After my father died at 94 in September, leaving my sister and me to empty his one-bedroom, independent-living New Jersey apartment, we learned the hard truth that others in their 50s and 60s need to know: Nobody wants the prized possessions of your parents — not even you or your kids.
Admittedly, that's an exaggeration. But it's not far off, due to changing tastes and homes.
So please forgive the morbidity, but if you're lucky enough to still have one or more parents or stepparents alive, it would be wise to start figuring out what you'll do with their furniture, china, crystal, flatware, jewelry, artwork and tchotchkes when the time comes. (I wish I had. My sister and I, forced to act quickly to avoid owing extra rent on Dad's apartment, hired a hauler to cart away nearly everything we didn't want or wouldn't be donating, some of which he said he'd give to charity.)
Many boomers and Gen Xers charged with disposing the family heirlooms are unprepared for the reality and unwilling to face it.
"It's the biggest challenge our members have and it's getting worse," says Mary Kay Buysse of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM).
"At least a half-dozen times a year, families come to me and say: 'What do we do with all this stuff?' " says Holly Kylen of Kylen Financials in Lititz, Pa.
Heirloom today, foregone tomorrow
Dining room tables and chairs, end tables and armoires ("brown" pieces) have become furniture non grata. Antiques are antiquated. "Old mahogany stuff from my great-aunt's house is basically worthless," says Chris Fultz, co-owner of Nova Liquidation in Luray, Va.
On PBS' "Antiques Roadshow," prices for certain types of period furniture have dropped so much that some episode reruns note current, lower estimated appraisals.
And if you're thinking your grown children will gladly accept your parents' items, if only for sentimental reasons, you're likely in for an unpleasant surprise.
"Young couples starting out don't want the same things people used to have," says Susan Devaney, president of NASMM. "They're not picking out formal china patterns anymore. I have three sons. They don't want anything of mine. I totally get it."
Buysse agrees. "This is an Ikea and Target generation. They live minimally, much more so than the boomers. They don't have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did," she notes. "And they're more mobile. So they don't want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move cross-country for a new opportunity."
You also can pretty much forget about interesting your grown kids in the books that lined their grandparents' shelves for decades. If you're lucky, you might find buyers for some books by throwing a garage sale or you could offer to donate them to your public library — if the books are in good condition.
Most antiques dealers (if you can even find one!) and auction houses have little appetite for your parents' stuff, either. That's because their customers generally aren't interested. Carol Eppel, director of the Minnesota Antiques Dealers Association in Stillwater, says her customers are far more intrigued by Fisher-Price toy people and Arby's glasses with cartoon figures than sideboards and credenzas.
Even charities like the Salvation Army and Goodwill frequently reject donations of home furnishings, I can sadly say from personal experience.
Midcentury, yes; Depression, no
A few kinds of home furnishings and possessions can still attract interest from buyers and collectors. For instance, midcentury modern furniture — think Eames chairs and Knoll tables — is pretty trendy. And "very-high-end pieces of furniture, good jewelry, good artwork and good Oriental rugs — I can generally help find a buyer for those," says Eppel.
"The problem most of us have," Eppel adds, "is our parents bought things that were mass-produced. They don't hold value and are so out of style. I don't think you'll ever find a good place to liquidate them."
Unless, that is, you find a business like Nova Liquidation, which calls itself "the fastest way to cash in and clean out your estate" in Washington, D.C., and Charlottesville and Richmond, Va. Rather than holding an estate sale, Nova performs a "buyout" — someone from the firm shows up, makes an assessment, writes a check and takes it all away (including the trash), generally within two days.
If a client has a spectacular piece of art, Fultz says, his company brokers it through an auction house. Otherwise, Nova takes to its retail shop anything the company thinks it can sell and discounts the price continuously (perhaps down to 75 percent off), as needed. Nova also donates some items.
Another possibility: hiring a senior move manager (even if the job isn't exactly a "move"). Leah Ingram said most NASMM members charge an hourly rate ($40 to $100 an hour isn't unusual) and a typical move costs between $2,500 and $3,000. Other senior move managers specializing in selling items at estate sales get paid through sales commissions of 35 percent or so.
"Most of the people in our business do a free consultation so we can see what services are needed," says Devaney.
This article originally appeared on NextAvenue.com.