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  • Writer's pictureRyan A. Dunn, CFP®

Finding Cash Under the Couch Cushions

Key Takeaways

  • Your prized heirlooms may be worth far less than you think, but other trinkets may be surprisingly valuable.

  • Remember, younger generations don’t have the same tastes and hobbies that yours may.

  • EBay, Facebook Marketplace, and other online destinations in this post can help you monetize everything from old appliances and comic books to stamps, baseball cards, and coins.

  • An unclaimed property search helped one of our clients find $100,000 in a long-forgotten 401(k).

My parents are downsizing, which is something I know many of you can relate to. While cleaning out closets, my folks discovered several carefully wrapped toys that they forgot to give me several decades ago. Even though I don’t have kids, they insisted I take the vintage toys for safekeeping. How could I refuse? At first, I thought I would donate the toys or toss them in the trash, but then curiosity got the best of me, and I searched online to see if they had any value.

To my surprise, one toy was selling for $50 and the other was selling for $80. So, I listed them on eBay and quickly sold them for my asking price. It wasn’t life-changing money, but now the toys have a better home and it’s always nice to have some extra cash during the Holidays. I found you can also sell momentos pretty easily on Facebook Marketplace. My sister-in-law had an old Singer sewing machine gathering dust in her garage. She was about to discard it, but on a whim, she did some research, found out it was worth over $200, and quickly sold it online. To paraphrase star chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” On the flip side, many retirees and near-retirees are dismayed to learn that their prized artwork, coins, jewelry, antiques, and fine china are worth far less than they thought. While hobbies like stamp and coin collecting were a national pastime for their generation, younger people are much less interested. Before hiring an appraiser, you can get a pretty good sense of what your mementos might sell for at online destinations such as these:

Many of the above resources can also help you find buyers for your momentos if you think the price is fair.

During times of transition, such as the death of a spouse, divorce, disability, or moving to a retirement community, you are going to stumble upon all kinds of mementos from your past. Many will have sentimental value, and they can be hard to part with, but what should you do if you don’t have room for them in your new home or new direction in life? While TV shows like Antique Road Show and America Pickers give everyday viewers hope that they have a bonanza hidden away in their basement, attic or storage shed, most likely you don’t. Remember, your collectibles and other momentos are only worth what someone else is willing to pay for them. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for them years ago.

The first thought is to give the momentos to children or grandchildren. The problem is that tastes change over the years. A younger generation that didn’t grow up with fine china, vinyl records, baseball cards, comic books, or stamp collecting, cannot begin to appreciate the value of what you are trying to give them. Even prized jewelry or fine clothes may not be appreciated by a daughter or granddaughter whose tastes run to the modern.

The same goes with wedding gifts you never unpacked but couldn’t part with since they were given to you by a close friend or relative. I don’t smoke, but I can’t bring myself to part with the fancy humidor full of premium cigars that I received 10 years ago as the best man at my close friend’s wedding.

If you can’t sell the items or gift them to a close relative, then you can always donate them or junk them. Either way, you are helping to unclutter yourself both physically and emotionally so you can move on with your life. As author and personal organizing expert, Marie Kondo, advises, pick up each item in a cluttered area one at a time. Ask yourself if that item brings still brings you joy. If so, keep it. If not, throw it out.

Unclaimed Property Search 

Another thing we advise our clients to do from time to time – even if not in transition – is to check their state’s unclaimed property website for themselves and for family members, including those who have recently passed.

In most states, the Unclaimed Property Division is responsible for safeguarding assets turned over to the Office of the Treasurer in accordance with state law, until the rightful owners are located. The primary objective of the unclaimed property program is to reunite rightful owners or heirs with their unclaimed property, which is remitted to the Office of the Treasurer by business entities after the business loses contact with a customer for a period of three to five years. Unclaimed assets include, but are not limited to: savings or checking accounts, uncashed checks, matured certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds or mutual funds, travelers' checks or money orders, and proceeds from life insurance policies. Trust me, it’s worth checking into from time to time. We helped a client with this process, and he located a long-forgotten 401(k) from a past employer that was worth over $100,000.  You can also search on

Conclusion While you may not stumble into a windfall, it’s worth looking into the resources above before you decide to donate or discard your collectibles, heirlooms, and momentos. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy the freedom of a less cluttered life and gain the psychic satisfaction of knowing your momentos have found a good new home. If you or someone close to you has concerns about unclaimed assets or the worth of family heirlooms, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’ve helped many clients like you in similar situations.


RYAN A. DUNN, CFP®, is a Wealth Manager at Novi Wealth


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