When That Time Comes for Liquidating Your Childhood Home

Published in the Pawtucket Times, March 29, 2013 

            It’s now a traditional rite of passage that marks a person transitioning to baby boomer-hood, that is the difficult task of cleaning out a childhood home. Like millions of aging baby boomers before her, a writer friend of mine is now facing this later life stage milestone and the challenging chore of cleaning out 50 years of accumulated “stuff” in her parent’s home, following the recent passing of her widowed father.


            The East Providence resident tells me that her parents, married for over 60 years, had lived in the same 1960s ranch-style house for 50 years, and the older couple’s household goods just kept accumulating.  “Beyond basic cleaning, my parents never really ‘decluttered’ or even had a yard sale,” she noted, where they could easily get rid of household clutter to make some extra cash.

 Overcoming Seller’s Guilt, Finding Time to Sort

             Never mind the emotional feelings experienced, especially the twinge of guilt at disposing of things that were once important to her parents, accumulated over five decades.  But what about the time it takes to just sift through a lifetime of accumulated household goods, clothing, and furniture, says my overwhelmed friend. “It’s just too much stuff to get rid of – especially with my very demanding full-time job and little time on the weekends to sort through things.”   

             “Many of my parent’s personal items, like a sold dark cherry wood bedroom set, dishes, glasses, barware and vases from the 1940s and 1950s, boxes of old coins, even hand-embroidered table cloths and runners, are just too nice to get rid of at a weekend yard sale,” notes my friend. But, because of their age these items may not be considered truly antiques, she says.


            “Where do you take mom’s collection of Franklin Mint plates, porcelain figurines of carousel horses and birds, even some Hummel pieces?” my friend asks, who does not want to drive around to the coin store, antique dealer or linen store to sell each item.  Selling on EBay is just too much work, she believes.


Choosing the Right Strategy to Liquidate

           So, what steps do older children take in cleaning out a lifetime of their parent’s personal mementos and personal belongings from their childhood home?  Do you rent a dumpster and indiscriminately begin tossing away their loved ones cherished possessions, or hire a professional liquidator or a junk hauler to have someone come and do the pitching for you?   What about holding a big weekend yard sale, that might just do the trick?  Be warned, by choosing one of these options you might be under-selling an item that could be valuable due to its age, quality or rarity.    

           Making the right decision on how to liquidate your parent’s personal belongings might just rest on how financially well-heeled they were,” says Scott Davis, who operates New England’s highest volume antiques venue, the Rhode Island Antique Mall with his wife Rae.  “Having liquidated many hundreds of estates I can tell you that unless you come from a family of significant means or your parents were knowledgeable collectors, it’s highly unlikely that the combined value of the estate’s tangible assets is going to have a wholesale liquidation value of over $5,000 once the family claims the items they want to keep (which are usually the most valuable)” notes the antique dealer.   “Thus you have to make a decision about how much effort is really appropriate for you to spend trying to get top dollar for every object.”

            “If your parent’s estate is known to have higher value tangible assets you might want to first hire an appraiser to determine the value of at least the most important items,” suggests Davis, noting that “a legitimate appraiser should always charge by the hour, not by item value.”

           Davis states that higher-end antique dealers or auction houses will “cherry pick” your items, only taking the most interesting and valuable things.  Antique dealers should typically pay the most for each item.  Auctioneers might bring more but will never guarantee it, and many items sold at auction bring shockingly low prices so deciding which way to go depends on your risk tolerance.  Others dealers or liquidators will offer to take a larger percentage of the household goods at a lower cost per item while junk dealers or junk removal services may take everything in the house but will frequently actually charge you for the service while keeping anything they can re-sell.   “You have to determine what type of service suits your situation best,” he says, going on to say that in his experience it never pays to go straight to the junk guy first.

           Davis recommends that in most cases it doesn’t pay to attempt to sell items yourself noting that it can be very time consuming to sell things one piece at a time and buyers are hesitant to pay retail prices to inexperienced sellers.  An antique dealer or private buyers can be easily found on-line, in local phone books, or in dealer directories that can be found in local shops.  According to Davis, if you chose this option, dealers will typically offer you less than half of the anticipated retail value of the items but they of course have a lot of risk and expense along with their entitlement to earn a profit for their efforts.

          Some folks attempt to sell their items on EBay or Craig’s List but Davis warns that unless you have a lot of prior experience, the results are usually disappointing or worse.  Selling on-line yourself requires a lot of time for research, photography, copywriting, corresponding and shipping while buyers tend to shy away from sellers who have little or no feedback; resulting in no takers for fixed price sales or very low prices realized for auction sales.

           While it may take longer to sell everything, consignment is another option you might consider, Davis says.  However, the Pawtucket-based antique dealer warns that you’ll usually pay from 35% to 60% of the items retail selling price for this service. 

           Davis urges folks to always look for customer traffic, location, reputation and fee structure if you choose to place items on consignment.  Check the references of the antique dealer or liquidator you may be interested in working with, inspecting their retail establishment to determine if it is professionally run.  Meanwhile, he notes that consigned piece usually sells in 60 days or less; otherwise the price is reduced or the item is returned to you.  Antique shops or malls are the best places to consign more valuable antiques, collectibles and vintage items, while newer or lesser valued items will usually do best in local consignment shops that focus on useful second hand items.  Pawn shops are rarely if ever your best option unless you wish to borrow money using the items as collateral, he says. 

           When cleaning out a home, consider throwing away old mattresses, towels, bedding and paperwork yourself, as these items are usually not valuable and will cost you more for others to dispose of, says Davis, noting that often times it is not easy to determine what other things should just be thrown away.  “Although traditional antiques and collectibles like pottery, glassware and china, frequently have little demand in today’s market, seemingly valueless items that include war souvenirs, political memorabilia and even nostalgic items like old phones, light fixtures and old linens, may be quite valuable,” he says. 

          Davis warns not to begin your house cleaning by throwing things away in a dumpster or planning your yard sale without calling a reputable antique dealer or estate liquidator to assist you in “separating the wheat from the chafe” first.   They are accustomed to sorting through drawers, boxes, closets and basements and their experience enables them to quickly identify valuable items, he says.

         Finally, rare antiques and collectibles can be sold for top dollar at auctions, Davis notes. “The right item in the wrong auction can produce a total flop,” he observes, noting that there’s usually a long wait between the day you initially contact an auction house and day it actually sells – probably about a year.  A good full-service liquidator can help you to determine when auctioning is the right option and if so, which auctioneer will suit you best.  They are usually paid by the auctioneer for this referral service, so it’s a no-lose for the seller.        

             For more information on liquidating your childhood home, contact Scott Davis at 401/475-3400, email him at RIAntiquesMall@cox.net, or go to riantiquesmall.com.


            Herb Weiss, LRI ‘12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.


So, Who Was Harry Weathersby Stamps

Published in the Pawtucket Times, March 22, 2013

         Once upon a time, the New York Times was reputed to publish the best, the most colorful obituaries that wove resume-like facts and personal stories together, to concisely sum up a person’s life and death.  Now the legendary daily newspaper has competition.  With the passing of Harry Weathersby Stamps on March 9, 2013, his obituary was printed in the Sun Herald, his hometown newspaper.  The daily paper, covering South Mississippi, called it “the best obit ever.”  I totally agree.  More interesting to me is that the obituary, written by his daughter, has gone viral on Twitter and Facebook, and emails, receiving rave reviews around the world. .   

             During a very long drive to Long Beach, Mississippi, where Stamps had died at home, surrounded by family, daughter Amanda Lewis, an attorney at Irving, Texas-based TRT Holdings, penned the obituary  [edited by her sister Alison Stamps] of her eighty-year old father, a former educator at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College at the Jeff Davis Campus.

             Lewis’s colorful, light-hearted and humorous 841 word obituary, detailing her father’s extreme quirky, likes and dislikes, has now caught the attention of the nation through the news media, even the entire world via the world-wide web.

 So who was Harry Stamps?

             According to Lewis, her father was a “ladies’ man,” “foodie,” “natty dresser,” and even a “accomplished traveler.”  He disliked phonies, she noted, especially “know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words ‘veranda’ and ‘porte cochere’ to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and even Martha Stewart. That is in reverse order, she quipped.

            But he did love his 1969 Volvo. 

            As to the important women throughout his eight decades, there were many, Lewis reveals in the published obituary.  Almost 50 years ago her father married his “main squeeze, Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, raising two girls, Amanda and Alison, she said.   

            Lewis fondly remembers that her father taught her along with her sister how “to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful,”  taking “great pride in stocking their tool boxes.”

            The obituary notes that Stamps beloved mother, the late Wilma Hatzog, raised him in his teenage years with the help of her sisters and cousins in New Hebron.“He worshipped his older sister Lynn Stamps Garner (deceased), a character in her own right, and her daughter Lynda Lightsey of Hattiesburg,” Lewis said.

             More over, Lewis says that her father loved his grandchildren. “He took extreme pride in his two grandchildren Harper Lewis (8) and William Stamps Lewis (6) of Dallas for whom he would crow like a rooster on their phone calls, she said.

 Who Says Politics and Religion Don’t Mix?

             As to politics, “One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President,” adds Lewis, who noted that her father was a former government and sociology professor.  She shared that Stamps, with an interest in both politics and religion, “enjoyed watching politicians act like preachers and preachers act like politicians.”

             Lewis remembers him often saying, “I am not running for political office or trying to get married” when he was “speaking the truth.” .

             The obituary noted that over Stamp’s lifetime, he had developed culinary tastes for particular delicacies.  Her father made his “signature” bacon and tomato sandwich with “100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer’s black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee’s Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription.”   

            He even openly had “a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [pronounced Vi-e-na] sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread,” she admitted.  

Juggling Many Hobbies in Retirement

            What does Stamps’ obituary say about his many hobbies and leisure activities?

            Her farther, having green thumbs, “excelled at growing camellias,” says Lewis. His knack for carpentry, were just the skills needed for “rebuilding houses after hurricanes [like Katrina],” she notes.

            Because history was important to Stamps, he would read any history book he could get his hands on, Lewis said. As for his love of cable programming, the history buff “loved to use his oversized ‘old man’ remote control, which thankfully survived Hurricane Katrina, to flip between watching The Barefoot Contessa and anything on The History Channel,“ she added.

            “Rocking,” eradicating mole crickets from his front yard,” composting pine needles,” living within his means,” and even “outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness,” also tweaked his interest, too, in his later years, Lewis observed.  

            As to military service, “he also took pride in his service during the Korean conflict, serving the rank of corporal–just like Napoleon, as he would say,” Lewis penned in the obituary. .

            Lewis acknowledged that her father “took fashion cues from no one.”  Usually his daily dress, was a “plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom.  Black-label elastic waist shorts were worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam’s on Highway 49.  He sported a pair of old school Wallabees.  But most will remember his wearing of a grass-stained MSU baseball cap, she said.

            On his many family vacations, Lewis remembered her father “only stayed in the finest quality AAA-rated campgrounds, his favorite being Indian Creek outside Cherokee, North Carolina.”   The avid outdoorsman always upgraded his tent rental to have a creek view.  Later in life he would purchase a used pop-up camper for “his family to travel in style, which spoiled his daughters for life,” she said. 

            The obituary concluded by noting that a private, family only service would be held, because of Stamps’ “irrational fear that his family would throw him a golf-themed funeral despite his hatred for the sport.”  A “theme” free funeral was held.

            The family urged friends, and colleagues of Stamps to “write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Savings Time.”  Why?  Stamps wanted “everyone to get back on the Lord’s Time.”  

Stamps Obituary Goes Viral

            On a very slow news day, the “finely crafted words of this loving tribute” published in the Sun Herald quickly spread, from one person to another by Facebook postings, Tweeting, and emails, sending the heartwarming obituary viral, from Long Beach to all corners of the world, noted Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner, in his March 14th column touching on Lewis’ “seamless” obituary.

            “In the days that followed, the tsunami-like power of the Harry Stamps obituary washed away records on our website, with only Hurricane Katrina remaining above this viral surge of page views,” said an amazed Tiner in his column, who noted within days the company’s website recorded a whopping 530,000 page views with the obituary drawing a considerable part of that traffic. Even the following day visits exceeded 500,000 page views, he said. 

            Meanwhile, a front page story in the Sun Herald about the previously printed “well crafted” obituary attracted reader interest, in the next days becoming the newspapers “all-time single-story record-holder with more than 100,000 page views,” added Tiner.

            “Untold thousands heralded the late college dean and the perfect obituary. One tweet called him “the most interesting man in the world,” said Tiner in his column, noting that Stamps “everyman common sense, taste and humor brought to mind a modern-day Will Rogers.”

            Yes, Lewis’ colorfully-written obituary clearly details her father’s total persona, his spirit, most certainly, his uniqueness.  In life, he chose to march to a different drummer, his family knew this and accepted it, too. In death, his life story told by his obituary keeps his memory alive in the hearts of his wife, Ann, daughters Amanda and Alison, and to the millions of people, including this columnist, who now know him.

            To see the original obituary, go to http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sunherald/obituary.aspx?pid=163538353#storylink=cpy

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.



AARP No Longer Your Grandmother’s Membership Organization

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 15, 2013

             With the printing of a full-page four-colored ad in the February 25, 2002 issue of Newsweek magazine,  AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group, moved to reinvent its membership image by rolling out an ad campaign to lure the nation’s aging baby boomers into its rank and file. At that time the public viewed an AARP member as being in their sixties gliding into the twilight of their  retirement years.  One simple ad consisting of a picture of a shirtless, lean, aging baby boomer carrying his mud-caked mountain bike, worked effectively to change this misperception.   AARP members were not moving into their twilight years but still young, vibrant, and even active. 

             “Be Yourself,” blared the ad’s tag line, identifying the 50ish male with gray hair in the ad: “Peter Carlstrom, 51, cyclist, canoeist, an AARP Member.”

             In 2002, with the kickoff of this media campaign, the nation’s largest aging group, representing 35 million members in that year, geared up efforts to recruit the growing number of the nation’s baby boomer generation – born between 1946 to 1964 – into its membership ranks.

             Baby boomers don’t make compromises, said AARP’s membership recruitment ad over a decade ago – “They make choices.”  Furthermore, the ad stated that AARP was there to help with fitness programs, and to provide information on making healthy choices in a myriad of ways, including eating right and staying fit.        

“Real Possibilities” Ad Campaign Kicks Off

             Today, AARP continues to attack the misperception associated with its brand and with aging stereotypes, by launching another national advertising campaign.  According to the Washington, DC-based group, “Real Possibilities” aims to revitalize and repositioning AARP as a membership organization that is relevant that can deliver messages of strength and empowerment. “Real Possibilities” will now serve as the organization’s new tagline and will be implemented into the existing AARP logo.

             AARP’s new public relations campaign, created by GREY, seeks to show not only what the face of 50+ looks like today, but more importantly, the new mindset of people entering or already in this life stage.  It will run in TV and digital media through October 2013. 

             AARP is putting one-third of its “Real Possibilities” media buy towards social and digital media and the ads will appear on more lifestyle outlets as opposed to the news-focused outlets they’ve primarily appeared on in the past.  Ads will drive consumers to a newly created landing page http://www.aarp.org/possibilities, where they will be able to access content that is most relevant to the 50+ audience looking to achieve their “real possibilities.”

             “People are looking for a trusted ally to help them turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, and that’s where AARP can help them and their families,” said A. Barry Rand, CEO, AARP. “This is an opportunity to reintroduce AARP to the public and show the value that we provide to the 50+ audience. We think this campaign effectively demonstrates how AARP is relevant to them.”

             AARP is shifting the focal point of the conversation from aging and advice, to a deeper level of personal connection and empowerment. People age 50+ don’t want to be defined by age, and they don’t want to live in fear that their possibilities become more limited as they get older.

             “Possibilities are critical to this audience and millions of people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond are living in a new life stage—the age of possibility,” said Emilio Pardo, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer, AARP. “We want to show how their life experiences have tremendous value and that possibilities should not be less, they should be ageless.”

 Reintroducing AARP to a Younger Crowd

             While some may see AARP’s new marketing effort as a way to expand its membership base to younger members, for AARP Rhode Island’s John Martin, its very practical to bring aging baby boomers in early.         

                “As AARP evolved it became evident that most things about ‘retirement’ require attention well before the day people retire, Martin, citing his favorite example, retirement security.

             “How can we help members plan for a secure retirement if we wait until retirement to reach out and offer resources and assistance?  And then there is the more current qustion: If, say, at 52 you are working full time but feeling the weight of college tuition, rising taxes and you’ve seen the equity in your home plummet, you should not wait until retirement age to make your voice heard on Medicare and Social Security.  Most 50-year-old Americans now recognize they have a vital stake in the sustainability of these programs.”

             According to Martin, retiring in dignity also depends on one’s health. “It’s awfully hard to turn things around when you are 65, so AARP needs to connect with people earlier to provide health and fitness resources that might make life at 70 or 80 more enjoyable, he says.

              “Another outcome of reaching those ages in better health is that people have created at least a better chance of saving on healthcare costs.”  He asks, “How can AARP promote the benefits of staying active and mobile if we have not been encouraging better diet, exercise and preventative care as retirement approaches?”

             Martin says people welcome such notions as “60 is the new 50.” He points out that media images of the serene couple relaxing in easy chairs has been replaced by CNN stories about people skydiving to celebrate their 70th birthday or 80-year-old competitive swim champions.  “We Boomers live for the hope that we can reach retirement in better physical and mental shape than our parents. A generation ago, society was telling people to retire, collect Social Security and act their age – to accept the gold watch at 62 or 65 and ride off quietly into the sunset. No more,” he says.

 Great AARP Websites

            AARP is working hard to be the best resource, online, in-person and in communities to help aging baby boomers and those older to discover new possibilities, notes Martin. As part of the “Real Possibilities” initiative, AARP offers a way to reimagine your life (lifereimagined.aarp.org).  This website offers people over age 50 with an opportunity to design his or her own reimagined life.

            Also AARP recently launched a dating service. And why not?, asks Martin. “Happiness and romance is not reserved for those couples in the beer commercials. Think about online dating services of the past decade or two. Did many seem at all tailored to or comfortable for anyone over 50?  The AARP brand and all that we stand for makes taking a chance a lot more comfortable.”

            With the graying of America, AARP has redefined its mission and repacked itself twice in the past 13 years. The redirected membership organization, expanding its generational reach, now strives to make a person’s journey throughout their entire lifespan a little easier, a bit better and brighter.

            Now isn’t that worth the cost of an AARP membership.  For more information about AARP membership and benefits, log on to www.aarp.org/join or call AARP Rhode at 401-248-2663 and request a membership application. AARP’s Web site is in Spanish, too, at www.aarp.org/espanol

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.