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Time to empty the nest

Sorting through a lifetime of memories and giving them a new home

It’s tough to empty a nest full of memories whether you’re downsizing or having to clean out a late loved one’s home.

Man holding guitarAfter you sort through everything, organize important papers, decide which items you want to keep, and check pockets, books, and desk drawers for tucked away treasures, there always seems to be more to deal with. It can be daunting.

Joe and Hope Fischman, owners of Empty the Nest, have a business helping people figure out what to do with a lifetime’s worth of stuff. They walk you through options before they clean out the house: packing, selling, donating, or recycling items.

Then on the weekends, they run a thrift store in Golden Valley where they sell items brought in from houses they have cleaned up during the week.

“Part of our tagline is, ‘as little in the landfill as possible,’” said Joe. “It’s a niche people want, so it just makes business sense and it’s the right thing to do. It’s a combination of both.”

Rehome your stuff

Canisters from 1950 with labelsThe key to emptying a nest, Joe says, is to rehome items for reuse. It’s the best option for your memories, budget, and the environment.

For instance, their team helped a family who had a large kitchen canister set, the kind for holding flour and sugar, and much more. The set had been in the same house for almost 70 years.

The homeowner didn’t have room for it in her new, smaller place. Her family didn’t want it. That’s when Empty the Nest devised the idea to write up the history to go along with the canisters, which would be shared with potential new owners.

That extra step helped the original owner to let go.

“When people can see that their items are going to someone who values it, it usually allays the fears and anxiety they have over it,” Joe said.

The value of things

People standing in checkout line with Tiffany lamps

Inevitably, you will wonder: How much is this stuff worth? Depends. Some items today have increased their dollar value, Joe says, such as mid-century modern furniture, Pyrex baking dishes, and Fiesta ware. What’s out of fashion today? Large china sets and bureaus, which can be heartbreaking news for someone who has treasured them for years.

With estate sale companies, Etsy, eBay, and more, there is no shortage of opportunities to assess current market values of items. If your budget allows, you can also hire places like Empty the Nest to help assess and sell what you have, then clean out and recycle as much as possible.

“Our services can run from anywhere to $500-$5,000 or more, depending on what is there,” Joe said. “I’ll ask: How quickly does this need to happen? Has the family gone through and taken what they want? The first home visit is free of charge. Our staff show up to take pictures, and then bring it back to a clean-out specialist, who looks it over to figure out what will be able to sell the store and deduct that price from the clean out estimate.”


Baskets full of yarn for knitting 

In thrifting circles, knickknacks or essentially any items that aren’t furniture are called smalls. The value of smalls is in the eye of the owner, or  how they’re perceived by the buyer, nostalgia, and trends.

The thrill of thrifting also adds value to smalls, which Empty the Nest sees every weekend at its thrift store. Even on a cold winter Saturday morning, customers are lined up before open time to get first dibs on stuff found during the week’s cleaning up of home.

On Thursdays, Empty the Nest posts pictures of items that will be on sale during the coming weekend. This helps build anticipation for buyers, but it also helps the original owners to feel better about letting go.

“For people that are using our services, it creates a good feeling to be able to see their items showcased there,” Hope said. “Because now it has a new type of value for them, and they know it's going to go to someone else.”


Next Avenue, an online publication by Twin Cities Public Television, has a wealth of content for older adults about issues that matter as we age, including this step-by-step piece, “A Daunting Task: Cleaning Out a Late Loved One's Home.”

Hennepin County’s online Green Disposal Guide will help you find the best way to recycle, reuse or dispose of items from your home. Green Disposal Guide: