When asked ‘How do you downsize from a huge house to an RV?’ My answer is always ‘The same way you eat an elephant….. one bite at a time.’
So here’s how we went from a 3 thousand square foot house with two packed attics (we had 26 plastic tubs of Christmas decorations – no judging please) that we had lived in for 20 yrs to a 40’ motor home and a storage unit. Everyone has their own unique circumstances but maybe you’ll find some helpful tips that you can use from our experience.
First we brought in a 40’ dumpster and had it set on the driveway by the house to throw trash in. We had a business for many years so we had lots of paper that needed to be tossed. There were other things like old coolers used for crawfish and shrimp boils, leftover materials from various DIY projects, etc. The dumpster started filling up pretty fast.
Then we rented a climate controlled storage unit to store the things we wanted to keep – a gun safe, a couple of cherished antiques, tax papers, sentimental stuff, etc. That started filling up fast too.
Tip: Don’t put your safe in first and pile everything else in front of it like we did. We’ve had to climb over stuff to get papers out of the safe numerous times.
Once everything we wanted to keep was out of the house, we invited our kids to come get anything they might like to have. We have 2 married daughters. We used to do a LOT of entertaining, as do they, so they were glad to come get a lot of my serving/entertaining stuff and some of the furniture but there was a lot left to still get rid of.
Our first idea was to hire an estate sale company and have them get rid of everything for us. They do all the advertising and handle all the sales. They take their cut and we’d be left to deal with whatever didn’t sale. You don’t even have to be there during the sale. As a matter of fact, they prefer that you NOT be there. Hmm. That was my first red flag. But it sounded like the easiest way to go, right? Sit back, let them do the work and collect your money. Yeah! Well it did sound good until I started checking on what percentage they charge, what value they put on items and getting feed back from people that decided to do the estate sale themselves.
So here’s the low down on estate sellers based on our experience. Just like anyone you do business with – some are great, some a good and some you need to run from. We contacted 2 companies. One wanted 40% of the sales, the other wanted 50%. We thought that was a lot but this was all new to us so we had no idea what to expect. Both would handle advertising and have people to help and one even had a computer system that would print out a list of items sold and price collected at the end of the sale. All good so far. One invited us to come see a sale she was having that weekend so we could see how she handled it. Great! Told her we’d be there and she gave us the address. We got there and no sale. It was cancelled and she didn’t bother to let us know. Another red flag.
The other one wanted to come look at our stuff before he’d commit to doing the sale. Ok. That sounds good. He came and looked around at everything. He was willing to handle the sale but said forget the Christmas decorations. Nobody will buy them and he didn’t want to deal with them. Hmm. While he was there, I asked him what he thought we could get for a couple of the larger pieces of furniture. Our new $1200 entertainment unit – $300. Our cut – $150. Yikes! Another red flag.
Remember that estate sale that had been canceled without notice? Well while we were looking for it we found another one so we stopped to see what they were doing and who they used. To our surprise, the people who owned the stuff were doing it themselves. We asked them why they decided to go that route and their reasons were similar to what were we’re experiencing – percentages too high, pricing set too low and items the estate seller didn’t want to handle. They decided to get family and friends to help and do it themselves. Finally a green flag!
So we decided to do it ourselves. I found a place online where I could buy yard signs. There are several estate sale websites that you can register your sale and upload pictures for a fee starting at less than $100. So I set up an account and uploaded descriptions of big ticket items along with pictures and just did generalized word descriptions of the smaller items. By posting online, I had a lady come from a long ways away because she saw an antique sewing machine I had posted. I also received a call from a local non profit organization that had a women’s and a men’s shelter and soup kitchen. They offered to come get anything we’d like to donate after the sale was over.
Now we needed to start sorting stuff. We brought in tables and grouped like items, sorted through stuff and prepared to price everything. We bought a bunch of those stick-on circles, markers, a cash box and went to the bank and got change. Unfortunately time was running out and we running around like chickens with our heads chopped off the night before the sale and didn’t get half of our stuff tagged because we had a guy stop by and wanted to look around. He ended up buying stuff but took up a lot of our time which was supposed to be spent pricing stuff. It was obvious he was a reseller and haggled over every price.
Tip: Make sure your advertisement says ‘No Early Birds’. You’re going to need that time to prepare.
Our sale was 3 days long – Fri, Sat and Sun. We opened all the rooms and closets except our bedroom. We kept it locked with a sign on it stating nothing inside that room was for sale. We were still using that room to sleep in and we had personal stuff in there. We hired a couple of people from church and a couple of friends to help. We paid them $10 an hour at the end of each day and fed them lunch.
We were able to put prices on the larger items but because we ran out of time and didn’t get to price all the small stuff we generally let our helpers price stuff as we went. Our philosophy was: Our purpose is to sell as much as we can. We don’t want to gouge anyone but we don’t want to give it away either. We had people make a pile and gave them a lump sum price. It was a philosophy that worked really well.
We sold almost everything and did indeed call the non profit company to come get the rest. We were quite happy with the total amount we got for everything.
And remember that entertainment center? Well, we got $500 for the entertainment center and didn’t have to split it with anyone. Beats the heck out of $150.
And we sold ALL the Christmas decorations!!
People were even taking the decorations off the fence out by the pool and digging in the dumpster for those warped coolers we tossed out for their dear lease.
A couple of take aways:
- It was hard work no doubt.
- We couldn’t have done it without help.
- It’s an humbling experience to see all the ‘stuff’ you have (did I really need that many socks?).
- You’ll feel so ‘free’ letting go of the ‘stuff’.
So you might not want to do it yourself but if you do, I hope you found some good information in this post that you can use. And if you decide to use an estate selling company, at least you will an idea what to expect.
Best of luck to you and remember: ONE BITE AT A TIME!!!