When I graduated from college, everything I owned could be packed into one trunk, one duffle bag and a backpack. That sure made life easy when I moved back to Alaska. But that simple life has given way to an accumulation of personal property that fills many rooms, storage sheds, garages and offices. Where and how did I accumulate so much stuff?
I have furniture, books, hand tools and power tools, equipment, golf clubs, camping gear, automobiles, bicycles, jewelry, children’s toys and games, computers, printers, clocks, radios, stereo systems, TVs, artwork, lawnmowers, snow blowers, shovels, rakes, automobile parts, tires, shelves, kitchen appliances, plates, dishes, utensils, Christmas decorations, clothing, paperwork, photographs, phonograph records, DVDs, and personal memorabilia or all types. I use much of this stuff on a regular basis, but honestly, there are boxes, closets, cubby holes, and drawers filled with things that haven’t been disturbed for years.
I like to think I haven’t accumulated as much as other people because I’m not a collector and I’m not particularly sentimental about things. I’m probably fooling myself. It is frightening for me to consider the task that my children would face deciding what to save, what to sell and what to give away if I passed away suddenly. The sheer volume of this stuff would make the administration of this part of my estate anything but easy. The reality of dealing with someone else’s stuff became clear when my wife was recently sorting through a storage unit filled with personal property from her mother’s estate and found boxes and boxes of things that belonged to her grandmother which had never been sorted.
So what steps can you take to “de-clutter?” Here are a few suggestions:
Getting started may be the hardest part of the job. Pick a room. Pick a storage unit. Pick a closet. Pick a file cabinet. Just choose one place to begin. If the job seems overwhelming, imagine what your family is going to feel like if they have to undertake this task without your help.
Sort things into six piles:
- Keep. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
- Sell. If you enjoy making some money from old items that you don’t need or want anymore, you can sell them on Craigslist, E-Bay or a garage sale.
- Give to family or friends. You are bound to find things that will be treasured by friends or family members. Delight them with a gift of your old treasures.
- Give to good will. The Salvation Army (907-561-5514) and Big Brothers Big Sisters (907-433-4600) run thrift stores in Anchorage that will pick up clothing, furniture or other items that you no longer want or need.
- Throw away. Be ready with a large garbage bag or garbage can so you can throw away things away once and for all!
- Genuine Treasures. You will come across some things that are genuine treasures. Enjoy your genuine treasures or consider making a tax deductible gift to a museum or charitable organization.
Decluttering your life now can improve the ease of estate administration. Whether it is the personal property and collectibles or the number of financial accounts that we tend to accumulate over time, the greater the amount, the greater the time and trouble for your family. We often don’t realize that the degree of difficulty and hassle faced by the family when administering an estate is directly proportional to the amount of property, collectibles, and number of financial accounts we own. You might also find that de-cluttering and consolidating all that “stuff” also simplifies things for you.
Richard H. Foley, Jr.
Our guest author this week, Richard H. Foley, Jr,. is a founding owner of Foley, Foley & Pearson, P.C., an Alaska estate planning law firm. Over the years, the firm has planned and administered thousands of estate plans, guiding Alaska families through the process. Richard is a regular speaker and writer on estate planning topics. You can learn more about Foley, Foley & Pearson by visiting their website.