Passing along the family treasures

by Neal Kielar, Tastemaker in Residence - Neal Kielar is owner and creative director at MidModMen+friends, a St. Paul-based retailer featuring vintage and modern home furnishings and decor.

There comes a time in everyone's life when they have to let things go. Moving, downsizing, economics, death (yes, I said it) and other circumstances compel us to find places for things that matter to us. Like things that have been passed down in the family. After you've exhausted the possibilities of placing pieces in the hands of everyone in your close circle of family and friends what do you do?

There are plenty of worthy nonprofit organizations that welcome donations. Some have resale shops, others run rummage sales and some - like libraries - might incorporate your donations into their services.

  • Make sure the organization accepts the items you have to offer and match your items with the recipient.
  • Consider that large thrift stores can't handle delicate china and glass without a high risk of breakage.
  • Valuable items might not get the priority they deserve in all spots, but some nonprofits run specialty shops and will understand - and have a customer for - premium items. 
  • If its a donation of an item with historic importance, consider a history or cultural museum.
  • It's always an added bonus when you can donate to a cause you personally care about.

There are stores that will sell your item on consignment. It helps you move your items along, but be sure you understand the terms of the relationship.

  • Consignment stores pay you a percentage of the final sale price AFTER the item is sold.
  • Most consignment stores set the selling price retain the right to reduce it at certain intervals, usually every 30 days.
  • When the consignment period ends you have to retrieve any unsold items. Some give the option of donating to an organization with which they have a relationship.
  • The proceeds are often split 50/50, but make sure you know in advance.

For-profit dealers with stores are a good resource. Dealers usually make a purchase up front, so you get your cash and can move forward. Remember that these stores need to make a profit, so they won't pay you full retail.

  • Be realistic about what you'll get. Using online resources as a price guide can be very misleading because this information is for a national market while your buyer is selling local. And plenty of online prices are wishful thinking.
  • The condition of your items will have a bearing on the price you get. So will the scarcity (or lack of scarcity) of an item.
  • Consider convenience. Some dealers will come to assess and then buy and take your items. Others might ask you to bring them to their location.
  •  Be on target and pick stores you've taken the time to know a little about. Almost all of them will have a web site or Facebook page. See what they sell and match it against what you have to offer.
  • Let it go. Once you've made the deal don't obsess over what the store decides to sell it for.

Letting go of family treasures can be a sad time, but also a time of renewal and freedom. Even with an object gone from your daily life, the memories associated with it will stay with you forever.