Many lifetimes ago I briefly worked for a guardianship trustee who dealt with difficult, disorganized estates and trusts that could not be settled due to very sudden illnesses and deaths. My job was to inventory the households as quickly as possible under duress with decidedly more unusual circumstances than I was used to in an auction house, where normally the family is the consignor and is involved with the sale of the estate. One case I was privy to involved a woman with a lot of assets who had died without finalizing a will, and who happened to also be a hoarder. The paperwork involved with some assets were hidden within piles stacked waist-high in her small home and the employees were charged with clearing the home and finding the documents. It looked like an absolutely futile task without the owner being present.
The recent book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter by Margaretha Magnusson came on my radar a few weeks ago and I seemed to see dozens of articles about it every week, all about the Swedish tradition of 'death cleaning' or paring down our belongings to manageable volumes as a favor to one's family in the eventuality of our death. It's a meditative short read, with anecdotal tips given in a very forthright, light tone.
Reading it, I realized my very culturally Swedish grandfather had lived his life in this way when I knew him best, always giving away any unused furniture or ill-fitting clothing to his children or friends. This facilitated a semi-nomad lifestyle in retirement with not much more than a shoeshine kit and a cardigan - yet he always looked natty for mass and enjoyed life unencumbered by a bunch of stuff. But he also talked about death as if it were a funny thing that would happen someday, and I recognize that attitude in the book.
Magnusson lays the process out as a collaborative process that involves friends and family for accountability - the thinking is that if you tell a few people, then they are more likely to ask you about what you are doing and help out. First is a clothing purge of unused closet contents, then a general household sweep, clearing unnecessary multiples of items and things you always wished to use but never did. Gathering financial information and passwords into one document is another big step we could all perform even if we did not wish to go the whole way with this type of downsizing (how many of us have that in one place?).
Gifting treasured items is an idea Magnusson presents as a way to part with things with some finality while still knowing they are being loved by the people we love. Having recently moved, I used this tip to unload some beautiful clothing and art that I could not bear to give to Goodwill. Magnusson recommends appraisal as a good way of knowing an item's current worth for certain in order to determine how to dispose of it.
We so often put off facing the eventuality of organizing our lives, but we have to think about it as a gift to our family that will provide comfort and freedom when we are not longer here.
People should ask a variety of questions of appraisers, but I am happy to give you my answers to some of the following questions that are posted on the website of the International Society of Appraisers:
What qualifies you to appraise my property?
Each ISA appraiser completes an appraisal methodology course and is tested for competency, in addition to having documented professional references and thousands of hours of professional experience. At this time, ISA members are also required to have 30 semester hours of coursework completed from an accredited college or university. As members we are committed to continued education - I am a proud alumnus of the University of Washington's art history program.
As you can see on my CV page, in addition to my BA, I have more than four years experience in a very high-volume auction house, and I currently work for an experienced appraiser writing appraisal reports to ISA standards - and setting eyes on hundreds of items per week.
If you require an expert in the type of item you wish to have appraised and I do not feel I am qualified to appraise that type of item, I am happy to assist you in finding the perfect appraiser that also has appropriate appraisal experience.
Are you USPAP compliant?
Yes, I have taken the 15 and 7-hour USPAP (the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) courses required of appraisers, which is required of ISA members but are not compulsory for appraisers who choose to be subject matter experts without belonging to an appraisal organization.
What is your fee and on what basis do you charge?
I charge by the hour, with a one hour minimum. ISA appraisers abide by a code of ethics that prohibits fees based upon the value of an item.
What will the appraisal report be like?
Every ISA member is trained to write appraisal reports with full descriptions based upon the type of use for the report, with color photos and clear, complete documentation to support our valuations.
Do you buy items you appraise?
I do not purchase items people present for appraisal. The ISA's Code of Conduct prohibits conflicts of interest, and taking an assignment with a financial interest in your property would be unethical.
In my work for Cleveland Jewelry Buyers I serve as an inspector for a buyer, but I do not purchase the items I inspect.