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3 Tips for Selling Grandma’s Old China and Other Family Heirlooms Without Guilt

Do you have fine china or other family heirlooms that have been passed down to you sitting around unused in cabinets and storage units? They may have once been precious items, but now they’re taking up valuable space and possibly costing you money to store every month. This presents an often guilt-laden quandary: What to do with items that we have no use for, but that hold sentimental value and are too nice to simply throw away?

On the surface, the answer seems simple – donate them to large, well-known organizations like Goodwill. You’d rather have them go to “a good home” than discard them. However, according to Adam Minter, author of Secondhand: Travels In The New Global Garage Sale (Buy on Amazon, $18.99), “[Unsold goods from thrift stores] end up in landfill or the incinerator.”

Well, we can sell the items on sites like eBay, right? Sure, assuming you’re technologically savvy and patient enough to see that process through from beginning to end — and, of course, there will also be many competing sellers. Will your items stand out and be more desirable than all the others?

Before you despair, the situation is not totally bleak. First, ask yourself what your end goal is for the items: Are you looking to make money in exchange for letting go of the items? Do you just want to feel like you’re “honoring” the items and your relative’s memory? Are you adamant that the item be put to use by a real human being, even for a short time?

Whatever the answers might be, we found three great paths for your items that you may want to consider:

Donate directly to those in need.

Instead of giving your things to large, anonymous organizations or thrift stores, donate the items to someone who is part of a network helping those in need or has access to others.

If you don’t know of family or friends who need or want the items, do you know of someone involved in a church group or others with a large social network involved in charity or outreach? There will likely be very grateful recipients of your generosity and you’ll be putting your items into the hands of the people who will reach their new owners directly.

Consider antique malls and consignment stores.

Consignment stores are still buying, but they are being more selective. Experts report that what’s hot right now (for décor and furniture) is mid-century modern (think 1950s and 1960s) in terms of colors and styles. Also, classic collectibles like Hummel or Lladro will always be sellable, as will fine jewelry, or even semi-precious jewelry or high-quality costume jewelry.

Antique malls, where multiple individuals rent booth space to sell everything from jewelry to furniture, are another good option. But if you only have a couple of items that wouldn’t justify renting a booth on your own, join forces with friends, neighbors, or relatives who might embrace a collective solution with you, and rent a booth together.

Equally resourcefully, take a walk through the antique mall, and if you see a booth selling similar or complementary items for what you’re looking to part with, ask the booth owner if you can “share space” and place your items in that booth.

Repurpose your items.

Have some of those silver platters? Well, pawn shops will purchase solid silver pieces, but many are silver plated and tarnished. The second-hand market is glutted with them… And no one wants yours (sorry).

However, you can give them a fresh coat of paint and hang them on the wall, perhaps above a side table, or an entryway table. Go a step further and add easily acquired stencils or adhesive overlays. For trays or other serving items, including those crystal punch bowls, use sites like Pinterest or YouTube for inspiration and how-tos on updating them.

Ultimately, we want our cherished family possessions to be loved and used by their new owners as much as they were by our loved ones. Whether you pass on prized possessions to a new home or create an updated lifestyle for them in your home, mom and grandma would be pleased, and you will be, too.

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