What to do with an unused piano

An Unclutterer reader wrote to us asking a surprisingly common question:

I’m currently getting ready to move out of state. I’m retired, and am downsizing everything in my life. I have a piano that my father gave me when I was in high school. He passed away over 20 years ago. I’m moving to a small beach cottage on the Oregon coast. I am struggling with the decision of not taking the piano. I don’t really play it anymore, and feel that it isn’t going to fit in our small home. Somehow, I’m not sure if this is the right decision. What are your thoughts?

This is a question I can relate to, as I’ve been on both the giving and the receiving end of a piano. In addition to being a large instrument, pianos can also hold great sentimental value for their owners. Therefore, what to do with a piano can be a difficult decision.

The piano

First and foremost, pianos are big. Even a small upright piano can be as large as a couch. Inviting one into your home is a commitment, as they’re big, heavy, and difficult to move. Typically, once a piano has been placed in its spot, that’s where it’s going to stay until you move.

Don’t get me wrong, a piano is not a burden. It’s a lovely instrument. And, like many other objects, a piano can harbor tremendous sentimental value. When I was in high school and a dedicated music student, my parents acquired a piano from family friends who wanted to offload it. For the price of moving it across town, the piano was ours. I adored it and spent countless hours on the bench, playing away.

When I moved out to attend college, my parents were left with a massive piece of unused furniture. I was the only one in the family who played, and while I studied far away in Boston, the old piano back in Pennsylvania was being used to display family photos. After much deliberation, they decided the piano had to go.

The sentiment

The weight of emotion can be even stronger than trying to budge a piano that exceeds 400 pounds. In 2010, the BBC published an article, “What is nostalgia good for?”, which acknowledged the appeal of keeping sentimental items:

Nostalgia is a way for us to tap into the past experiences that we have that are quite meaningful — to remind us that our lives are worthwhile, that we are people of value, that we have good relationships, that we are happy and that life has some sense of purpose or meaning.

The article also noted the potential risks of keeping everything from the past:

While highlighting the benefits of nostalgia, a 2006 report in Psychology Today magazine has warned that ‘overdoing reminiscence’ risks an absence of joy derived from the present, and a reliance on past memories to provide happiness.

If you have no need for the piano, but it holds a great deal of sentimental value for you, perhaps there’s a book of sheet music in the piano’s bench you can display in a quality frame. Maybe the rack that holds up the music can be removed and repurposed elsewhere in the house. For your specific situation, I’d suggest finding a way to display some part of that experience in a meaningful way that will let you say goodbye to the piano itself.

As far as getting rid of the actual piano, start by asking friends if they might be interested in having it. Talk with music teachers — at schools, music stores, and those who give private lessons — to see if there might be students who are looking to acquire an instrument. List it on Craigslist or your local Freecycle if you can’t find the piano’s next owner in one of the previously mentioned ways. And, finally, see if the next resident of your home might be interested in having it. It’s very difficult to sell pianos, so prepare to think of it as a donation instead of something with monetary value.

Good luck and congratulations on your new home.

12 Comments for “What to do with an unused piano”

  1. posted by Glen on

    There was that episode of Northern Exposure where flung a piano with a huge trebuchet.

  2. posted by Mamianka on

    We are music teachers – husband is a pianist. By all means, contact your local school district and see if they will accept it as a donation; call local music teachers and ask them to keep aware of any students who might have started lessons on an electric keyboard, would who would LOVE to have a *real piano*. That being said, some of the older instruments need WORK – and are not worth the expense. So bear in mind that really old instruments can be disassembled and the various parts recycled. The cast iron plate can be sold for scrap metal. The wooden case can live again as a desk, cabinet, or even be cut into wood for picture frames, etc. However, if there are REAL IVORY and ebony keys – these are in demand, since ivory is now illegal to import. Since ivory is naturally porous yet smooth, it makes the optimum surface for players on a hot stage, where fingers get sweaty. Often restorers of fine pianos seek out old keys, from which THEY (not you!!) remove the ivory veneers – even chipped ones have some value. So call around – ask. For the ivory alone, they might be willing to take a “cadaver piano” away for you – safely.

  3. posted by Kitsunerina on

    One thing not many people think about is that a piano is a wooden instrument. If your new home will have a drastically different humidity/seasonal change from your current home, it will affect the sound and life of your piano. At very least, it will need retuned regularly until it adapts to the new environment. If you’re not going to play it enough to make it worthwhile to tune it regularly, leave it to someone closer to it’s current abode who will play it and think of you each time they do.

  4. posted by laura m. on

    When mother inlaw died, we donated the piano (tried to sell it for several months and failed) to a senior center. Other items were sold or donated. I’m into modern stuff and nothing appealed to me she had.

  5. posted by skiptheBS on

    Many a small inner-city church would love to have a piano. Underserved schools might be able to house one for student practice.

    Older pianos (and pipe organs, if you’re really lucky) often are constructed of mahogany. Strength and time are required to dismantle/convert them into other furnishings but results can be really beautiful. If you find a discard, don’t let that wood go to the dump.

  6. posted by Sam on

    Readers may be interested in this article from the Washington Post – “Pianos, free for the taking”; the article has two links of organizations who arrange for piano donation/adoptions.


  7. posted by BeverlyD on

    I ran into exactly this issue a couple of years ago. I have a Steinway 6’6″ grand that my husband gave me for Valentine’s day almost 20 years ago. At that time we lived in a 4000 sq.ft. home with a large formal living room. I and my 2 daughters played almost daily. Now we have moved to a smaller home in another state and the daughters are grown and married. I don’t get to play much. The piano takes up about 25% of my living room. So I contacted the local Steinway music store and arranged to have it put on consignment. The night before they were to come take it to their storage, I did not sleep, I was having a panic attack. I called them in the morning and cancelled the whole deal. Obviously I am not ready to part with something that means so much to me. I decided to make a concerted effort (pun intended) to play more frequently and enjoy it more. The whole experience was quite revealing to me.

  8. posted by Marcia on

    I’m all emotional reading all these loving responses. Thank you so much. I still have a few weeks to decide what to do about this piano. Now, I’m going to let all these stirrings help me. ♡

  9. posted by Barb on

    My grandma had a beautiful black baby grand piano (my dad took lessons for 8 years when he was a child). Twice she offered it to my parents, but our house was a small cap cod with no room for it. My sister would have loved it but she was in college at the time and couldn’t take it either. Eventually, my grandma donated it to her church.

  10. posted by Kathryn on

    I was given the family piano and kept it for years. It was a very modest instrument with no real value. After contacting schools and churches I could not find anyone who wanted a basic piano. I then tried a local piano tuner who ran a piano tuning and repair school. He was thrilled to take my piano after clearly explaining how he would use it to teach students. He intended to take it apart as a teaching exercise. Good use of our piano. Yours may be a better instrument but this is one option for a basic piano. Good luck

  11. posted by Elizabeth on

    I can so relate to this problem. My mother died in January and she owned the family piano. A baby grand, it is nearly 200 years old. It was originally bought by my grandmother in the 1930s (when it was sold as 100 years old – also the manufacturer existed only in the early 19th century which is how I can date it.) She was a singer and used it for rehearsals. My mother had been a choir singer (big professional London choruses) and no doubt practiced on it.

    All 3 of us were brought up to play it and I was the one who used it the most (my brother had better natural talent but I just worked and enjoyed it.) I have been playing it since I was six years old. I don’t know yet what’s going to happen to the piano. I have no room for it at all. If it gets sold I just know i’m going to be a sobbing wreck when it’s gone (and may well have to be away when it’s taken).

    However it’s interesting to hear of piano recycling. I consider that a sort of Viking funeral – the spirit lives on in other instruments.

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