I have things. I love my stuff. I admit that I accumulate things.

it’s okay. A moment of reality. I’m pretty sure I’m going to die one day. And you probably will too. No, not right now. Finally. So there will be things in my apartment and the cats probably won’t check 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 was probably no longer interested in putting up a Christmas tree and that everything the top shelf of a closet was dedicated to Christmas tree ornaments and festive decorations. Hmm. When my cousin, who had two young children, came to visit, I offered her everything she wanted from this collection with a few exceptions. We had a wonderful afternoon telling stories about the decorations, especially the ones she had bought with her mother. She went home with two huge bins of ornaments and I earned a whole shelf in my closet. We were both very happy.

On the contrary, another cousin and I were not so happy to clean her parents’ house. They weren’t exactly hoarders, but they kept a lot of things. Like back issues of magazines. And clothes. It broke our hearts to discover that vintage clothing and other potentially salable items had been destroyed by an oil leak. And he wasn’t too excited to throw away years of food and craft magazines along with some projects his father never got to complete: a rusted 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 things being someone else’s trash (he cleaned it up a bit). No, your kids probably don’t want their Hitchcock chairs or the family silver or even their favorite porcelain figurines. It’s just not your taste. Ask for. Confirm. Get over.

Planning and disposal: a short list

  1. Make a will and plan. Please. Even if you think you don’t need it. And appoint an executor. It is impossible to sell your car or handle bank accounts without an executor. Yes, you are going to live to be 110, but you will be too busy tangoing to want to be bothered with these things. Make a plan now. Here are some ideas to get started.

  2. Give away 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 wear it, but she will appreciate it and pass it on to her daughter. I gave my grandmother’s diamond ring to a niece 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 out of the things you’re ready to broadcast. Submit images before submitting things. That saved me the hassle of sending my niece some precious china plates she didn’t like or bringing a brass tea towel rack to my cousin. It also gave me the satisfaction of seeing my great-aunt’s inkwell every time I visit my cousin. Or know that another cousin has the family Bible. I was also able to sell some gold jewelry with no regrets.

  4. Get rid of as much paper as possible. Nobody wants those articles that you photocopied so meticulously in college. Or old finished work, course outlines, work-related materials that are out of date. Or newspapers. Everything in those old recipe magazines that you will actually cook can be found online or scanned into an archive. This DOES NOT mean to get rid of old and prized cards or cards. Store them neatly.

  5. Transfer everything you can to the cloud. Make these files 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 lots of old books. I recently got rid of four shopping carts of books. I gave some of them to centers and shelters for the elderly. Most neither the thrift stores nor the library wanted. All my thirty year research and training books went to the trash.

  7. Label things. Never, never, never use permanent 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 the items. You can enjoy your possessions now and someday someone will thank you for making clear what happens to someone and what is thrown away.

  8. I love this option if you have a close family. It was the plot of a book I read decades ago. Leave instructions for everyone to come to your house (if you’re really nice, pre-arrange a little snack) and have everyone give them those points I mentioned earlier. Each person can put their own color on the items they want. If more than one person wants something, they solve it. In the book, they told stories about their memories related to the object. No fights, a lot of bonding.


This is good when you are bored. Or is it raining. Gold snowing. 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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