By Kate Bowler
Trash or Treasure
Everyone has that spot in their house, whether it is the attic, a closet, or a spot in the garage, where you've piled up old items that gather dust over the years. When it comes to cleaning out the common items that people tend to hold on to in their storage spaces at home we asked the expert appraisers from Antiques Roadshow, what are the things that are worth keeping, and what is okay to clean out?

"Unfortunately there is a long list of items that people hold onto in the basements or attics that do not retain much value," says Sebastian Clarke, Specialist and Director of Estate Services at Rago Arts & Auction Center and a featured expert on Antiques Roadshow. Often things that are difficult to maintain in good condition are the pieces that lose value. "Items that are silverplate will over time tarnish and deteriorate and sadly for the most part do not retain a great deal of their value. Another thing that people save but can quickly lose value is carpets; unless they are antique and in good condition, they are often not worth a great deal of money. If you are putting a carpet in storage you should have it cleaned and professionally wrapped beforehand to prevent moisture getting into the carpet. Lace and linens are also no longer as valuable as they once were and, just like carpets, if they are not stored appropriately will quickly deteriorate."

One of the most common things we store and collect in our basement and attics are old toys and collectibles, and according to Antiques Roadshow expert, Phil Weiss of Philip Weiss Auctions, their value can vary greatly. "Common things that I see in basements and attics all the time are toys, comic books, old sports cards, and fad collectibles such as Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch Kids. In all cases, the value of common things that are saved is based on the time period they are from and the condition they're in; the same type of item can have widely varying prices. For example, if you find a mint condition Barbie doll in the basement from the 1980s or 90s it might be worth under $10, yet if you find a Barbie in the box from the 1950s it could be worth $1000s. The same can be said for comic books and sports cards."

Some items though, can have an unexpected value and should be looked into before you throw or give them away. " I think it is fair to say that fine art (paintings, prints, posters, woodcuts etc.) can have great potential for hidden value — and history has proven great discoveries can be made," says Clarke. Another item that typically retains value: sterling silver. "With the increased value of sterling silver on the commodities market you may find that your not-so-attractive sterling silver flatware service from Grandma can be worth upwards of $1,000!"

So how do you determine the value of a collectible or antique when you're cleaning out? "The Internet is a wealth of knowledge to help determine prices but speaking to professional appraisers is the best way to do this," advises Weiss. "Another good idea is to check online sources for sales results to get a good indication of what similar things might sell for." Clarke adds, "If you love it, keep it. Use the Internet as a research tool but don't take it as gospel. If you think you've made a discovery, contact a reputable specialist for further information."

Caring for antiques or collectibles is important to retaining their value too. "Something stashed in the attic or basement often means that such things have not been cherished, and that their condition is poor. Even very good things in bad condition have little value and are even harder to sell at nearly any price. If you think you have something of value, begin by securing its safety and preserving, at least, the condition it is presently in," says David Rago, Founder of Rago Arts & Auction Center and expert on Antiques Roadshow. You'll want to make sure any items in storage are protected from any water, dust, and extreme temperatures, and research the best way to take care of individual items. For example: "If you have silver or silverplate do not wrap it in plastic, the plastic will deteriorate and bond with the surface of the silver," says Clarke.

Most importantly, take the time when cleaning out to check each item; there is always time to discard something later. Weiss explains, "I get a call every day from someone who describes a great item only to end the sentence with 'I did not know what it was worth so we threw it out.'"

Liberty Mutual Insurance is a proud sponsor of Antiques Roadshow.


Let us know what you think, but please do so responsibly. Comments are moderated and we remove any posts with personal attacks, obscene language or inappropriate material, comments with links, or comments from people under the age of 18. If you have a question, check out our Comment Submission Guidelines. By clicking post, you agree to our site's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

more from liberty mutual
Get a Free Quote
Call 1-800-837-5254
Log In
Make policy changes, pay your bill, manage claims and more with 24/7 access.

First time here?

Manage Your Policies

Business customers log in here