Book Review: Downsizing the Family Home

A few weeks ago, Alex wrote about dealing with the clutter of previous generations. It took me back to my childhood when my extended family pulled together to sell my great-grandfather’s farm. That was back in the day where you hired an auctioneer, put ads in local newspapers, and all the neighbours in the county showed up to bid on items the family had dragged out onto the lawn.

Times have certainly changed. Family members live all over the country, neighbours don’t necessarily know one another, and online auctions are the norm. Marni Jameson’s book Downsizing the Family Home is very helpful to those of us in the modern world dealing with liquidating a family estate.

I expected this book to be rather dry; a “how-to” book full of instructions and checklists. Instead, this book was a warm and compassionate recounting of the author’s own experience as she cleared out and sold her childhood home, and helped her parents transition to a retirement centre. She writes like she’s talking to her friends. I chuckled to myself when Jameson recounted how she found “bundles of Christmas cards saved by year going back to William the Conqueror” as well as, “…enough baskets to re-create the miracle of the loaves and fishes.” Many families have similar collections that have to be sorted and disposed of.

However, this isn’t a novel. Jameson shares the information she learned from the experts she consulted and provides many hints and tips throughout the book. It is full of useful information on how to dispose of items — whether to sell, recycle, donate, or just take to the dump. There are several chapters dedicated to helping readers find resources to determine the value of antiques, artwork, and other family heirlooms.

One useful thing I learned was that in most families the stories surrounding family heirlooms are often wrong. For example, though generations have been told the story of great-grandma’s Tiffany® lamp, it may actually be just a replica. Some items may not be as valuable as expected but if it is a piece you love and has significant sentimental value, it doesn’t matter what its re-sale value would be.

The book also provides advice and suggestions on preparing and selling a home and tips on dealing with real estate agents and the challenges that occur when the adult children live across the country. One of those challenges being the emotional anguish of letting go of your childhood home.

Downsizing the Family Home was an enjoyable book to read. If there is a downsizing process looming in your future, you’ll find this book extremely helpful.

6 Comments for “Book Review: Downsizing the Family Home”

  1. posted by Dorothy on

    I spent seven years in rural South Carolina. Live auctions are very much still a revered custom there.

    And if a well-known person dies, lookie-loos as well as serious buyers are sure to turn up.

  2. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    What happens at an estate auction is people take things out of one person’s attic and sell them to someone else who puts them in their own attic.

    And by the way, my wife’s grandmother’s grandfather owned Mt. Vernon (Washington’s home) and the family heirlooms are real. Virtually nothing came from Mt. Vernon, though.

  3. posted by G. on

    Estate auctions are live and well in Iowa.

    That’s one thing I like about Antiques Roadshow – the family stories, and how often they are so close but yet so far from the truth. Usually it’s a case of “Grandma owned it – It must be old!” only to be told Grandma may have been 102 when she passed, but she was still buying (or given) new items until the end. But every once in a while, they are told the family stories are mostly true, and gaps filled in.

  4. posted by Pat on

    When my mother died two years ago at age 95, I had downsized her four times. she went from a 4-bedroom house with an attic and a basement to a 3-bedroom apartment with eight closets to a 1-bedroom “independent living” apartment with two closets and a full kitchen to a one bedroom assisted living apartment with one closet and no kitchen. Last stop was room at the nursing home. Each time was a chore, because every item is a decision, a decision that she had to make. What many people don’t understand about this process is that giving up your stuff is giving up the lifestyle that you once enjoyed. The good china? Well, you are not going to be entertaining any more. The evening bags? There won’t be any more formal evenings. Mom was pretty good about letting go, but there were things that my sister and I let her pass on to us that we had no intention of keeping. We knew that she would feel better if she thought something was still in the family. So now when I go to clean out a closet or a drawer, I am very mindful of my children and what they will have to deal with when I die or have to be downsized.

  5. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    The thing about downsizing when someone goes to an assisted living care facility is the realization that a certain phase of life, not for the person who’s moving, but for the whole family. We’ve gone through this already with my wife’s mother. She’s 95 and she moved to the retirement home going on ten years now.

    The possessions are not so important. It’s the realizing there will be no more family events there with the same crowd of people. The place is gone and half the people are gone, too, yet, in a sense, it isn’t past. The past is never past.

    Another part of the family has also moved to a retirement home. In their case they still own the old home, which has been in the family since before the Civil War. For the time being, they are still able to get over there a few times a week but it’s future status is up in the air.

  6. posted by Miori on

    Interesting take on decluttering. I always recommend before putting my clients properties for sale.

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