The sale began and from my vantage point, the potential buyers were moving about more like thieves than buyers.”

I spoke with a couple downsizing and moving to a senior independent living community. They’re more than a little anxious about whether this estate sale will be successful in liquidating nearly three decades’ worth of belongings—especially prized pieces like their antique, hand-knotted Persian rugs (the one in the living room originally cost $20,000). “We wanted to sell these expensive items in a way that brought closure,” says Mr. Perstein, “and didn’t want them walking out the door for almost nothing.”


The sale began; and, from the Perestin’s vantage point, the potential buyers were moving about more like thieves than buyers. Everything picked up was accompanied by either “I’ll give you $5 for that,” or “This is way overpriced. When do the prices go down?” from the moment the doors open and sale goers storm the 5,000-square-foot home like pirates rushing a ship, virtually no one bothers with plastic. Most bargainers arrive at checkout with a few small items and a displeased look on their faces.

The close of the sale produced about $6000 and a plethora of furniture, the need for floor cleaning in their home, and a bill from the estate sale staff for almost half the profit.

Today, nearly one in 10 U.S. households maintain at least one self-storage unit, 65 percent more than did so in 1995. Filling these spaces, of course, comes naturally to baby boomers. We are a generation accustomed to regularly leaving offerings at the altar of retail.

Transitioning to empty nest and aging phases of life cause us wonder what to do with mountains of accumulated stuff. Our stuff ranges from toys and high school or college notebooks belonging to now-adult children to heirloom china.

The reality is the resale market is glutted with household goods. Your home full of middle-market, traditional-style furniture to sell is just one more load to enter the marketplace.

Dealers say that stuff’s plunged 50 to 75 percent in value. Elaborate silver tea sets are worth more melted than as decorative objects. And huge heavy items like dining-room breakfronts and banker-style desks are often the toughest to unload.

There is an economic significance and emotional struggle associated with this process. The emotional struggle comes with letting go of decades’ worth of memory-laden stuff. David Ekerdt, director of the Gerontology Center of the University of Kansas, says, “They’re not just things. They’re you.” But the disconnect between perceived value and actual value—when the kids don’t want their parents’ stuff and the market is overrun—can be a cold splash of reality.

When preparing to transition, liquidate your own home or an estate, the essential steps T3 Transitions recommends are:

  Identify the complete inventory you wish to liquidate,

Understand and estimate the time you have to liquidate — from this moment in time until the entire inventory must be removed.

How important, or necessary, is it to receive maximum financial return or not.

In consultation with your transition team liquidation specialist, identify the best method of liquidation:  Sale, Consignment, Donation/Repurposing, Disposal.