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Downsizing 101: What to do when you’re looking to unload some of your stuff

Donnelle Duvall (left) of Simblissity, a professional organizing company, helps Geneva resident Elsa Reinke on Tuesday sort through an upstairs closet of Reinke's home. Reinke plans to downsize and sell her home.
Donnelle Duvall (left) of Simblissity, a professional organizing company, helps Geneva resident Elsa Reinke on Tuesday sort through an upstairs closet of Reinke's home. Reinke plans to downsize and sell her home.

In her 48 years of marriage, Lynne Burtner moved 18 times. 

“He was a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, so we moved around a lot,” Burtner, 68, said. “Every time we moved, we got a bigger house.”

They bought their last house together 13 years ago in St. Charles Township.

It had five bedrooms and five baths on two acres, Burtner said. Then they got divorced, and Burtner was burdened by a big, empty house, a huge yard and a koi pond.

“I loved that house, but the maintenance was just exorbitant,” Burtner said. “I sold it last year and moved to a townhouse. I went from a 6,000-square-foot house to 2,000 square feet.”

Her sons, ages 46 and 43, were not interested in most of her stuff.

“They said, ‘Oh mom, we don’t need anything. We don’t want anything,’ ” Burtner said. “I said, ‘Please, take what you want. I’m going to get rid of it.’ ”

And so Burtner joined the ranks of many who are downsizing and finding their adult children and grandchildren aren’t interested in taking anything that’s being offered.

“They’re not into silver and crystal and china,” Burtner said. “I had two sets of china, Haviland and Rosenthal. I had Waterford crystal. Kids in their 20s, 30s and 40s today –  they don’t want that stuff. … And all of a sudden, you are put in this position and you wonder, ‘Why do I have all this stuff?’ ”

•  •  •

The National Association of Senior Move Managers spokeswoman Mary Kay Buysse said members are professional organizers who specialize in helping senior citizens downsize and move.

“This aging population is the next frontier,” Buysse said. “Members in our association have a code of ethics and training specifically for working with older adults.”

She said Depression-era adults, who have spent 40 years collecting things, are especially in shock when they find out nobody wants it.

“It’s a different universe out there,” Buysse said. “The Depression-era generation grew up with nothing, so to accumulate these collections gave them a great deal of satisfaction and personal esteem.”

Association members and others working in the professional organizing field find creative ways to reduce such collections, Buysse said.

Burtner relied on help from Simblissity, a company founded by certified professional organizers Donelle Duvall and Mary Beth Wright of St. Charles, to get much of her things sold at an estate sale.

“We seem to be getting many clients from people who are downsizing,” Wright said. “Their kids are much more casual and not doing place settings with dinner parties; they are not using fine china. That is what we are finding. Even the consignment shops do not want them – Waterford and those types of things – because they are not selling.”

Bobbi Alderfer, whose Geneva interior design company, Lifestyle Design, also helps with downsizing, said she also has found the same situation while working with retirees moving into smaller living quarters.

“Their kids will take a few pieces,” Alderfer said. “They’re not like we were – we would take anything anyone would give us for free. … It’s the phenomenon of not passing it down to kids.”

A frequent solution is an estate sale.

Often, the leftovers find their way to the twice-a-year rummage sale that Alderfer runs at her church, the United Methodist Church in Geneva.

“We see tremendous amounts of furniture and collectibles and dishes and glassware,” Alderfer said. “It makes for a great sale. They don’t know what else to do with it. It’s an amazing amount of stuff every six months.”

A garage sale, Alderfer said, is a lot of work. Donating it outright creates a tax write-off.

• • •

A garage sale is exactly where Elsa Reinke is starting out with her major downsizing operation.

Reinke’s Geneva house on Fulton Street has six bedrooms, five baths, two offices, a two-and-a-half car garage with living quarters above, two kitchens, an art collection, two sets of china and lots of tchotchkes. 

“My five children are all grown and married and engaged and away at school,” said Reinke, 56. “My husband passed away in December, and especially now that it’s just me – the maintenance, the bills – I’m downsizing to simplify my life.”

Her house is 7,000 square feet, and, with the help of Simblissity, the process is being done in stages, beginning with a two-day garage sale April 26 and 27, and an estate sale to follow later.

Simblissity is seeking buyers for her art collection. Reinke said the company did all the research on the value and authenticity of her pieces.

“Every time I want to keep something, I think of where I’m going and I say, ‘I don’t want this lifestyle anymore,’ ” Reinke said. “When my house has a buyer, that is when I’ll find my new home. I am open to the Lord – I’m wide open. Things will fall where they may when they should.”

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