Your stuff and how to deal with it


I have stuff. I love my stuff. I admit accumulating things.

IT’S OKAY. A moment of reality. I’m pretty sure one day I’m going to die. And probably you will too. No, not now. Finally. So there will be things in my apartment and the cats will most likely not solve them. I think about this from time to time.

When I had my hip replaced a few years ago, I spent a little time reflecting on my life (I couldn’t do much else for a week or two) and realized that I probably wasn’t interested in putting up a Christmas tree anymore and that everything the top shelf of one cabinet was devoted to Christmas tree ornaments and holiday decorations. Hmm. When my cousin, who had two small children, came to visit me, I offered her everything she wanted from this collection, with a few exceptions. We had a wonderful afternoon telling each other stories about the decorations, especially the ones she had bought with her mother. She went home with two huge bins of decorations and I gained an entire shelf in my closet. We were both very happy.

In contrast, another cousin and I weren’t so happy about clearing out her parents’ house. They weren’t exactly hoarders, but they kept a lot of stuff. Like back issues of magazines. And clothes. We were heartbroken to discover that vintage clothing and other potentially salable items had been destroyed by an oil leak. And not too excited about throwing away years of food and craft magazines along with some projects her dad never got around to completing: a rusty Datsun on the lawn and a partially restored organ. Similarly, a friend spent a month cleaning her sister’s apartment.

So what does this mean to me?

George Carlin said something about your stuff being someone else’s trash (cleaned it up a bit). No, his children probably don’t want his Hitchcock chairs or family silverware or even his favorite china figurines. It’s just not to his liking. Ask. Confirm. Get over.

Planning and disposal: a short list

  1. Make a will and a plan. Please. Even if you think you don’t need one. And appoint an executor. It is impossible to sell your car or manage bank accounts if there is no executor. Yes, you will live to be 110 years old, but you will be too busy doing the tango to want to be bothered with these things. Make a plan now. Here are some ideas to get started.
  2. Give away the things you don’t use now. I had my great-grandmother’s gold watch. It was beautiful. I used it maybe half a dozen times over twenty years ago. I gave it to a cousin who may never use it either, but she will cherish it and pass it on to her daughter. I gave a niece my grandmother’s diamond ring and she turned it into a beautiful pendant. I also gave her some old coral beads because she likes chunky necklaces.
  3. Ask people what they might want from the things you’re willing to pass on. Send photos before sending things. That saved me the hassle of sending my niece some beautiful porcelain plates she didn’t like or charging my cousin a brass towel rack. It also gave me the satisfaction of seeing my great aunt’s inkwell every time I visit my cousin. Or knowing that another cousin has the family bible. I was also able to sell some gold jewelry I didn’t love with no regrets.
  4. Get rid of as much paper as possible. No one wants those articles you so painstakingly photocopied in college. Or past jobs, course outlines, job-related materials that are out of date. Or newspapers. Everything in those old recipe magazines that you’ll actually cook can be found online or scanned into a file. This does NOT mean throwing away old cards or treasured cards. Store them neatly.
  5. Transfer everything you can to the Cloud. Set these files to private. This makes it easy to share photos with the whole family but not with everyone. Convert your old tapes to DVD.
  6. Give away, donate, sell or throw away many old books. I recently got rid of four shopping carts full of books. Some I gave away to senior centers and shelters. Most thrift stores and the library didn’t want it. All my research books and training books for thirty years were thrown away.
  7. Label things. Never, ever, ever use indelible markers if you expect things to have resale value. Instead, get a pack or two of those round stickers and place them under or on the back of items. You can enjoy your possessions now and someday someone will thank you for making it clear what goes to someone and what goes in the trash.
  8. I love this option if you have a close family member. It was the plot of a book I read decades ago. Leave instructions for everyone to come to your house (if you’re very nice, have a little snack) and have everyone give the points I mentioned earlier. Each person can put their own color on the items they want. If more than one person wants something, they fix it. In the book, they told stories about their memories related to the object. No fights, lots of togetherness.


This is a good thing to do when you’re bored. But it’s raining. Snowing gold. Work on this little by little. You’ll be glad you don’t have to think about him when you’re having fun. And your family and friends will be delighted.

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