Lessons From an Estate Sale: Simplify!

Jun 11, 2018
Listen to Article:

In the 19 years my wife and I have been married, I never thought of my in-laws as hoarders. They lived in a modest house that did not feel overcrowded with things.

However, as we conducted an estate sale this past weekend (they both passed away last year), and as we hauled countless loads to a thrift store before and after the sale, I was all too aware of the vast amount of stuff that gets accumulated over a lifetime. Here are a few takeaways from the sale.

It isn’t too early to start reducing. We human beings are generally horrible at envisioning the future. But we will benefit from trying. So, close your eyes and imagine your stuff lining your driveway. Your couches and your chairs, your glassware and your dishes, your books, CDs, Tupperware, tools, towels and…

Then imagine tags on each item listing a price that’s far lower than what you paid. And then get this picture in mind: Strangers picking something up, looking it over, glancing at the price tag, and putting it back down, having deemed it too much to pay.

Sorry to paint such a grim picture, but it isn’t far from reality. So, the sooner you start reducing the amount of stuff in your home the better. Trust me, the longer you wait, the less it’ll be worth.

Start with the obvious stuff. The stuff that’s been in storage for a long time in your basement, attic, or garage. If you haven’t touched it for a long time, it’s a prime candidate for relocation to a different home. If it’s saleable, sell it. If it isn’t, donate it.

Then move on to the stuff where you have too much of the same thing. Think tools and dishware and glassware. If you have adult kids, see if they want some of the excess. Next think of young families just getting started who might be blessed by it or ministries that help people get back on their feet after a setback of some sort.

Tell the story of especially meaningful or valuable items. In the midst of all your stuff, there are probably some items that have a story. A painting or piece of pottery you bought during a memorable trip. A chair that used to belong to your parents. China or jewelry that’s been in your family for multiple generations. Other items may be especially valuable, but your kids may not know that.

Attach a note to such items, telling their story. That’ll help your kids make fully informed decisions about what to do with them after you’re gone.

You may need help. For the past year, I have found myself drawn to articles about minimalism. The idea resonates with me — that our stuff comes at a cost that goes well beyond the price we paid for it. It costs us an overwhelming amount of time to organize it, store it, care for it, insure it, and think about it. All of that time is time we could be spending in much more meaningful and impactful ways.

Reading articles on the topic — practical how-to articles and bigger picture articles that reinforce the benefits of traveling lighter through life — can provide much-needed motivation. My favorite writer on this topic is Joshua Becker, who has a blog called Becoming Minimalist.

My growing interest in minimalism, along with this recent estate sale experience, makes me intent on reducing how much we own. How about you? Have you been intentional about keeping the amount of stuff you own under control? Do you have any suggestions to pass along?

Written by

Matt Bell

Matt Bell

Matt Bell is Sound Mind Investing's Managing Editor. He is the author of five biblical money management books and the teacher or co-teacher on three video-based small group resources. His latest book, Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management, was published by Focus on the Family in 2023. Matt has spoken at churches, universities, and conferences throughout the country and has been quoted in USA TODAY, U.S. News & World Report, and many other media outlets.

Revolutionize Your Investing Approach

Unlock Your Wealth-Building Potential with Sound Mind Investing

Don't leave your investments to chance. Let Sound Mind Investing guide you to financial success. Experience the power of our simple, rules-based strategies and see your wealth grow.

Unlock your wealth-building potential for as little as $0.32 a day.