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The Things
Grappling with stuff – lots of stuff – doesn't have to erode your sanity.

Never underestimate the emotional toll of disposing of a lifetime of objects,” warns Larry Waller, a Delavan man who helped his antique dealer parents downsize a lifetime’s worth of possessions.

The Wallers moved to Delavan from Pingree Grove, Ill., where they’d spent 35 years curating a personal trove. As a dutiful son, Larry hauled along these things, load by load, until his father relented, “No more.” He didn’t want to become ensconced in stuff all over again.

Through on-site sales and an auction, Larry found new homes for his parents’ acquisitions. Letting go of them was surprisingly difficult, he found. “It’s one thing to make those decisions for yourself,” he says. “It’s another to make them for a parent.”

His father’s reaction, on the other hand, was more sanguine. Letting go of all that stuff was a well-earned relief.

In 2011, the oldest of America’s 76 million baby boomers turned 65, and many are seeking a similar release by cleaning out old storage rooms or moving into smaller houses.

To complicate the matter, their parents, members of the “Greatest Generation” that fought in World War II, are passing on and sending even more wedding china, favorite footstools and desk drawers stuffed with old photographs down the chain of inheritance.

To hoard or not to hoard becomes the question. Here’s how to accomplish the latter safely, smartly and without relegating your belongings to a fire sale.

There’s an industry willing to help you sort and sell your stash of valuables, if you’re willing to part with a percentage of the proceeds. Estate liquidators, such as Open House Estate Sales in Milwaukee, will sort, clean and price items in your home (or that of a relative) and organize a sale on the premises. Liquidators typically advertise the sale, collect any payments and dispose of what’s left over. The advantage is that nearly everything goes. The drawback: You’re agreeing to hand over anywhere from a third to half of the receipts.

Milwaukee’s Chattel Changers runs a clean-out service that will visit your home, collect items that appear salable and put them up for retail at the company’s consignment shop in Shorewood. “Unlike an estate sale, this gives you more time to sell the items without having to slash the prices,” says manager Marie Ulsberger.

Chattel Changers used to put on estate sales, but no more. “More people are living in apartments, and a lot of condo associations do not like people traipsing through the building,” she says.

However you sell your furniture, don’t expect to get what you paid, she says. “Everything changes, and what was hot several years ago may not be now. Victorian items are not worth what they once were. Things from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s are what’s selling now.”

You can cart your own merchandise to consignment stores, where it’ll typically go on sale for four or five months, with prices reduced each month. Anything that doesn’t sell by the end of that period gets disposed of, unless you pick it up.

Art galleries sometimes take paintings or sculpture on consignment, and specialty dealers, such as the Old Phone Shop in Franklin, will buy select items from your trove. Mark and Galina Treutelaar run this antique phone store, and they’re always looking for old phones for rehabbing, resale or parts.

Antique malls allow inheritors to go into the antiques trade for themselves by renting retail space. The best handle sales and taxes, and send you a check at the end of the month.

Downsizers can also put their goods on the auction block. Betthausers’ Auction Service holds sales at American Serb Hall every Wednesday, though what you’ll get for your treasures will vary. “It depends on who’s there, how badly they want it, and if there is just one person that wants it or more than one,” says Marilyn Betthauser, one of the auctioneers.

Craigslist and eBay work for jettisoning items one-by-one or in bundles. Donations to Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore shops may bring a tax write-off, and organizations such as Purple Heart and Easter Seals Wisconsin will often pick up furniture from your house.

For books, Aardvark Book Depot and Renaissance Books will make house calls to pick through your library, or you can lug the volumes to a Half Price Books location near you.

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