What tips can you recommend to help seniors with downsizing? I have been thinking about moving to a retirement community, but in order to move I need to get rid of a lot of my stuff. I have a four bedroom house as well as an attic and basement that are full. Any tips would be appreciated.
-- Overwhelmed Senior
The process of weeding through a house full of stuff and parting with old possessions can be difficult and overwhelming for many seniors. Most people in your situation start the downsizing process by giving their unused possessions to their kids or grandkids, which you can do up to $13,000 per person per year before you’re required to file a federal gift tax return, using IRS Form 709. Beyond that, here are a few extra tips and services that may help you.
Downsizing for dollars
Selling your stuff is one way you can downsize and pad your pocketbook at the same time. If you’re willing, have the time and access to the Internet, online selling at sites like Craigslist and eBay is the best way to make top dollar. Craigslist.org is a huge classified ads site that lets you sell your stuff for free. And eBay.com lets you conduct your own online auction for a small listing fee, and if it sells, 9 percent of the sale price, up to $100. Or, if you don’t want to do the selling yourself you can get help from an eBay trading assistant who will do everything for you. They typically charge between 33 and 40 percent of the selling price. Go to ebaytradingassistant.com to search for trading assistants in your area.
Some other popular selling options are consignment shops, garage sales and estate sales. Consignment shops are good for selling old clothing, household furnishings and decorative items. You typically get half of the final sale price. Garage sales are another option, or you could hire an estate sale company to come in and sell your items. Some companies will even pick up your stuff and sell them at their own location – they usually take around 50 percent of the profits.
If you itemize on your tax returns, donating your belongings is another way to downsize and get a tax deduction. Goodwill (goodwill.org, 800-741-0186) and the Salvation Army (satruck.org, 800-728-7825) are two big charitable organizations that will come to your house and pick up your donations. If your deduction exceeds $500, you’ll need to file Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions.” You’ll also need a receipt from the organization for every batch of items you donate. And be sure you keep an itemized list of donated items. See IRS Publication 526 (www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p526.pdf) for more information.
If you have a lot of junk you want to get rid of, contact your municipal trash service to see if they provide bulk curbside pickup services. Or, depending on where you live, you could hire a company like 1-800-Got-Junk (1800gotjunk.com, 800-468-5865) to come in and haul it off for a moderate fee.
Another good option is Bagster by Waste Management (thebagster.com, 877-789-2247). With this service, you buy the bag (it measures 8 feet by 4 feet by 2.5 feet) at your local home-improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot for around $30. Fill it to a limit of 3,300 pounds and schedule a pickup which costs between $80 up to $205 depending on your location.
You can also hire a professional “senior move manager” to do the entire job for you. These are organizers who will sort through your stuff and arrange for the disposal through an estate sale, donations or consignment. Costs for these services usually range between $1,000 and $5,000. See nasmm.com or call 877-606-2766 to search for a senior move manager in your area. Or, you can hire a professional organizer through the National Association of Professional Organizers at napo.net.
Jim Miller, a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book, can be reached at Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit savvysenior.org.