Sentimental objects are one of the most challenging categories for professional organizers to help clients with. This is especially true with objects related to family history, such as:
Family history documents (letters, journals, diaries, invitations, etc.),
Education related (book reports, college papers, graduation diplomas, etc.),
Civil records about family members (marriage records, immigration records, birth/death certificates, etc.)
Photos, diaries, papers, trophies…these are all critical elements of your family legacy. They tell the story of important family members, and are the fabric of what binds families together. Personally, I am not an advocate of throwing this all away. On the other hand, how can anyone benefit if these materials are stashed away in the attic, basement, or closet?
The first step to any family history project is taking an inventory of what you have. Even if your project is simply tidying your family history boxes, you will be happy you did it. And I promise, your children will thank you!
Take some time to go through each box carefully and understand what is in them. It’s almost always the case we find things we had completely forgotten about. And it’s not at all uncommon to find objects we thought were lost. Once you know what you have, it will be much easier to figure out what to keep, and how to organize it all.
One complaint I hear frequently is that people don’t really know what to do with these materials. They accumulate and accumulate, taking up more room than you ever would have wanted. The fear of the materials being damaged, and frustration that nothing productive is being done with them, causes most people to feel anxious, along with a good measure of guilt.
Organizing family history materials allows us to honor family members and declutter. As I mentioned, I am not a fan of throwing these materials away. BUT, you’ll be surprised how much space is being taken up by duplicates, damaged papers/photos, old frames, and photos of people you don’t know—all of which can all be thrown away.
And watch out for newspaper clippings! Newspaper paper does not last. Not only that, it can damage other materials it comes into contact with.
The advent of online publishing has made printing books in small print runs very affordable. Imagine having a book of all your parents’ correspondence, and giving a copy to each of your children. Or imagine assembling all the civil records about your ancestors so the whole family can have a richer understanding of its roots and history. All you need is a scanner and a little patience. If you don’t have the time, there are many scanning services which can do this for you. The Association of Professional Photo Organizers is also a great place to find someone locally who can do this.
Once scanned, it’s time to select an online book publisher. There are many to choose from. Two of my favorites are Blurb and Mixbook. Mixbook in particular has some great layouts just for family history projects. Be sure to wait for a sale! Both these sites frequently offer significant discounts.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that these books become instant family heirlooms. They make terrific gifts for important birthdays or around the holidays.
If you run into a hiccup while organizing, scanning, or making your book, feel free to give me a call. I’m always happy to answer questions. Good luck with your family history project!
People often wonder about the possible value of items they have accumulated over many years. These items are often viewed as “treasures” which may have significant resale value. Finding the “treasures” among their possessions often surfaces when:
People often have a sense of the value of some of their valuables. However, in many cases the values are from past information or are based on a retail price that does not represent current resale value.
Many people research and try their hand at determining resale values. The internet is the most common resource used. There is a great deal of information available on the internet, so much so, that it can become overwhelming. However, it is possible to get a sense of what to expect in the current market. A few resources which are helpful, free, and fairly easy to use are EBay, Live Auctioneers, and Invaluable. Each of these resources provide a history of the selling price of items which have been offered through their sites. They provide the sales history with no charge once you have registered (registration is free). When researching items, it is important to look at the selling price results of the same or similar items. Using the asking price is not reliable because the seller can ask any price they would like for an item. Therefore, it is the selling price which provides a more accurate measure of resale value.
Often, another challenge is properly identifying the item to be valued. There are reproductions or copies which can be difficult to differentiate from originals. There are maker marks and signatures which are difficult to find and read. I have had clients get extremely excited about an item they saw on Antiques Road Show that was worth many thousand of dollars and looked just like the one they own. In most cases, there are subtle differences and their item is of much less value.
It is helpful to have the help of a trained eye. There are professional resources available to help identify the value of potential treasures:
A common question I receive relates to collectible plates and other collectible items which have been purchased on late night television throughout the decades. In most cases, there is little or no value to these items. When there are many of something sold to many collectors, the value does not often increase. The resale market is driven by supply and demand. When there is a large supply of collectible items made for collecting, there is rarely enough demand to make them valuable.
Personal property is “in motion” when there is a need to deal with your movable personal possessions. Items include furnishings, art, antiques, jewelry, and collections — often referred to as “stuff.”
What puts Personal Property in Motion?
• Moving & down-sizing living space
• Selling a local home to move full-time to a vacation home
• Inheriting items when your home is already full
• Deciding to sell a personal collection
• Making a decorating/design change or upgrade
• Getting organized to deal with stuff which has accumulated over the years
• Settling an estate
Suggestions for dealing with emotions when Property is in Motion
• Pictures can help retain the memory of items. Remembering special rooms, spaces, items, and collections through picture albums can help minimize the sense of loss. The pictures, when stored and retrieved electronically, take up no physical space.
• Providing family and friends with the opportunity to acquire items helps in many cases. Passing along sentimental items, in this way, often feels good.
• Recognize it is now normal when family and friends are not interested in many of your furnishings and treasures. Unfortunately, I see this in the majority of people I have worked with in recent years. It helps to not take it personally. When this happens, it is time to sell, donate, or dispose.
Identifying and selling valuable personal property:
• Unfortunately, what you or your family paid for items does not matter to buyers.
• The buyers are generally significantly younger than the sellers. Current market value is driven by what buyers demand.
• When you look to sell valuables directly to a buyer, knowing the current market value is helpful in setting and negotiating a fair price.
• Auctions are an efficient way to deal with significant amounts of personal property in motion efficiently; there are auctions available at every level.
• Higher-end auction houses are an efficient resource in identifying valuable items and their market value; there is generally no charge for this service.
• When selling valuables at auction, it is important to use an auction house which regularly offers similar items. They will have established clientele and attract strong bidders.
Very often, a handful of the most valuable personal property items are worth as much as everything else (you’d hoped to sell) combined. When this happens, half of the financial work in handling the property in motion is complete, simply by identifying and selling the most valuable items.
The process of dealing with property “in motion” brings out emotion. There are memories attached to belongings which connect us to our family, friends, and occasions throughout our lives. While the process may have emotional ups and downs, it feels good when it is complete. I wish you well.
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I had the privilege of speaking with a 2nd generation auctioneer yesterday, and I want to share the information I learned with you. The premise of the call was to help professional organizers learn what does, and does not have value in the auction market so that we can give our clients the most up to date information. After all, we are not experts, but we need to be able to direct our clients to the best solution to meet their needs.
The most important thing I learned was that this is not a good time to sell your household items, furniture, or collections. That being said, if you have things to get rid of, you NEED to get rid of them, so you should at least try. Also, unless you have a Tiffany lamp or other valuable items to store, it’s not worth paying for a storage unit to hold onto things until the market has improved as it could be 20 years before that happens. This may sound grim, but I think we all (myself included) have to be realistic.
In one instance, I took some diamonds to a well respected auction house and was disappointed by their estimates. I ended up getting a better price at the local jeweler. In another instance, I took a 1920s English sterling silver set to a well respected auction house and the range that they gave me was less than if I melted it. I haven’t done anything with it because the idea of melting something so beautiful makes me ill.
The comments below are general, and things may vary depending on the geographic area. Also, specialty auction house results may be better than general ones. Please remember that the words ‘value and valuable’ are relative terms.
Watercolors are usually not that valuable
Contemporary art is valuable but difficult to price
Artwork featuring people and animals is more valuable
American silver plate has very low value (due to mass production)
English silver plate has more value
Most silver value is in the metal, unless it is from a quality name like
Tiffany or Georg Jensen
1% of what is out there is valuable
Hummels and Royal Doulton, that are signed, are valuable
Other collectibles are worth 50% less than ten years ago and 75% less than 20 years ago
World War I more valuable
World War II has some value
Have value since people are still collecting coins
Less value because there aren’t that many collectors looking for them
First editions and signed books, in good condition, have some value
Old books that are in good condition have less value
Due to less interest, religious or educational books have little value
A lot of 33RPM records have some value
78s are generally not popular
Need to be saleable
Cast iron is valuable
Original boxes add value
Need to be in mint condition
Ones with the lower cover prices have more value
Handmade, 60 years and older, with silk content from Iran, have the most value
Machine made are less valuable
Sells for 1/3 of its appraised value
Signed jewelry has some value
Old watches have diminished value
Tiffany, Lalique, Herend and Royal Crown Derby are hot
Some signed art glass has value
Values are much less than new
Real bronze is extremely heavy
Has value, but there are a lot of knockoffs
Mid Century Modern
High quality is valuable
An appraiser can help you select a good auction house for you to sell your high value items. Also, it is important that you work with reputable appraisers and auction houses. The American Society of Appraisers is a great way to get started.