Getting Rid of the Stuff

As insurance agents we are often called upon to help our clients in making difficult choices. Sometime the choices are clear, while others border on decisions which needs to be made with the assistance of loved ones.

One of the things that often keeps people from mentally crossing that bridge into retirement is the sheer volume of “stuff” that they have accumulated during a life of raising kids and just buying things over several decades of family life. If the kids have moved out but they are living in the home they have occupied for years, the layers and layers of accumulation can be tremendously intimidating to think about going through and deciding what to keep and what to give away.

Now there is no reason not to go ahead with plans to retire from the job and start that lifestyle as soon as finances are able to let them do that and they are ready to step out of the working world. But for many, the real transition of becoming fully retired happens when people pare down their possessions, sell the family estate and move into a quaint bungalow, retirement apartment or assisted living center to begin enjoying a life of fewer responsibilities and a lot more fun.

The first step of taking on the challenge of how to attack the mountains of stuff is to get a rough inventory for what they have and what they can get rid of. I like to recommend people can start on this quest as early as they feel ready to put their retirement planning on the front burner. Many start on it as soon as they enter the “empty nest” phase of their life and the kids are gone and you can begin to convert their rooms into usable space and start getting their stuff out of the house as well.

So, kids are the first line of defense or rather of offense in attacking the sheer volume of stuff people own.   Now is the time to start the inheritance process early. There is no doubt many things in the family’s possessions the children will cherish from their upbringing in the home and that they will want to pass along to them. Recommend, as your clients clear out the stuff, they give it to the children while they are cleaning it out. This process could take a year or so. The children must know they must come along and get the stuff they want before a sale of a home.

 This can be a progressive process. If the kids live far off, they can use visits for the holidays to go through closets and box and ship their precious memories and mementos from their childhood years so those things can start living at their homes. This is a big step toward getting rid of all the stuff.

Next, start to think about the amount of space needed in the new space and what they are going to need and use regularly when living in that smaller living quarters. Assist your client to be very pragmatic here so they are only looking at things from a usability point of view. On the first pass, many things will make the cut to be saved because they are either useful or nostalgic or both.

Here is an important step, begin to go through the house room by room and separate things into “keep’, “give away” or “trash”. They will find lots of stuff that can be donated to Good Will or to charities which gives those things a new life and a small tax write off for next year. Recommend they be brave about throwing away things that just have no real value anymore. Remember, if they do not get rid of it, they are going to be living with it for another twenty years and that is what they are trying to get away from. Share with the client, by starting early, the process of paring down the possessions can be rewarding and fulfilling and a good next step into the next phase of life.


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