Checklist: 5 easy steps to downsize your stuff

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Get 5 easy steps to downsize your stuff
Whether you're moving to a smaller space or just trying to declutter your home, this checklist can help you decide what to keep, sell, pass on or give away.

1. Determine the value of your valuables

Consider hiring an appraiser to help determine the worth of your more treasured pieces. Expect to pay $125-$150 per hour for a "walk-through" during which the appraiser examines every relevant item in your house, says Harry L. Rinker, author of Sell, Keep, or Toss? How to Downsize a Home, Settle an Estate, and Appraise Personal Property. Appraisers often can recommend specialists to evaluate rare or especially costly pieces.

2. Make the appraiser's job easy

A few easy ways to prepare for the walk-through: Keep handy any documents or receipts, tracing provenance of unusual items. Be organized — keep different sets of china or silver separate, and unpack any boxes of belongings you want the appraiser to look at. If you've got anything locked away, be ready to access it quickly. Make sure rooms are well-lit.

Think of this as an opportunity to support a local institution — the town library, a women's shelter — that reflects your values. For tax purposes, keep a record of what you've donated and its estimated value.

3. Take pictures

When you receive a written appraisal, Rinker suggests that you make sure it includes photo documentation of all the objects that have been evaluated. This can also serve as a useful record for insurance purposes.

4. Put a plan on paper for family items

Don't just tell your daughter that she can have the heirloom china — set it down in writing. Have open negotiations with all your children and other family members before committing anything to paper. Rinker recommends that you add a note to the agreement specifying that any gifts given are for that child personally. Doing so could help those gifts stay in the family in the event of a divorce.

5. Find a good home for what you're leaving behind

It can be easier to let go of possessions if you feel they're going to a place where they will have a useful purpose. Think of this as an opportunity to support a local institution — the town library, a women's shelter, a community center — that reflects your values. Let the institution know ahead of time that it can expect your donation. For tax purposes, keep a record of what you've donated and its estimated value.

Neither Merrill Lynch nor any of its affiliates or financial advisors provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.

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