22 August 2013

Estate clean-out: clothes & textiles, papers (1/2)

Last weekend's clean-out at the house of the deceased elderly aunt involved two major categories of items: clothes and textiles, and papers. There was a lot, and there are a couple of take-away lessons here.

Lesson one is that no one wants your clothes and linens once you're gone. You bought your clothes for you, or at least because you think they're nice. Now you've worn them, so they're not in the most pristine shape. (As a long-time thrift store shopper and volunteer, I can say that men in particular tend to run their clothes into the ground before discarding or donating them.) Or you've had to have them tailored, and now they'll fit no other body but your own. Or if you've never worn them, they're probably not stylish to many other people, especially if you bought them a while ago -- my rule of thumb is 5 years for women's clothes, 10 years for men's. And many, many people simply won't buy used clothes, so it's a flooded market where no ordinary seller gets a good price. In short, you spent money on your clothes, but they're not an "investment" that your estate will be able to recoup.

As for linens, not only do your towels and sheets get worn out as the years go on, but they also end up with a sort of "ick factor" attached to them. If few people will buy used clothes, even fewer will buy a used washcloth or pillowcase. Some thrift shops won't even take the donation. Or if they do, it's only because they can sell the otherwise unsaleable material as "weight," that is, for a few cents per pound to a recycler that will shred the clothes and remanufacture them into, say, carpet padding.

But it's not just stained tablecloths that get turned into weight. It's your wedding gown, your baby slippers, your hand-knitted afghan blanket. This is because no one wants your old clothes and textiles, seriously. Of the dozen full-size contractor trash bags of stuff we gathered this weekend, we identified one single bag's worth of things to keep. That was it! A three-piece suit that was classically enough tailored that it's stylish now, which the elderly aunt's husband likely wore only to weddings and funerals; his old Army duffel, a sweet and tangible reminder of his military service; and some linen teatowels and a machine-lace tablecloth, still in its package, likely all dating to their own wedding in the early 1960s.

See the math there? Only one twelfth of Elderly Aunt's clothes and linens held any meaning or use for the family! Our job would have gone so much more quickly if she had gone through her old clothes regularly and cleaned them out. And linens? Veterinarian offices and pet shelters will often take them, but only if you call first.

Lesson two . . . tomorrow!

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