Reader question: Move or store furniture?

Reader Lisa e-mailed us the following question:

I am moving across the country (probably just for a few years), and would like to take just the essentials. However, I have three large pieces of antique furniture bequeathed by my grandmother that I can definitely see wanting to have in a more permanent house when I move back in the future. So… what do I do with them for the next few years? (Or am I deluding myself — will I ever want them?)

Lisa, your question brings up a number of different issues, so bear with me while I take a few twists and turns to get to a definitive answer.

To start, you seem more uncertain about life than you do about a few pieces of furniture. You use the phrase “probably just for a few years,” which speaks volumes about why this decision is difficult for you. Stop thinking about a possible future, and focus on right now. Are you moving across country? Yes. Do you want to take this furniture with you? No.

Since you don’t want to move the furniture across country, you need to decide what to do with it. Is there someone else in your family who could use the furniture now? What would the repercussions be in your family if you sold the furniture to an antique dealer and used the money to set up your new home on the other coast? If someone would be upset that you sold the furniture, are they willing to take it off your hands? (If not, don’t allow yourself to be guilted into keeping it.)

Maybe you love the furniture, and are considering storing it in self-storage? The reality is that you would likely pay $100 a month to put the three pieces of furniture into a storage locker. If you stay on the other coast for three years, then you’ll have spent at least $3,600 in rent for unused furniture. Would you pay that amount to buy this furniture if you saw it in a store? Could you even insure the furniture for that amount? The possibility also exists that you’ll love the other coast and decide to stay out there permanently. If this happens, then you’ll either continue to pay to store the furniture or you’ll have to pay to have it shipped across country. Whatever way you look at it, using a public storage facility will cost you … and it will probably cost you stress and worry in addition to the price tag.

The future is uncertain, but the present isn’t. If I were you, I’d give the pieces to someone in the family who wants them more than you do. You can admire the furniture every time you visit that family member, and know that it is being useful. And, remember, it’s just furniture, it’s not your grandmother.

30 Comments for “Reader question: Move or store furniture?”

  1. posted by John Robertson on

    Although what you say is true, it does not acknowledge the sentimental value of the furniture. The old desk that I salvaged from my grandfathers home, still brings back childhood memories.

  2. posted by Sandor on

    @John Robertson: I thought “You can admire the furniture every time you visit that family member, and know that it is being useful.” covered the sentimental value issue quite nicely.

    I inherited my grandmother’s couch back when I was a student but had to give it up after a month because I knew my roommates were going to destroy it. Giving it up was difficult, but I felt giving it to another family member who was in a better position to give it the care it deserved was the right decision. It was painful, but it was better for everyone in my family knowing it was going to get a few more years use.

    Anyway, the moral is that you should consider the rest of your family’s feelings in this matter as well as your own. If someone else can give the furniture a good home, make arrangements and be proud of the fact that you’ve given it another chance at life.

  3. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @John — Sentimentality is really all I address in this column. And, the conclusion is that if she decides to get rid of the furniture that it’s OK … she’s not getting rid of her grandmother.

  4. posted by Louise on

    The phrase that popped out of Lisa’s question for me is that she “would like to take just the essentials.”

    Lisa, what do you consider essential? Are you taking some other chair rather than your grandmother’s chair? Both are something to sit on, but you’ve already decided which is “essential.”

    A very important part of uncluttering is releasing the un-essentials. If the furniture doesn’t fit into the essential category now, it most likely will never will. If you see your future as a time when you bring un-essentials back into your life then you may be heading for a cluttered future. If you are reading this blog, then that probably isn’t what you want.

    Take a photo of grandmother’s furniture, or find an old photo that shows Grandmother AND the furniture and keep that in a lovely frame. Or select a smaller item of your grandmother’s, such as a piece of jewelry, to capture those good feelings and wear it proudly. Acknowledging the sentimental value of the furniture does not tie you to it forever. The memories are essential, but the objects are not.

    I love that Lisa is planning her future with an eye toward uncluttering!

  5. posted by ceegee on

    I agree with all posts so far. I especially agree with Erin’s emphasis on NOW, because you can never foretell what the future holds. Six years ago I moved to Europe ‘for a year’, and only now am I finally thinking about moving back to America. I purged a ton of stuff before I made my big leap (and discovered a lightness I had never known before). Now as I contemplate moving back “home”, I realise that my tastes and values have changed, and I’m a different person. None of the stuff from my former life would fit into the lifestyle I want for myself NOW. If you can’t find somebody to take the furniture while you’re gone, then consider taking a deep breath and selling it. Your grandmother’s furniture could actually be the financial key to some wonderful experiences and as you live them in the moment, you can also be reminded of your grandmother.

  6. posted by Steven on

    My mom came up with an ingenious way of getting rid of furntiture her parents kept giving her: She tells them she used it to furnish the basement, but they don’t ever go down there when they come to visit, so she actually sold it or gave it away.

  7. posted by Dream Mom DBA www.dreamorganizers.com on

    I’d keep the furniture. She says she’d “definitely want” them in a more permanent home in the future. Having some nice antique pieces that were her Grandmother’s would be lovely and add nice character to her home. I doubt buying other antique furniture or new furniture would give the same feel to a permanent home.

    In reading her letter closely, I think the real decision is her moving across the country. She states she just wants to take the essentials and that it’s just for a few years. She sounds less committed to the move. I’d re-evaluate my decision to move since it doesn’t sound like she really wants it, otherwise, why would she just take the “essentials”?

    It’s great to keep things to a minimum but I think it’s important to separate the real treasures from the clutter. Having beautiful antique pieces sounds less like clutter. Also, if she took the pieces with (even though she just said essentials), it might make her new place seem more like home and make the transition easier.

  8. posted by Lori on

    This is a tough one. The real question is, do you love the furniture for itself, or do you love the furniture because it reminds you of your grandmother?

    If you love the furniture for itself, you find a way to have someone keep it for you until you’re ready to have it with you again, or you put it into storage. (FYI, here in Ohio, it will cost you WAY more than $100/month for climate-controlled storage for large pieces, and you should not even remotely consider any storage for antiques that is not climate controlled [including relatives' basements]. I’ve seen the results of that, and it is heartbreaking, to say the least.)

    If you love it mainly because it reminds you of your grandmother, you take a deep breath, find another way to remember your grandmother, and let the furniture go, whether to a relative or to a buyer who will love it and get use out of it immediately.

    My experience is similar to @ceegee’s. I moved 6000 miles away thinking it would be for just a year, and it ended up being six. I actually did a really good job of getting rid of stuff and ended up not storing much, but found when I eventually did move back that half of what I had stored no longer interested or had meaning for me.

  9. posted by stuffaddict.com on

    Thanks for the article!
    I have been thinking about the same thing, recently.
    Antique furniture (and other stuff like books) that I wouldn’t want to sell, if I leave for a few months. Storage might be the answer for me too.

  10. posted by Ginger on

    I moved my family antiques across the country twice (Texas->New Jersey and back) in the course of five years. Another issue to consider if you take them is will they be damaged in transit. My antique dining table has a big chip out of it and my dressing table is missing screws–and this is with a careful mover.

    I gave up a family ‘heirloom’ I couldn’t use to friends and now I wish I’d done the same with the antiques. I almost cried when I heard how my friends used my family table, and I’m growing to resent the things I took with me that I didn’t need and don’t fit my lifestyle.

  11. posted by Martha on

    You should keep the furniture if it means something to YOU, otherwise pass it back to someone else in the family or sell so someone can get use out of it. My mother in law is constantly giving us family momentos, but they are items that she doesn’t want, but doesn’t want the guilt of throwing them away. Items like old cross stitch or little knick knacks that just collect dust! They have no meaning to me or my husband…she has even gotten around us by giving them to directly to our children who don’t want to hurt Grandma’s feelings by saying no thanks.

  12. posted by Thom on

    No one’s suggested this yet:

    Re-categorise the furniture as “essential” and take it with you!

    (And take the trouble to have it “international wrapped” so that it is encased in special bubble wrap and cardboard to avoid damage – movers will do this if you request, even if it’s a domestic move.)

    Why do I say this?

    1. You write that you can “definitely” see yourself wanting the furniture in the future. (I interpret this as you saying that you DO like the pieces. If you hated them or they weren’t your style then you’d be saying something different.)

    2. If they are good antiques from your grandmother’s period then they are likely to be of better quality than anything you these buy new for a sensible price. If you were to sell them, could you later replace them for the price of the selling cost? (I suspect not.)

    3. If you end up staying in your new location and making a permanent home there then you will have with you the pieces that you imagine being a part of a future permanent home. You won’t have to ship them from a storage facility or family member across the country. If you end up coming “home” then you simply ship them back home with your other essentials.

    4. Storing furniture is expensive and pointless unless you are quite certain that the move is very short-term and temporary by definition (e.g. a 6-month international posting).

    5. If you like something and it’s beautiful and has sentimental value, why not keep it around? Take the lovely antique table as your “essential”, for example, and ditch the Ikea table (to use an extreme example). Remember, after a short period of time it’s cheaper to move furniture with you than to store it and it will give you more pleasure if it’s with you in your home.

    **

    I write from experience. I have four pieces of mahogany French-polished furniture that my late father made for me. I will never sell these as they count amongst my most beautiful possessions, they are exquisitely crafted, and they represent a very tangible memory for me of my father’s practical love and creative values.

    When I made an international move a few years back I had the choice of leaving these pieces with my mother or taking them overseas with my other household goods. They would have been safe with mum, but I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy them, and I worked out that the pro-rated cost of shipping these pieces would be far less than the cost of replacing them with something of similar quality and aesthetic beauty in my new home. And let’s face it, I was going to need a chest of drawers, a cheval mirror, etc. anyway. So I took them with me. And naturally I brought them back home after three years. I don’t regret doing that for a minute.

    **

    Moral: don’t limit yourself when defining what’s “essential”.

  13. posted by Michele on

    Fascinating discussion. I think I would feel unsettled living with some of my important possessions across the country. I did this for a while when I relocated to California from the east coast, and felt much more settled and “here” when I finally got all my things moved.

  14. posted by Lauren on

    Erin is exactly right: letting go of the object does not mean you are letting go of the memories.

    As an organizer having lived in a military town, I worked with numerous clients who stored furniture and other items for a future home (and moved them across country, sometimes several times). When I am called in to finally help them simplify and get organized, they often decide to let go of 90% of what they had stored for years because the items were in poor condition, outdated, no longer their style or it didn’t fit into their space (or lives) today…even though they obviously felt strongly enough about the items when they decided to pay to put them into storage.

    This is all food for thought and ultimately, Lisa will need to make the best decision for her. If she does decide to let go the furniture and a family member cannot take it, I recommend taking pictures. It sounds superficial but pictures can evoke the same memories.

  15. posted by Beverly on

    I’d dispose of the furniture if I wasn’t going to move it and use it. Most of us keep way too much stuff we don’t use/need. I like Dave Bruno’s 100 things challenge. He’s unknowlingly helped me get rid of lots of clutter. I may have to get rid of my husband if I want to get rid of any more clutter (all that’s left is his junk).

  16. posted by Julia on

    If you really don’t want to make the final decision, there is still another option.

    I had a piano I carried around the country for years, even though I didn’t play any more. The idea of selling it broke my heart.

    It is now at my sister’s house, on “permanent loan.” Meaning it’s hers, but if she decides to get rid of it, giving it back to me is the first option.

    I know it’s being appreciated and played, and I never had to cut the ties – they just faded over time. Until recently, I’d forgotten I had a piano!

  17. posted by Jack on

    Louise: When Lisa said she was just taking “the essentials” I figured she meant the sort of things you can pack in the car for a cross-country drive: Some clothes, important papers, jewelry, etc. When I moved across country, I shipped a few things ahead – including an antique rocking chair – and everything else I brought with me travelled in my airline luggage. That doesn’t mean I don’t think furniture is pretty important. ;) Just that most of the pieces I had were not antique, and therefore easier to replace from cragislist than to ship.

  18. posted by Kathi D on

    I vote for finding a family member to keep it temporarily if at all possible. That happened to me, and now I have grandmother’s dining set back, and I love it. The older I get, I find I appreciate these inherited things all the more and the impulse buys I make all the less.

  19. posted by Kathi D on

    P.S. Of course, everyone’s experience will be different. But I have to add, I don’t LOVE the furniture I inherited, exactly. It’s high-quality solid maple, but in Early American style, which I would not have chosen for myself. However, every time I sit down to dinner, I remember meals at Nana’s house, and I wouldn’t have that same connection without the furniture. And what the heck, styles come and go, but history remains.

  20. posted by Jeanne B. on

    “And, remember, it’s just furniture, it’s not your grandmother.”

    I really needed to be reminded of that. At present, I am finally attempting to deal with the parental leftovers–the stuff I inherited when they passed on in 2006 that has no real value or sentimental meaning, but was just their everyday “stuff”. Until you’re there, you would never understand how difficult it is to let go of a half-used stale bottle of perfume you don’t even like BUT for the fact that it was Mother’s and that it sat in the bathroom for 40 years.

    I’m not throwing away Mother or Dad, I’m throwing away THEIR clutter.

    For Lisa: if you definitely can see wanting them, see if a friend or family member nearby can take the pieces on loan with the understanding that you will retrieve them upon returning (or send for them when you find more permanent digs).

    I would give them a timeframe and a deadline for disposal, though, and get it in writing–such as, you will collect them within five years of X date, after which they are allowed to dispose of them as desired with no repercussions.

    I’d also consider giving them a bit of “rent” for their trouble if they are storing them for you, unless they are allowed to use them freely. Having been the custodian of others’ belongings and being stuck with one item for nine years (then never hearing from the person again), I can say that I wish I’d done this rather than leaving it open-ended.

  21. posted by cerrissa on

    i find that the same thing happened to me. There was a fire in my grandmother’s house that ruined a lot of her belongings but only in half of the house the rest just had minor smoke and water damage. it gave her perspective in realizing which belongings were really important to her(family photos that were miraculously unscathed!) and things she had been meaning to replace or get rid of completely(that tv set from the 60’s that has knobs rather than buttons). some of the things she asked people in the family if they wanted before she got rid of them. i asked her if i could have a set of upholstered chairs from her den. I had sat in those chairs every Christmas waiting to open my gifts and bossing around my little cousins. This was my chance to give them a new life and trade in the orange/cream striped velvet fabric for something more updated. My mom and I did all the reupholstering ouselves. Fast- foward 3 years, i moved from Alabama to NYC. From a house to a tiny apartment that doesn’t have a living area. Needless to say, those chairs didn’t come along. but they are waiting for me in Alabama and as soon as i do have a living space to put them in they will be there, wherever “there” might be :)

    so i guess what i’m saying is that u can always update the look of the furniture to fit your style if it means a lot to you, and u want to keep it around. You can always paint, stain, reupholster, etc. but if u can’t use it right now, i think seeing if a family member can hold onto it for you is a good idea– thanks mom!

  22. posted by ME on

    I did this exact thing. I moved across the country almost 3 years ago. I only took the things that I wasn’t afraid to get damaged. The purge will come for me when I move back this winter. I will get rid of everything I brought out here with me. And I look forward to furnishing my new home back at home with my family heirlooms and antiques. Paying for storage was worth it for me.

  23. posted by Eden on

    Maybe pick a favorite of the three pieces and ask around if other family members want the other two. Like if it’s a dining room set with a table/chairs, buffet and china cabinet, maybe one of the storage pieces could go in a non-dining-room room and be of use.

  24. posted by Deb on

    I left the quilt frames my father made for me in a city I basically passed through during a hard time in my life. They were 10 feet long, I was not using them for quilting and I thought the person who bought them would use them.

    Of all the stuff I have decluttered, this is the one regret I have. They were a gift for my 21st birthday ( I am 51 now) Dad knows I sold them and I know it hurts him. I would give a lot to have them back.

  25. posted by Sandra on

    It may depend on the age of this person and whether there’s a younger generation who would definitely want the furniture. I’m 61 and doing a cross-country move in about a week, moving into a smaller space. I’m keeping just a few things of my mother’s, a needlepoint footstool, a wall hanging she made, and a couple of knickknacks. There’s no younger generation in my family and this is enough for my own memories.

  26. posted by Michelle on

    I think you should pass it on to a family member if all else fails or someone else you know that could look after it for you.

    Or you can do what other people said and take it with you, you do not want to regret anything.

    Take photos to remind you and then sell them or take them to get appraised and auction them or something.

    Just what I think is if you aren’t willing to take it where you are going, I think maybe you do not want it as much as you think so just do whatever you agree with above me and pass it on to someone who will cherish it a little more.

  27. posted by kenny on

    Get rid of it. Put it on Craigslist and sell it. Start new when you return.

  28. posted by Dasha on

    I carried a 12 person tea set that belonged to my great aunt on a ten hour plane trip, carry on. I also brought over everything I could from her apartment – a wooden dog statue thing (retirement present from her workplace), a wooden box (inscribed by my grandfather – in 1946), kitchen canister things from my grandmother. All of these items are useful and decorative in my home now (the box holds buttons, the canisters hold nuts). The dog sits on my tv unit, and when I have a half hour to myself, I enjoy a cup of tea from the tea set. My home (all 250 sq ft of it) feels more like home with these items. If it’s important, and you want it as a part of your life, keep it!

    Ideally, find a family member that will use it, with the understanding that you can have it back when it is time. And if necessary, the climate controlled storage is expensive – but IMHO worth it. You aren’t storing junk.

    What I would reconsider is the move. If you intend to return and you consider your current location home, then why leave?

  29. posted by Rue on

    I don’t think you need to get rid of the furniture as some would suggest. If it’s that sentimental to you then you should keep it. However, I think that storing it would be an impractical use of money. I’d see if any of your friends or family would be willing to hang on to it for you (with the understanding that when you come back, you get it back). If that’s not possible, I’d suck it up and ship it to your new place. Yes, it may not be “essential.” But if you’re going to be in a new place for a few years, as you say, you’re certainly going to acquire some new things that aren’t necessarily essential – why not take some pieces of furniture you love but that you don’t consider essential?

    The one thing I highly disagree with unclutterers and organizers on is sentimental items. While I agree that they don’t replace the relative or friend whom they belonged to, I don’t think that means you shouldn’t keep them. If it makes you feel good to keep it, then keep it.

    The key is having space for it. This means that you need to have a defined place for it and a use for it. In the case of furniture, its use is obvious. If you are taking other furniture instead of this antique furniture that you want to keep, reconsider that.

  30. posted by the minimalist on

    I have used a storage facility twice while making big moves and both times I lost things I wished Id kept because my husband got frustrated and just junked a bunch of things. In retrospect if I had taken the time before the move to go through my belongings and moved less things it wouldn’t have happened. You never realize how much you have until you move and if you have to use a storage facility you have too much! I just moved last month and did it in one day and it’s all here in one piece because I sent a truck load to Goodwill the day before we moved!

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