Updated on 08.20.07

A Frugal Dilemma: Inheriting Stuff You Wouldn’t Normally Use

Trent Hamm

Shelley wrote in with the following dilemma:

My mother-in-law recently moved to a nursing home. My husband was the primary person to clean out her senior apartment and we have accumulated a lot of junk (her overwhelming QVC purchases) as well as stuff which will save us money (mounds of toilet paper, cleaning supplies etc.)

She had boxes and boxes of regular light bulbs. I had been using our own current supply down to the point where I was ready to start buying the CFLs until this happened. Now, I have at least 2+ years worth of incandescent bulbs in my closet. Do I donate them and go with money saving CFLs or do I save my $ (and yet continue to pay more in energy costs) and use up her supply?

I know this is a pretty minimal issue, but we have received a lot of items that I have this same issue with. Toxic cleaning supplies (instead of the natural ones I use in my home), good towels and linens that will overwhelm my storage closets, shampoos and soaps, stuff like that. By using them I will save money by not buying them for a long time, but storage is becoming an issue.

First of all, let’s look at the light bulbs. Under normal usage, a CFL pays for itself in energy savings in about four months, so putting regular incandescent bulbs into your sockets is simply a bad move.

What should you do with them? If they’re functional, I would give them away to people that would use them. Maybe you have neighbors who use incandescent bulbs – stop by and offer these bulbs to them with the explanation that you cleaned out an apartment and there are way too many for you to keep.

What about the chemicals (cleaning supplies, soaps, shampoos, etc.)? I would go through them, select the ones you will use, then give away the rest in much the same fashion as the bulbs. Even if you don’t wish to use them in your home, they will have to be used or disposed of in some fashion, so find a place for them.

As for the items that are non-perishable and might have value (linens, towels, etc.), I would again save what I could potentially use, then donate the rest to Goodwill or a similar store and get a receipt which you can then use on your taxes. I would probably do similar things with much of the QVC stuff, depending on what it is.

I would strongly recommend not loading up your storage with stuff that you probably won’t use – or won’t use for a very long time.

Frugality isn’t about buying what’s cheapest, it’s about finding ways to maximize every penny and also simplify your life. These items have no value to you – you can’t (or don’t wish to) use them, so find a place where they will be used and where you might potentially get some benefit as well – good neighbor relations, some tax deductions, and perhaps a bit of cash if some of the QVC stuff can be re-sold.

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  1. Ripley says:

    Do you have a homeless shelter or a battered women’s shelter nearby? They might welcome donations like this.

  2. Ryan says:

    Save the incandescents bulbs since I doubt that it is practical to use CFL’s in every single lighting fixture in your house. Also, consider using incandescents in rarely used rooms, such as guest rooms.

  3. Javi0084 says:

    Homeless shelters might be interested in some of that stuff, give it to them.

  4. guinness416 says:

    It will also be much easier and less stressful to get rid of stuff now (and I agree, a homeless shelter might be a good place to offer it), rather than hang on to it in your basement for a while and then decide to give it away.

  5. Josh says:

    Freecycle them. You can find your local freecycle on yahoo groups: groups.yahoo.com

    I guarantee someone will take them within a day.

  6. Rich says:

    I will appear to contradict myself here:

    1. STORAGE COSTS MONEY. Everything you have to find a place for costs you money: Either as a portion or your rent or mortgage, or storage facility costs for this or other items that the item in question displaces. Moreover, it costs you time and energy to find a place for it and keep it there.

    2. The more storage you have available, the less you will have to pay for nonperishable items. More storage means you can take advantage of free or discounted items, and keep a store of these items while promotions/chance opportunities aren’t available. We do a good deal of couponing, and end up storing a bunch of shampoo, for example.

    You need to pick items whose cost, ease of storage , and expected lifetime make the equation worth it. For me, I’d ditch the bulbs–they are fragile and difficult to store, and they’re pretty cheap. For the sub-$1 price of a bulb, I’ll pay that price to store my bulbs at the store, instead of my shelves.

    Because that’s what you’re doing, essentially–if you decide *not* hold onto something because “I might need it someday”, you’re essentially letting the store store it for you. And if you don’t see yourself needing the item in the near future, that means you’re letting the store pay for the costs of storing it instead of you.

    Continuing on your examples:

    Cleaning supplies: if you don’t use them, I’d probably dispose of them. It’ll be hard to give them away.

    Towels/linens: If you like them and they’re better than what you have, then keep them and ditch the ones you’ve been using. Consider cutting the old ones up for cleaning rags/shop/garage use, if applicable.

    Soaps/Shampoos: If acceptable, store for use. These are fairly consumable items. Do keep in mind your personal rate of usage, and don’t store more than you’d use until A)they get too old (if that happens), or B) You get tired of the same stuff (quite possible!)

  7. Jessica says:

    Would any of her belongings count in a Medicaid lookback? I’m assuming she’s paying for the nursing home at this point, but if she ends up on Medicaid they usually do a 3-5 year “look back” on the assets. I’m guessing these are trivial things in the eyes of Medicaid, but are you sure she couldn’t use any of this stuff in the nursing home? I don’t know the mother’s state of mind but is it possible for her to have some of these things (towels) for her own use at the home? Perhaps this sounds silly but it may make her happy to have things that came from her home.

    And consider giving the mother cash sold from her belongings, unless she wants the couple to keep it.

    Otherwise I’d say donate what you don’t need.

  8. Shannon says:

    I’ll add my vote for donating to whichever charity or group suits your personal ethos.

    Tho freecycle is a good choice, too. Stuff in the LA area moves in hours.

  9. Debbie says:

    I’m assuming things have already been offered to her other relatives and her friends? If not you could have a memento party or something where people can come over and pick things out. I enjoyed getting to choose a few things of my grandmother’s to keep before someone gave everything the big heave-ho.

    After that, though, do get rid of what you don’t use. Other ideas for that in addition to those above are a garage sale of your own, a garage sale of a neighbor or church, putting them on your lawn in a box labeled “free,” giving them to kids you know who are moving away from home (perhaps babysitters you know? friends’ kids?), and selling them on e-bay.

  10. Sean says:

    I’ve given away junk on craigslist.org before, it’s really easy. You can just have someone pick it up from your house at a convenient time. Of course if you’re willing to put in effort, giving to your neighbors or charity has more benefits.

  11. Bill says:

    Belongings don’t count in Medicaid’s “look-back” (now 5 years)

    They’ll look at bank account transactions, and real estate transfers – i.e., real money.

  12. Scarfish says:

    Freecycle and Craigslist would be excellent places for a lot of these items (especially the lightbulbs). Here are a few more:

    Dorms–cleaning supplies are expensive for college students. I used to go through the donation boxes at the end of the year, and would gather enough half-empty bottles to keep me in shower spray and laundry detergent for the year (storage was not a problem; if it had been, I’d have been happy to accept only one bottle instead of three or four or five).

    Teachers–teachers could probably really use some of the cleaning supplies for their classroom, especially disinfectant cleaners. Art teachers might have use for the linens, if they’re not in pristine condition.

    Churches–if the OP belongs to a church, the pastor or staff might know of a family or two in the congregation who could use basics like these to help them out financially.

  13. plonkee says:

    I vote for getting rid of the stuff that you wouldn’t normally use. Donate or throw away as appropriate. I think that overwhelming your own storage is not a good idea – if you don’t use it now, then you may never do so.

  14. If the QVC stuff is in excellent condition, she should consider selling it on eBay if she’s comfortable with that. People familiar with QVC stuff love it and are happy to get it at cheaper prices.

  15. Jenners says:

    I’ve posted b4 about my disillusionment with CFLs. I replace each of mine more than twice a year, despite their “8000 hour” claims. I would keep and use up those incancescents. When you factor in the disposal probs of CFLs, how much harm can it do?

    If the towels are really new, save them for wedding or shower gifts. If storage is really a big problem, I would go with the eBay option someone suggested.

  16. vh says:

    Donating the loot is the most gracious move. But if you need some cash yourself, why not have a yard sale? Assuming your housing development allows it and it’s reasonably customary in your part of the country. We collected over $300 from selling my mother’s stuff after she passed…that was over 30 years ago, and so presumably the take would be significantly larger now. And needy people still got it–not as handouts but at prices they could afford.

  17. Kathy says:

    I think it is so ironic that people will go to places like Sam’s Club and spend boocoodles of money for this kind of stuff… AND, store that stuff in their houses…. but if it’s FREE, they reject it.

    Store it. Use it. It will save you a world of money.

  18. Kathy says:

    If you take it to a charity, many times they are so overwhelmed with donations that this stuff just ends up in the dumpster. You are not really helping the people that you thought you were helping.
    It will not hurt you to use a few off brands.

  19. Michelle says:

    I think bringing them to college dorms is an excellent idea. This is move-in week, and I know I would have appreciated donated cleaning supplies for sure instead of having to buy all that stuff at target. You could set up a whole table in front of the dorms and give away for free or ask for a small donation and give that money to a charity.

  20. daydreamr says:

    Kathy is absolutly right. Many things donated are not so apreciated. Giving these things to Goodwill-not so good either. My local goodwill puts rediculous prices on used items.

    The power CO was ‘nice’ enough to send me an energy guide. According to the energy prices for my area ($0.087994/KWH) the average cost of a 15W CFL is $0.30/mo. compared to $1.34 for a 60W bulb, $1.64 (75W) or $2.24 (100W) bulb. One CFL will cost $3.60 a year compared to $16.08 (60W) $19.68 (75W) or $26.88 (100W). Replacing a 60W bulb with a CFL saves $12.48.

    If you live in a place where there are people who ask to borrrow things, they might be good to keep around. I bought about 15 CFLs when they were on sale for $1.88 each. When my neighbor came to me asking for a light bulb I had to give one up. Or like someone mentioned, put them in a room that isn’t used much. Or if enough people complain about the murcury content of CFLs, they might get taken off the market. Then you’ll be back to square one.

    Storage is important in determining what to keep, but things like linnens, towells, in good shape, will come in handy at some point. I have given away good towells/linnens because I didn’t have enough room. But sheets wear thin and towells do too. If the older items are in good shape they might last longer; things aren’t made with the same quality anymore. you never know when you will paint, need to cover the back seat of your car, have a pipe burst, etc. When something like this happens, you will be glad to have spares. There have been several times where a pipe busted or the washer overflowed and if I didn’t have old towells, I had to use my good ones and I ended up tossing them.

    Being frugal means maximizing your $ now but also for the future. This means being practical, planning ahead. Having at least some pack rat habits (not to the extent a chronic pack rat though) has it’s benefits. I’ll save things that others toss and most of these items come in handy I say keep what every you can that will have a practical use in the future.

  21. B says:

    stuff inherited that you would not use

    I am a firm believer in craigslist.org and freecycle.org

    I cannot begin to tell you how many times it saved me from driving down to the dumpster.

    You’d be amazed what people will take if it is “free”

    I do however, look at what I want to get rid of and ask myself first, is it worth giving away or has it passed its prime

  22. Sharon L says:

    Those old linens are often worth quite a bit of money. You might want to check that out before you start throwing them away or tearing them up, especially if they are linen or embroidered.

  23. Pete says:

    I did my own study on CFL bulb longevity. I have a fixture in the bathroom that takes 8 bulbs. I put in 4 CFL and 4 incandescent bulbs. I have replaced 5 CFL bulbs (with two currently out- so really 7)and all 4 original incandescent bulbs are still burning.

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