is that Sarasota has world-class experts to help: sophisticated, knowledgeable professionals with credentials you'd expect to find in much larger cities. We found specialists who remove clutter accumulated over a lifetime and those who focus on last season’s clothes. Some pros concentrate on why we acquire; others on why we can’t let go. From the sad burden of settling a loved one’s estate to the joyous transition from single to married life, the reasons for de-accessioning are as diverse as the emotions they elicit.
We found specialists who remove clutter accumulated over a lifetime and those who focus on last season’s clothes. Some pros concentrate on why we acquire; others on why we can’t let go. From the sad burden of settling a loved one’s estate to the joyous transition from single to married life, the reasons for de-accessioning are as diverse as the emotions they elicit.
Temporary setbacks, like divorce or debt, force us to downsize. Adult children may have no choice but to initiate an aging parent’s dreaded last move to assisted care. At any age, the desire to free up closet space is universal, and sometimes we battle clutter just to restore emotional balance and harmony to our lives.
This de-accessioning guide was created to simplify all the above. Whether you choose to sell, donate, trade or recycle, you’ll find options for divesting yourself of various goods by category. All you have to do is decide what needs to go, consult our list, pick one corner of a room or closet—and in the words of Nike, goddess of speed and perhaps psychology: Just do it.
CLOTHING: designer and otherwise
Sarasota society do more than unload clothes at consignment stores: They buy from them, too. Local shops like Designing Women attract patrons from chic enclaves as far away as Palm Beach.
“We call ourselves the Saks Fifth Avenue of consignment stores,” says Jean Weidner, one of Designing Women’s founders. Weidner says the shop pays out the highest percentage in the area (50 percent) on clothing and jewelry. The clientele donates or consigns brands like Chanel, Adolfo and St. John, often after only one or two seasons, which in turn sell at 50 to 75 percent off the original prices. Everything earned by this store is given back to charities.
Other local consigners carve their own niches. Some think even Calvin Klein is too mass market and refuse anything but Escada and St. John. The Woman’s Exchange, Encore and SPARCC are more democratic about brands.
Most consignment stores have detailed procedures for accepting and selling your clothes. Check whether there are specific days and times the store will review merchandise, if an appointment is needed, what percentage it pays on the sale, if and when prices of the items will be reduced, and whether you may withdraw your merchandise from sale.
Many prefer to donate directly to the charity of their choice at drop-off locations or charitable thrift shops. That’s especially true for menswear, since none of the local consignment shops take it. “We get incredible donations from men,” says Goodwill Manasota’s marketing director, Patsy French, who lists Paul Stuart, Barneys and Brooks Brothers suits on the bill of fare.
“Hats and purses do have collectible value,” says Bradenton estate sale expert and appraiser Julie McClure. She advises not to include these items in your Goodwill pile.
Actress Ellen Barkin made $20 million when she auctioned the jewelry spoils of her failed marriage to Revlon billionaire Ron Perelman at Christie’s last fall.
Sarasota jewelry collections aren’t likely to rival that amount, but you can find buyers for good pieces here, says Bruce Crissy of Crissy Galleries. “Pretty always sells,” he says. But it’s easier to sell well-known names and manufacturers; in Sarasota, he says, shoppers like big jewelry that will make a statement.
“If you suspect you’ve inherited a good piece, take it to an independent appraiser or graduate gemologist like Richard Sherwood in Sarasota, or to trusted local jewelers like Main Street’s Fred Shrode,” Crissy advises. “They’ll be able to identify a good designer and advise whether to hold on to a piece or sell it.”
Knowledgeable dealers should be able to estimate the resale value of your piece within five to 10 percent. Crissy’s goal is to make about 15 to 20 percent on the jewelry he buys from you. Although he doesn’t advise clients to sell jewelry via classified ads, he offers a litany of cautions for those who insist: “Say you’re selling an estate and you need to act now. Tell the potential buyer the jewelry is in a bank vault. Have them meet you in a public place like the lobby of a bank, not at your home. If the buyer wants to show the piece to a relative or friend, tell them you’d rather not have it leave your eyesight. Accept only payment in cash. Printed cashier’s checks can be photocopied; go to the bank with the purchaser to cash the check.” Enough said?
ART AND ANTIQUES
Most local dealers will give free verbal appraisals. “It’s a tradition in Sarasota,” says Crissy, “and it’s how the selling process in this category should begin. At Crissy Galleries, appraisals are done for good will. We’ll see eight or 10 people for verbal appraisals on a Saturday; in many cases they’re astonished at what their art or antiques are worth.”
McClure says the most undervalued items people sell are paintings, art pottery and art glass. A trained eye will check your painting for signatures on front and back, evaluate the condition (tears and repairs affect resale price), determine if the painting is original to the frame and look for telltale tags affixed to the back of the frame that signify the painting has been in exhibitions.
“The price you get for artwork is subjective,” Crissy says. Both he and McClure have the resources and expertise to determine whether the best venue for your art or antique is an international or regional auction house, an estate sale or a local dealer.
“Certain things should go to auction,” Crissy explains. “If a piece is unique —a Ben Franklin tall clock, for example—you let people battle it out on the auction floor.” When dealing with auction houses, photography, insurance costs, selling commissions and buyers’ premiums come off the top, so know in advance what those charges are.
Douglas Carpenter, formerly of Apple & Carpenter Galleries, says that dealers who specialize in specific types of art will often pay more than auction houses. “When an auction house has advertised a painting on the Internet and everyone knows the auction selling price, the trade says that painting has been ‘burned,’” he explains. To avoid that exposure and the potential loss of revenue, he recommends starting with trusted local experts.
Carpenter says auction houses will negotiate commissions (generally 15 to 19 percent of the sale price) if they really want your piece. You should expect to pay $300 to $500 for photography and 2 percent for insurance and shipping. “If the item doesn’t sell, you have to pay return shipping as well,” he adds.
And McClure says Sotheby’s once offered so little for a piece that her client was able to sell it for a better price locally through Crissy Galleries. But don’t expect local dealers to want to earn less than a 15 to 20 percent mark-up on your stuff. Asked if he negotiates on his retail prices, Crissy answers, “Life’s negotiable.”
UPSCALE BOYS TOYS: cars and boats
Guys may not be emotionally tied to their clothes, but their vehicles are a different story. “Our donors become attached to their cars. They name them; they associate the cars with fond memories. Rather than sell them, they want to see their wheels go for something good,” says Goodwill Manasota’s French. “A lot of people are down on their luck, and can’t get any work without a car.”
Since January 2005, any deduction over $500 requires a receipt proving the actual sale price, which Goodwill provides. The Goodwill lot sold over a thousand cars last year. “It’s a million-dollar-plus business,” French says. “We handle everything from picking up the vehicle to sending out the charity receipt letter after the sale.”
Goodwill discounts Kelly Blue Book prices by a half or a third—like the 40-foot Mainship motor yacht they’re offering for $62,000. The list on the 1993 model is $92,000. We found a 1994 Mainship motor yacht for sale on the Internet for $139,000.
If you’re interested in cold cash instead of a deduction, check Kelly online to get a handle on fair market value before hitting the used car lots or selling via classified ads (carbuyingtips.com is helpful for sellers, too). eBay has a motors division (cars, yachts, and planes), but if you haven’t wet your feet with low-ticket items, we suggest an eBay selling expeditor like Sellit4u in Sarasota.
ERRANT HUSBANDS, lovers and hangers-on
We all know how to get rid of a misbehaving spouse—that’s what good divorce lawyers are for. But before you go there, you need to assess whether or not the marriage is worth saving. Lynn R. Bernstein, a Ph.D. behavioral therapist who practices in Osprey and Englewood, asks her patients to answer the following questions as objectively as they would if the relationship were an item in a closet: Is it loose around the edges? Has the color faded? Does it fit in all the right places? Have you seen it around others a lot? Did you promise you would keep it forever? Is it an obligation or a choice: a have-to or a want-to? Are you ashamed to take it to a party? If it were gone, would you miss it?
“A relationship is just like a worn-out old chair,” Bernstein explains. “If the patches have not helped, the sparkle is gone, the desire is subdued and there’s no life to resuscitate, then it’s time to let go of a misbehaving husband.”
Bernstein tells patients to look into the future. "Statistics now tell us we will live until 100," she explains. "It's better to learn to look forward to new changes than to continue looking backward to the old. If you’ve tried your best and it’s still not working, move on.”
FURS: Sarasota’s once-a-year excesses
It hardly pays to keep a fur in storage here, but if you don’t, it will probably decrease in value. McClure says a 20-year-old coat that hasn’t been kept in cold storage is worth nothing. All the local charities we interviewed say they pass furs they receive as donations on to consignment shops like Encore and Designing Women. “In winter you have a chance of selling your fur to Northerners who shop the estate sales and resale stores; a local resident might buy one to send up North,” McClure explains. Another option is to send your sable or mink to a relative in a colder climate who will sell it for you.
Ever wonder if there really is a difference between estate and garage sales?
If your entire sale will bring in $1,500 or less, it’s probably a garage sale. Fine furniture, antiques, better china or crystal may be marketed as an estate sale, even if you’re alive and kicking. “Technically, an estate sale connotes that the owner is deceased; that’s the way it began,” says YMCA Foundation president Karin Gustafson. “Now the qualifier is value.” Premium Estate Liquidators, an auxiliary of the YMCA Foundation, has 40 professional volunteers (former appraisers, dealers and curators) who run sales in homes or combine estates for sales at their Airport Mall facility.
When the Y’s team is sent out to assess an “estate” but finds mediocre or damaged stuff, Gustafson says they advise the homeowner to hold a household or garage sale on their own. “People expect higher-end merchandise at our sales,” she explains. Indeed, regular customers request e-mail notification of the YMCA estate sales, which are attended by dealers as well as consumers.
McClure, whose sales are posted on the Web site www.appraisals4you.net, has also built a cult. But McClure says she can’t afford to handle a sale worth less than $1,200 to $1,500. “At that range, I’ll encourage people to hold their own garage sales,” she explains. If a customer is overwhelmed, McClure might refer them to a staff member who, if interested, will handle the project as a free-lancer. The homeowner pays the staff member directly on an hourly basis.
Expect to pay the Y a 30 percent consignment fee (they also take estate sale donations). McClure charges 25 to 33 percent for standard homes (retirement home fees vary) and 10 percent for cars and boats.
Cookware, everyday dishes, flatware, knick-knacks, clothing, and low-to mid-priced furniture are typical garage sale fare. (Some tips: Price every item clearly, organize merchandise neatly, set everything on tables, not on the ground, and be sure it’s all clean.) “At garage sales, we keep linens in nice orderly stacks, and we display kitchen items as neatly as we can on counters and tables,” McClure says. “You should stage the home as much like real rooms as possible. That’s what sells; that’s why furniture stores set up rooms.”
Consignment stores, whether for-profit independents or those affiliated with local charities, are an option for housewares and linens when you don’t want strangers tramping through your home. Each store charges different commissions; check the contracts and days they’ll accept specific merchandise before you show up.
You might have a problem re-selling contemporary and reproduction furniture now that prices for new merchandise are half of what you would have paid seven years ago, says Bob Harris, owner of the 20,000-square-foot House of Lords in Osprey. The reason for the drastic price drop is offshore production, according to industry publication Furniture Today. Over 50 percent of furniture sold in the U.S. today (even top North Carolina brands) is now produced overseas—the lion’s share in China.
Still, House of Lords and other resellers are stocked to the brim, enough to be picky about what they’ll take. The inventory is the result of moves, downsizing and a lot of decorating mistakes, Harris explains.
Harris says lavish retirement homes have become increasingly attractive to Sarasota-area seniors, and when they downsize to move into these facilities, houseloads of furniture come in. “It’s a major, growing trend,” Harris says. “The sons and daughters tell us to get rid of the furniture; they’re interested in the money, the property and the land.”
Harris takes in art, china, silver—anything but clothing. The company pays 60 percent of the selling price back to the consignor and offers furniture pickup for a nominal fee. Remember, after 60 days you must pick up your merchandise, or it becomes the property of the store.
If you just want to get the stuff out of your house, Goodwill Industries and Habitat for Humanity will haul it out, often within 24 hours of receiving your call.
COMPUTERS, cell phones and electronic gear
“Don’t sell your computer unless you remove the hard drive and run over it with your car several times,” says Goodwill’s French, who won’t take them, anyway. Although Goodwill is environmentally sensitive, keeping 640 tons a year out of Sarasota area landfills, they steer clear of computers because of potential security breaches. “People find ways to get your sensitive information off the hard drive, even if you’ve used software to clean it,” French warns.
“Prices for new systems are so low that the hassle of selling may not be worth the small amount of money you might recoup,” says eBay seller Jim Reid of Sellit4u. Still, you might want to check eBay for the going prices for your system. “Antiques” (vintage Hewlett-Packards, Apples, and Commodores circa 1975 to 1989) can be sold to www.oldcomputers.net.
And major initiatives are underway to keep consumer electronics out of the nation’s landfills. Manufacturers now list disposal opportunities on their Web sites. If you can’t find a local organization or charity to take your computer off your hands, try www.sharethetechnology.com.
Cell phones, computers, and other electronics are accepted at Sarasota County’s Chemical Collection Centers. To find out more, enter a local zip code at www.earth911.org and follow links to the county’s Plug-In to eCycling program (affiliated with the EPA).
BOOKS: antiques to paperback
If you’re willing to part with your bestsellers, options abound. Local libraries, favorite charities or one of 10 local book resellers will take them off your hands. Paperbacks are generally accepted for store credit only. For rare antiquarian and scholarly tomes, however, A. Parker’s Books on Main Street appraises and markets to an international audience. The company sells via the Internet and owns sister stores in New Orleans and the Boston area.
“Value isn’t necessarily determined by the age of the book,” says Parker’s Art Grimwood. “What’s ‘in’ at a particular point in time, the condition of the book, the author, and whether it’s a first printing are all taken into consideration. Sometimes a book can be valuable just for its leather binding. We’ll look at anything.” If the seller is elderly or the collection worthwhile, an expert will make a house call.
Grimwood advises caution when selling or buying books at estate sales. “Prices are either too low or way over the top,” he says. A word of caution if you intend to sell the books you’ll never read again: “We see valuable books in boxes on the lanai all the time. People have no idea how Florida’s climate destroys books. They have to be in an air-controlled, pest-free environment,” Grimwood says.
MUSIC AND MOVIES
Your LPs are extinct; your VHS videos have morphed into DVDs. What to do? The Sarasota Music Archive (located on the second floor of the Selby Public Library) raises money by selling donated materials that aren’t needed for its collection. But selling this stuff is time-consuming. If you think your music collection is worth the effort, try www.secondspin.com or www.rasputinmusic.com. These companies pay $1 to $4 for CDs, up to $4 for DVDs and 50 cents to $2 for LPs (though rare ones can go as high as $100), but you have to pay the shipping. An alternative is to batch a group for bulk sale through an eBay dealer; or try local music and video stores for exchange programs. In most cases, Sarasota Music Archive recommends donations be made directly to the Salvation Army, Goodwill or the Pines of Sarasota.
Everything mentioned in this article can be sold on eBay (except perhaps the wayward husband). But when it comes to collectibles, eBay owns the global market. According to local experts, that can be good and bad. “eBay has caused downward pressure in the secondary market for everything from Hummels to Steuben,” Crissy says. He adds that unscrupulous sellers and bottom feeders have driven some qualified buyers away from eBay.
Still, online auction consignment experts like Jim Reid of Sellit4u know enough about the ins and outs to help you unload Beanie Babies, Lladros, a coin collection or baseball cards. “People use our firm because they don’t want to go through the steps it takes to sell a large number of items online,” Reid explains. “We handle photography, write descriptions, research comparable prices, set reserves, and do the packing and shipping.”
One of the most time-consuming tasks is answering bidders’ online questions. “We recently sold a collection of more than 50 Barbie dolls,” Reid recalls. “Collectors had hundreds of questions: Did certain dolls smell like crayons; did others have an identifying green color behind their ears? Serious collectors knew just what to ask for proof the dolls were real.”
For its services, Sellit4u charges a commission of 35 percent to consumers. What you give up in profit, you gain in anonymity, however. “It’s important to many of our customers that we handle everything including payments. No one ever has to know who they are,” Reid says.
Senior move managers help the elderly transition to assisted living.
Moves to long-term care or assisted living facilities are rife with stress for the elderly and their adult children. The elderly resent being told what to do; children become impatient with parents’ unwillingness to part with lifelong possessions.
A qualified senior move manager may be the solution. Psychologist Ashley Butler and partner Clare Evers of Senior Relocations in University Park ease the process for both generations. “The key is sensitivity,” Butler says. “Seniors know this is the last move they’ll ever make; comfort and security are the biggest reasons people at any age want to hang on to their stuff.”
Senior Relocations typically charges $2,000 to handle a move from a three-bedroom home to a Sarasota area two-bedroom senior living apartment. That includes moving, packing and unpacking, sorting through the home’s contents, recommending appraisers, sales outlets, charities for donations, distribution to family members and settling the client into the new home. Packing materials are billed at cost.
Services also include presenting CAD drawings of the new home, so that the senior sees exactly what will fit comfortably and what has to go. “Sometimes you have to let them bring more with them than they can keep; they have to see for themselves that the stuff won’t fit,” Butler says.
The service is a boon to children who live out of state. “We’ve shipped items to family members as far as Alaska,” Butler says.
When You Can’t Let Go
Insight from a professional organizer.
Don’t take those HGTV home organization makeovers literally, says Laurie Coleman, owner of Simplify Your Life. “Clients expect us to perform the same miracles they see on TV in the time frame of a half-hour show.”
Coleman, who has taught courses on organization at Manatee Community College, advises clients to start small. She teaches them to tackle overwhelming projects by breaking them down into manageable pieces and working just one hour at a time.
“Organization is the process of deciding what’s important to you,” she says. “And some people are incapable of making those decisions alone.” Coleman gauges clients to see if they’ll need a gentle nudge, a few hugs, homework assignments or a cheery, non-judgmental helper.
“I want to know why they won’t part with something,” she explains. “If it’s a pack-rat reason, we deal with it; if the reason is serious, we back away.” Coleman says clutter represents unmade decisions or unexamined/unfinished emotions—usually grief.
“People hold on to a material form of a past event or loved one,” she says. “When the clutter becomes more painful than the holding on, people usually ask for help.”
Feng Shui It Away
De-accessioning for emotional harmony.
Even if you don’t see the clutter you’ve been accumulating in your closet, garage or office, your mind’s eye knows it’s there. Without excess stuff, energy levels rise and homes become supportive and nurturing, says Diana Armbrust, a certified feng shui consultant.
“If you buy something new, find something to take away,” Armbrust advises. De-accessioning opens up spaces in our lives for new things, better experiences, new people, she says. It sets you free, helps you sleep better, feel healthier.
Before you start, have trash bags, storage containers and boxes handy. Put your stuff into labeled boxes, never into piles. Have an undecided box, a Goodwill box, a seamstress box. Never move on to another location before finishing up in the spot where you began.
“If it’s broken or outdated, get rid of it or fix it,” Armbrust says. And if something of sentimental value (say a vase from a favorite aunt) is no longer functional or beautiful to you, get rid of that, too. “Buy something else that you love, and tell yourself it’s the gift your aunt would want you to have now,” she says.
Appraising the Situation
Why you need to know what it’s worth.
If any fine art you give to a charity is valued at $50,000 and above, it’s subject to review by the Fine Arts Panel of the IRS. A 12-person panel of experts will review the photos and documentation you supply. “The IRS is also concerned about boats and cars, because donations have been abused in the past,” appraiser Julie McClure says.
Appraisals also ensure that you will not accidentally sell a valuable item you may have inherited or that may be overlooked in a loved one’s estate. McClure says she’s found a Tiffany vase in a junk heap and $100,000 silver candle holders in a safe deposit box.
Tampa-area appraiser Frances Redell-White says clients are often shocked to learn that insurance appraisal values are structured for replacement of an item, but a different valuation is placed on the same item when appraising its worth in the marketplace for resale. Fair market value is used in Florida when dividing property in a divorce and when settling estates.
Simplify Your Life Laurie Coleman specializes in space clearing, downsizing, and household reorganization. (941) 907-7070.
Home staging/feng shui Diana Armbrust uses ancient Chinese principles to reorganize for balance and harmony. Her specialty is staging homes for resale. (941) 322-8918.
Senior relocations Ashley Butler is a psychologist, the public guardian for Sarasota and Manatee counties (Department of Elder Affairs), and founder of the only local company endorsed by the National Association of Senior Move Managers. (941) 779-4682.
Dr. Lynn R. Bernstein Behavioral therapy and counseling. (941) 966-1177.
Estate sales and appraisals Julie McClure, (941) 746-2100, orAppraisals4you.com; YMCA Foundation’s Premium Estate Liquidators (941) 366-3881; Frances Redell-White: Appraisal and Consultant Services, (813) 643-6216.