As difficult as it may be to hear, your children may not want many of your prized possessions when you downsize or leave your home to them in your will. Blame it on technology, changing lifestyles, or simple preferences, here’s what you can do with these objects instead.
Online reading and books on tape are the preferred way younger generations are reading, if at all. Beautiful books are still coveted by many, but while reading time per week has increased from 3.5 hours a week just 10 years ago, to 6 hours per week just two years ago, most has not been with paper books.
You may think that 17th-century books are rare, but they are likely theological or grammar-based and not that hard to find. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century books, unless first editions in excellent condition, probably came in a series or set and it is unlikely you’d have the full set. Don’t make the mistake of believing your books are of great value without research.
You can determine the value of a book by putting its publishing information into sites like Biblio.com or onto Amazon and eBay. If you think a book is rare, you should contact a book antiquarian. Donating books to places like The Library of Virginia can garner you a tax deduction if you itemize.
Snapshots, old greeting cards, postcards, magazines, and letters are all called paper ephemera. They have sentimental value to some, but very little monetary value. Old photos have no value unless of a famous person or of an important historical occasion. Check with your local historical society or the Library of Virginia if you think you have a document they'd like to keep.
One member's Great Aunt kept a small book where she wrote down the cost of everything she purchased during the Great Depression which the local historic society was happy to take.
Oddly, macabre or death memorial images may have some value. Unless a postcard or letter is from someone of great importance, these too are valued only for the stamps.
Digitizing your snapshots and paper ephemera is the best way to consolidate and preserve these objects for future generations. To maintain the provenance, be sure to label who, what, when, and where if possible.
Sewing Machines, Film Projectors, Cameras, and Steamer Trunks
Nineteenth-century steamer trunks are ubiquitous and have little to no value unless made by Louis Vuitton, Asprey, Goyard, or another famous luggage house.
Old sewing machines can be found in attics across Virginia and even if still working, are worth little.
Cameras and film projectors fill the shelves of second-hand stores and are obsolete at this point. If you have old slides, negatives, or home videos, you can have them digitized which will preserve them far longer than if they remain in their current format. In addition, your memories can be preserved in the cloud where they are not subject to loss from fire, water, or physical loss.
This is a difficult category as some daughters may want their mother's dress, and others do not. If you have more than one daughter, it isn't as likely that they will want to wear the same dress, so it is best to ask before you sell or donate your dress, but don't be hurt if your offer is turned down. Styles and shapes will change, so if your daughter declines, there will be another young lady out there who will love to have your dress.
Figurines and Commemorative Plates
Hummels, Lladro, even Boehm birds are considered dust magnets by younger generations. While some may be of sentimental value, large collections are selling for a fraction of their original cost. Twenty and Thirty-somethings are into experiences and Zen-like tranquil spaces. Our bric-a-brac just doesn’t suit them.
You can consider giving your collections to a retirement home that does a gift exchange during the holidays or hire a professional photographer to style them, light them correctly, and take a photo you can place in your bookshelf to remember a loved one.
Souvenir spoons, stamps, coins, baseball cards, Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch Dolls - the list goes on. While it was fun to collect these things over the years, they probably don't mean as much to your children unless they were actively involved in the hobby themselves. Unless an item in your collection is incredibly rare, the value is only in your memories of where and when you found them.
Check sold items on eBay to see their value today. If worth it, you can list the items for sale yourself, or donate them to a charity to resell. If you want to remember your collection before you donate or sell it, take photographs or scan them and put them into a binder that you can peruse whenever you want - and they won't collect dust or risk other damage.
Hobby and Craft Supplies
Unless your child learned a hobby or craft at your knee and has kept at it into adulthood, it isn't likely he will want your leftover or unused supplies. You can try selling them in lots on eBay or Facebook marketplace, or donate them to a local school, retirement home, or church pre-school. Of course, you may decide you want to get on a crafting tangent and use up as much of your supplies as you can!
Some silver plate by makers like Paul De Lamerie, Simpson & Hall, Tiffany, Cartier, Asprey, or older English makers can still sell for thousands, but most silver plate is of little market value today. Some pieces from the Aesthetic movement or with a mid-century feel are still desirable, but your grown children will not want to polish it, so it is best to donate it or try to sell it online.
The heavy, dark, and ornate antique furniture our grandparents loved is no longer desirable to younger generations. Mid-Century is hot right now, some older pieces may come back into style, and the GrandMillennial wave is helping younger people look at some smaller pieces of darker furniture, but unless it is handmade by a known maker with provenance and historical value, your children will likely paint it or donate it. Minimalism and comfort are in vogue with young adults, and pieces like china cabinets or display anythings are out.
It may shock you as well to know that your furniture isn't worth what you think. An appraiser in Santa Barbara, California, recently appraised a “beautiful” 18th-century highboy and had to break some bad news to its owners. Despite being an "incredible piece" that would have been worth $8,000 twenty years ago, it would max out at $800 today because the market has changed significantly.
Websites like P4A.com can tell you the fair market value of your furniture if you donate it or want to sell it online. Places like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist are good sites to list on.
Multi-colored and sometimes threadbare rugs are no longer in vogue with 20-30 somethings. Look in any home décor magazine today and you’ll see lots of sisal and monochromatic floor coverings.
Parts of the high end market (think New York City, Nantucket, Palm Beach) are still on the hunt for rare persian rugs, but unless your rug is valued at $2000 or more, it may be hard to sell. You would be better off finding a dealer who may want to purchase it, or donating it for your tax deduction.
According to rugknots.com, oriental rugs will never go out of style. Today's monochromatic themes for furniture and walls make a colorful persian really pop. It may take showing your children how a good oriental rug can be used to get their buy-in.
Linen Napkins may still be of interest to your children, but table cloths, placemats, doilies, and linen hand towels are no longer wanted. Ironing, if they know how, is high on the list of unfavorite chores. Of course, if your linens are Delorme, Matouk, or D. Porthault Jours De Paris, your children may covet them.
Handmade Christening gowns are an exception, but unless they are of exceptional quality, hand embroidered, or of historic value, you may want to donate the rest. P4A.com, Ebay, HiBids, and other auction sites can help you establish the value of your linens.
Sterling Silver and Crystal
You know your children best, so if they like and will use sterling flatware and crystal glasses, then they will love to receive yours. If you don’t think they will use them, flatware will not get any antique value at auction, but will be wanted by those who could melt it down for the silver. Silver is a major part of modern electronics, so its value will only continue to rise.
Lalique, Tiffany, Moser, Steuben, Baccara and other great names may still hold a good market value, but non-brands will not. It is best to determine fair market value and either sell to a site like
replacements.com, or donate your silver and crystal for tax purposes.
Your children may want your 12 place settings of Tiffany, Ginori, Herend, Lynn Chase, Minton, or Royal Crown Derby, but china that cannot be put in the dishwasher and takes up a fair amount of storage only to be used once or twice a year is no longer as desirable with most Millennials.
Depending on the maker and scarcity of the pattern, you can probably make a fair amount of money back on your china by selling it online or to a site like replacements.com.
A Virginia woman moved to Georgia several years ago and took along her namesake's portrait painted in the early 1800s. While hosting a Halloween party for her daughter, one of her neighbors looked at the painting and said, "That's a wonderful Halloween decoration! Do the eyes follow you?"
As a sign of our times, many young people are not willing to take the portraits of long lost relatives of whom they know little and don't want hanging in their Scandanavian style interior. In many cases, the frame is as valuable as the painting, so you may want to consider removing the portrait, having it professionally prepared for storage, and inserting a mirror instead. The day may come when your children will want the portraits and will have the frame for it already.
If no one in your family wants your portraits and the figures have no historic significance, there are people who like hanging portraits in their homes, whether related or not. Check with an antiques dealer to see if there is a market where you live.
The Best Thing To Do
Of course, there probably is a hutch-loving millennial out there, as well as adult children who would be happy to receive porcelain figurines, a thimble collection, or photo albums full of people they don’t know. You should ask what your kids want, and really listen to their answers. If your child says "no thanks" then it is "no thanks." Don't make your possessions a burden by forcing them on your kids. One of the hardest things to accept may be that things have a lifespan, and some of yours may have reached their limit.
You can check with extended family members before deciding whether to sell or donate, or reach out to friends.
Most importantly, don’t put asking your children until you are too old to deal with your possessions. If you can still get things out of the attic, now is the time to do so. Then you children aren't left with having to go through your "clutter" themselves.
If you do decide to hold onto your items, be sure to record any provenance or other information you can. Knowing the how, when, where, and how much for an item will help your children if they decide to sell or donate it themselves.
If these tasks seem overwhelming, consult with an appraiser (whose fee can range from $100 to $500 per hour) and/or a professional organizer. The more you know about what you own, the better the decisions you'll make.
Sources: Forbes.com, NerdWallet.com, Insider.com, MarketWatch