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The Ins and Outs of Downsizing and Estate Sales


This has been the month of estate sales for me!

I had the privilege of working with some lovely families this month and helped with their family estates as they transition to the next phase of their journey in life. As Realtors, we are often called upon to be a key team member in this transition. And, I believe it is important to respect the memories and value of the items left behind, and also find the balance and find new homes and purpose for the items from the past.

So where do you start a downsizing process? And what’s involved?

So I start this journey with touring the home and identifying what needs to be done. Alot of memories can accumulate over the years, and those memories can carry into the future, however the many items associated with them need to move onto other places.

Preserving memories

When someone is transitioning either to a retirement home, or someone close has passed on, there is often a great deal of housing related items to be taken care of. Memories, treasures, and trinkets and belongings big and small often accompany this process. When working with the family, I have seen it’s sometimes hard to choose what to keep, and what to do with the rest.

A good first step starts with a sort and purge, with placing all like items together. You might not realize there are 23 glass vases, or 9 wire whisks, you get the idea. And putting them all together and picking only your favorite helps. Can’t decide? Get your camera out, a picture is worth 1,000 words and your memory is preserved, digitally!

Old clothing, especially from a loved one who has passed, can sometimes be tricky, and tough to part with, however, some of these clothes can be repurposed and made into new memories like patchwork blankets, pillows, even a teddy bear. I’ve seen jewelry items transform into Christmas ornaments to add some sparkle and sweet memories to your tree.

In the end, pick the best, and donate the rest. Has a nice rhyme to it don’t you think?

Finding new homes for treasures and trinkets

Once you have decided on keeping a manageable amount of family treasures, time to find new homes for the remainder of the items.There are always thrift stores, women’s shelters, and newcomer centres that will gladly take the items. Even some animal shelters will take donated towels and linens.

If you are downsizing all of the contents of a house, this goes beyond the donation of small household items, you may wish to consider working with a company that specializes in estate auctions.

I met with a few very knowledgeable and experienced local auctioneers this past month, who after decades in business have adapted to the online world. This new phase of online auctions reach a much wider audience – and items can be shipped great distances by the auction house.

Thanks to Garry Bartlett Auctions, Garry and his team who came in, painstakingly sorted, grouped, photographed and tagged items in preparation for our estate auction. The photos were uploaded to an online portal and a set auction time.

To attract more interest in this auction, we reached out to antique stores and refinishers, buy and sell groups, vintage toy stores, even PEZ dispenser groups to promote the auction. Who knew the vintage PEZ dispensers would be one of the hottest items!

I must say it was pretty exciting as I watched the final minutes of the online auction and the bids going up and up. The auction runs a little less than a week, then pick up day is at the estate, and more than 80% of the items found new homes.

The final clear out

Then came how to move these items to keep or unsold treasures. It can be an overwhelming job for the family, and there may need to be some items to be held onto until the family members can accommodate them. I helped to explore local storage facilities and moving options to house the items. I learned that some rental companies offer labour packages if you want to move most items yourself, and just need a helping hand.

There are some great cube storage companies as well, where you can self-pack and store until you make space for treasures you wish to keep. You might want to look around, many of the storage places we contacted had waiting lists! And if all else fails, there is disposal companies when there are no other options available.

Final thoughts

As we transition through the chapters in our lives, many great memories are created in our minds and in our belongings. With some teamwork and creativity, you can preserve these memories, and transition to the next chapter honouring the items and memories of the past and also helping those who may need just what you have.

If you have any questions about the downsizing and estate sales process, I would be delighted to discuss.

Heidi Brown

Sales Representative

Direct: 416-898-4565

Escarpment Realty Inc., Brokerage

1595 Upper James Street, Suite 101 

Hamilton, ON, Canada L9B 0H7

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