I have recently downsized from a house that was far too large for my needs. My new apartment fits much better—but is just small enough to need some storage. As you can imagine, I've had a lot of decisions to make, and of course this isn't the first time I've had to make them.
I realized I was using the framework of evaluating items based on not only their tangible value, but their intangible value as well. I also realized that this was helping me go much more quickly.
This is a big job, that we all face at some point, whether we do this in our own home or after a family death, so I thought I'd share some insights.
How do you establish value?
I break assets into six types -- both in the personal and professional realm. Then I talk about first building those assets and then protecting them.
2. Sentimental (or Spiritual)
6. Functional (or Primitive)
(1) Financial value is based on basic question, "how much money can I sell this for?" It's a straightforward calculation encompassing: how much will it cost to move it, how much will it cost to store it; how much will people pay for it right now, and how much money can this produce/save if I keep it?
Also, keep opportunity costs in mind. For example, if I spend 20 hours trying to sell something for $100, would I have better used that time -- financially speaking -- on some other endeavor?
In general, if you're storing something only because the replacement cost is high, you should consider getting rid of it and buying new, later. A great example is moving boxes: if the cost of storing them is zero and you can keep them clean and dry, then by all means store them. But often they're in the way, that's a cost, just not a financial one. (Remember that if you participate in an economy where people share, then you'll be the recipient of shared goods -– free boxes – when you need them.)
The rule of thumb: the heavier it is (books) or the larger it is (upholstered furniture), the more quickly it should be considered as something you remove rather than move and store.
If the thought of selling it is painful, even though you know you won't recoup the financial value if you store it instead, then it has value other than the strictly monetary. Which brings us to our next kind of value.
(2) Evaluating sentimental or spiritual value causes many to feel overwhelmed. Here are a few heuristics you can use to be more specific about your feelings, and make better-informed decisions:
Historical value: is it a family heirloom that you have an obligation to retain or give to another family member to retain? If so, you're going to feel terrible if you can't find a solution for this item, so find someone to delegate this task to if possible. If you don't have space to keep this, see if someone in your family does.
Sentimental value: is it something that evokes memories for you or your children? How strong are the memories for that specific item? Do you have other similar items that are of significantly more emotional value? And, particularly for sentimental attachment to furniture: consider treating it as you would a great vacation, and take photos of it.
And last: how much joy would you get if you did give this away and someone else had the opportunity to build an attachment to it?
(3) An item with social value is helpful for you, if it's on display. For example, imagine a community organization gave you a prize. If you like to display it so that other people can see it, because it communicates something about you to visitors, it has social value. It’s like a diploma.
This can be difficult to distinguish from sentimental value, especially if you have nowhere to display such an item. Do you like having it around because it makes you feel great? If so, consider keeping it as an heirloom. It has sentimental value, but you might want to pull it out in case a context arises where it could give you some social value as well.
(4) Environmental value encompasses physical health, mental health, and an external world that supports life. At some point you felt you needed those medicines, emergency kits, filtration systems... do you still need them? If you do, bring 'em. If not, pass them along. Do you have pets or plants? Does an item give you emotional peace be it shrine, yoga mat, or beautiful furniture? Does it contribute to your physical health in a way that nothing else will do?
For emotional health in particular, think about whether it is these specific objects, or their arrangement, that brings you peace. It may be that you can abstract this collection into a concept that you can replicate on a smaller scale elsewhere.
(5) Intellectual value is primarily about objects that inspire thought. Libraries come to mind, but this also may include artwork or music or other artifacts. These are the tools and creative systems of your profession, your vocation, or even avocational work. Think of computers, toolkits, books: objects that inspire and enable your intellectual creativity
The first question you should ask here is: how replaceable is what you have? Some books and instruments are replaceable, some aren't (or may not be in the future). What *is* your library? What do you have that might already be out of print?
Second, consider how much of your intellectual asset base might really be sentimental? Again for those sentimental items, decide whether you need to have the physical book, the specific artwork, or just a memory of it. Often, books are small enough we just want to keep them. Personally, I confronted and overcame what can only be called a “book addiction” when I realized I was choosing living space based on how many walls were available for bookcases. I concluded that reselling some book would be a better option than allowing them to be the critical component of such large decision, and store those that are truly unique.
Last, question how much of your library or other thought-provoking items give you social value? These are your friends' books, the books you use as conversation starters, and potential loaners. In those cases, revisit (3) Social value, above.
(6) Functional value is conveyed by items when they allow you to fulfill a rudimentary task. (I call this "Primitive" in order to tie it into the framework of Primitive Intangible Assets, and to more clearly distinguish it from the productive component of intellectual and other assets.) So in terms of assets, we're talking about things that enable and enhance physical performance and power, like eating, sleeping, or mobility.
What do you need to do? Do you have tools adequate to these tasks? You can value these in a similar way that you would value financial items. To the extent they're commoditized, can they be replaced? If they're a specialized item, does the frequency of your usage justify storing them for possible future use?
And there you have it - a system by which you can more objectively evaluate what you have. Most objects will be intuitive decisions of "move/store/remove," but I hope this will be helpful for the few items or classes of items that you will need to think about more deeply.