I sold my wife’s clothes to pay for her care home

Journalist Nick Comfort with his wife's stilettos
Journalist Nick Comfort is selling his wife's shoes, clothes and accessories online in order to declutter the home they shared - Clara Molden

When my wife had to go into a care home with Alzheimer’s last July, I found myself facing quite a few challenges, both emotional and practical, after being virtually a full-time carer for three or four years.

The former have been easier to surmount: she’s only ten minutes’ walk from our house, so I try to spend time with her every other day, and I’ve grown used to her thinking I’m her Dad – fortunately he was a lovely man.

On the practical side, I realised pretty soon that the house, with four flights of stairs and several bedrooms, was much too big for me. And next, that there was no way I could move somewhere smaller unless I disposed of most of her stuff.

Even if I held back all the clothes she might need for the foreseeable future, I was still confronted with a dressing room containing eight rails of clothes, racks of shoes suspended from the ceiling and two chests of drawers – plus two large wardrobes on the top floor, drawers on the landing and in our bedroom, another cupboard of shoes and one end of my own wardrobe.

There was rack after rack of costume jewellery, a drawer under the bed full of fancy dress from a business she once ran…and furs in storage.

Nick Comfort and his wife Jeanette wearing fancy dress while enjoying a cruise ship holiday on the Queen Mary 2
Nick Comfort and his wife wearing fancy dress while enjoying a cruise ship holiday on the Queen Mary 2

Starting to do the maths with help from her sister, who lives 200 miles away, I realised my wife had accumulated over the decades several dozen pairs of stilettos, 70 handbags, 54 wigs and hairpieces, nearly 40 swimsuits and bikinis, and 128 bras. And those were the easy things to count.

Before I could start working out how to raise a credible amount toward the care home fees, I had to go through this cornucopia and weed out items that would not sell. Before long I had 12 bin bags of tired clothes and shoes, which Anglo Doorstep Collections took away to recycle for charity.

Anything that needed a dry clean I took to Cancer Research; paying for them to be cleaned myself would cost more than the likely sale price. Cardigans, swimwear and undies I tackled with a hand wash.

There weren’t just clothes to be gone through. The wigs went as a job lot for £137 on eBay.

The device she used to measure hems for dressmaking I sold on eBay to a lady in Co Tyrone; the parcel looked worryingly like a machine gun, but it got through all right. A giant brass iron from a ship’s Chinese laundry (her first husband was in the Merchant Navy) became the basis of a box for Vintage Cash Cow, along with old coins, some mixed jewellery and one of my stamp albums.

Nick Comfortand his wife
Comfort has been married to his wife for 10 years, but found clothes he has never seen before

They gave a good price – unlike another firm with a similar name, also operating from Leeds, who paid so little for a second box that I was tempted to ask for it back. But the main imperative was to reduce the sheer volume of clothes, while making some money. This meant getting the best out of three online vehicles: eBay, Vinted and Depop.

In some respects, the choice was made for me. Only eBay will let you sell real fur, so the mink coat and stole went their way – raising a fraction of what they cost in the ‘60s or ‘70s, and little more than a year’s further storage would have cost.

eBay and Vinted won’t sell used clothing with a bottom, so swimsuits, bikinis and undie sets with pants went to Depop – which generates fewer sales. And if you try to sell anything from certain designers and even some chain stores, Vinted demand proof of purchase you won’t have after 20 years or more.

If you sell through eBay, you may trigger a decent auction – as happened with a cashmere wrap from Harrods with spiral faux fur trimmings. But you may end up selling something good for the lowest bidding price of 99p, as was the fate of one cashmere wrap.

Journalist Nick Comort with his wife's clothes
Comfort: 'My customers have almost all been a pleasure to deal with, though their questions suggest they have no idea I am a 77-year-old male' - Clara Molden

Equally, many visitors to Vinted and Depop “Like” or “Favourite” items without intending to buy; I pulled a pair of Barbie-style pink mules from Depop after 19 people started a fan club for them. Against this, several items on Vinted have sold within minutes of me putting them on.

There have been plenty of surprises as I have gone through those drawers and rails. We’ve been married 10 years and I’ve known her for 30, but over four months of rooting through the house I have kept finding clothes I’ve never seen before – not to mention the odd brand new garment with ticket attached.

I wasn’t surprised to find a Pirate Queen outfit complete with cutlass in the fancy dress drawer, but I was by the First Nations shawl she must have bought visiting Canada in the ‘90s. I was intrigued to find a cashmere twinset from Marshall & Snelgrove, which ceased trading in 1972, the head of a long-dead mink among fur scraps she’d kept for dressmaking - and a French bra in one of the handbags which must have been there since the ‘80s. (More bags have yielded up used tissues, the odd comb, pencil or biro, and Spanish or Turkish banknotes.)

I haven’t tried selling handbags online, as you get into arguments about cheap knock-offs. Her sister and I have hired the church hall for the Saturday before Easter to shift more of her stuff, and we will put the 5o or so in best condition up for sale then.

Ditto a collection of soft toys – including 18 bears and an Easter bunny – which now occupies the dining table. Only about 30 pairs of her shoes have gone on sale; a lot had taken heavy wear, and the straps on many sandals from years gone by have gone stiff. People also, quite sensibly, hesitate to buy shoes online in case they don’t fit.

Comfort's wife in one of her dresses in Hollywood
Comfort's wife wearing one of her dresses at an event in Hollywood

As a male, I have been baffled as to how to describe some garments I’ve found when I advertise them online. Fortunately, female friends have advised me. So far there have been no serious misunderstandings with buyers; I have had one disputed delivery (by Yodel), one loss in transit (Evri), five cases (out of 200-plus) where I missed blemishes on an item I was selling, one where I sold an electric item not realising it contained (leaking) backup batteries, and one breakage, by Evri, of a glass punch bowl boxed, pretty well wrapped and plastered with “Fragile” labels. (My wife’s sister, who has worked for Royal Mail, says such labelling is sometimes treated as a challenge.)

My customers have almost all been a pleasure to deal with, though their questions suggest they have no idea I am a 77-year-old male - I have sidestepped several requests for a photo of me trying something on, most recently a sari. On Depop a scammer in Latvia has tried to empty my bank account (well spotted, Barclays), and a pervert has offered me large sums for unwashed knickers.

Those customers have been divided in their choice of carrier between Evri, Yodel and InPost. With the first two, you drop off the item at a convenience store for the carrier to collect; with InPost, I pop it into a computerised locker outside our local station. I’ve only used Royal Mail three times: for shipments to Skye, Bute and Wick.

The packages have gone to almost every part of the United Kingdom, and (judging by the buyers’ names) to people from almost every ethnic group; one was for delivery to a mosque. No monasteries yet – though I have noticed that not all buyers of corsetry are women.

In setting your price on Vinted or Depop, you have to pitch it low enough for buyers to bite; but with anything you sell for less than £1.50 you are losing money, given the costs you incur for brown paper, boxes, plastic envelopes, sticky tape (Tesco’s parcel tape is best), printer ink for labels and petrol to the drop-off point. Equally, you are giving your time; I spent an entire afternoon battling my computer’s refusal to upload photos of a particular bikini.

I still have plenty of clothes I haven’t tried to sell online, and several rails and drawers full of items yet to attract a buyer. But to date I have managed to sell 50 tops, 26 dresses, 25 bras, 19 other items of underwear, 16 jumpers, 16 jackets, 13 suits, 12 coats, 12 pairs of shoes and dozens of other items. Boxes full of little tops, scarves, gloves, purses, pocket umbrellas, haberdashery, cosmetics and so on we are keeping back for our big sale.

So far I have covered the cost of less than a fortnight in the care home, but every little helps. I have also kept myself busy when I might have been brooding. But I do wonder what I will do with my time once all those rails of clothes have gone.

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