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August 1, 2012 Newsletter Archive


The Upside of Downsizing:
How to Let Go of your "Stuff" and Get on with your Life

Perhaps I am unusual in this way, but one of my favorite past times is culling, editing and "redistributing" the accumulated trappings of a well lived life. With three growing children this was inevitable. My two girls would have hand me downs, but my only son's stash of outgrown clothing piled up in his small closet and out of necessity, I would sort through his clothing, putting in piles what to give away and what could not be salvaged. Yet, what may be easy to do with children's clothing may turn into a daunting task when reflecting on those items that gather in curios, on coffee tables, étagères, and throughout your home over a lifetime of collecting and displaying.

Even with my tendencies to go through my home to pare down the stuff of everyday living, in the last few years I began viewing my own home as a sort of time capsule of the last twenty years - and not in a good way. I suddenly had a vision of my children as those on an old home improvement show calling in the redecorating troops to reinvent the parents' time warped homes. It's hard to unload what we have sentimental attachments too, hard to understand whether we have financial value in great aunt Mary's china given to us at our wedding, and that we still haven't used after twenty years, and hard to continue to keep up with all this collected stuff on our shelves.

I was struck recently when I read that baseball legend, Hall of Fame pitcher, Jim Palmer, had listed all three of his Cy Young Awards and two of his four Gold Glove Awards up for auction. His reasoning: he is raising money and, I assume, awareness for autism. The article went on to suggest that Palmer is not hurting financially, but that there were simply more important things that awards sitting on a mantelpiece.

With this in mind, I believe that if Jim Palmer can reflect on his actual achievements without having to have the actual awards to show for it lining his trophy case, then the rest of us should also be able to view our material possessions with a lot less sentimentality and gain a lot more clarity. Think of it this way: clutter free shelves, easier dusting, and a lighter burden on the soul.

So how will you seek to channel your inner Jim Palmer? First, you have to want to do so. Look around your house. If you love to be surrounded by your stuff, you may not be ready to unload it now, but perhaps you could begin to consider doing so. At some point, whether by choice or involuntarily, someone will have to go through with this process. Best it be you, and not your executor or trustee. If you are ready to take stock and see whether you can de-clutter, start with baby steps. Better to take one table or one drawer at a time than to try to tackle the entire room or house only to flame out early on.

If the task really feels too daunting, you may be able to reach out for help. There are many individuals and small businesses dedicated to helping you de-clutter your home, get organized, and sift through everything from piles of papers to souvenirs and collections. If you have articles that you think have pecuniary value, whether for your own inventory and insurance purposes, if not to determine current market value, it may be constructive to hire a professional appraiser. Such an appraiser may be helpful to assess items that you will hold on to, versus items you may be able to part with sooner.

As you begin to assess your accumulation of good "stuff" you may consider giving some of it away to your family members now, while you are still alive, rather than after your death by Will. This may be an opportunity to discuss with your grandchild your emotional attachment to your grandmother's special vase in the hopes that your grandchild will also value it when you gift it to him or her. You may want to gather your family around and discuss your tangible personal property so that family members understand both the intrinsic value of such property, as well as the back story of items that were collected and cherished. Often times, estate planning attorneys will create in a last will and testament, a "round robin" or other structure, for your loved ones to select items they wish to receive after your death. However, you may choose to hold a round robin event during your lifetime instead.

At the end of the day, many of us are born collectors. Our collections are comforts and remind us of our life's path and what is truly important to us. Yet, I'm sure that Jim Palmer also considered his awards for his great life achievements in this way too. Can you take the Jim Palmer challenge and part with any of your life's awards?

We would love to hear from you! If you are interested in guest writing for our newsletter or simply have a comment to share, please let us know.


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