Among the challenges estate executors face – one that doesn’t get talked about much – is all the stuff they have to contend with from the deceased’s household(s). How can you help your clients maximize enjoyment of their possessions and minimize the sheer volume of objects heirs will one day have to contend with? Downsize.
You don’t have to be old or dying to downsize. When you’ve lived in the same place for a decade or two or three, stuff accumulates. We get attached to pieces of clothing, books, knickknacks, photographs, papers, all sorts of objects that become clutter.
A cluttered environment contributes to a confused mind. Clearing your space helps clear your mind. It allows what’s left to be effectively organized. Yet, it’s a challenge to embrace simplicity. Here are three good reasons to reduce the amount of stuff you, or your clients, hold on to.
Less stuff is liberating.
In 1990, I moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Only the possessions that fit into my Honda hatchback came along for the ride. I rented a furnished apartment, and for 18 months used those items brought West in the car. It’s amazing how little you need to live well.
After I bought a house, a moving van delivered the multiple boxes of belongings and furniture retrieved from their hibernation in the folks’ basement. Pulling out all those long-hidden possessions, it was like Christmas! Over 25+ years, many of those objects remain treasured, while others have been donated, sold, or trashed and new gear has come into the house.
We may move many times in our lives. With each move, reconsider which possessions to take. As the phases of our lives progress, our needs and our clothing sizes change. We are given gifts by well-meaning friends, but perhaps those objects don’t resonate. Let’s only keep the things we truly love, use, and can fit into.
Attachment to stuff causes suffering.
The Buddha observed that attachments are at the root of all suffering. Americans are really good at acquiring. We’re not very good at letting go. We become anxious and stressed trying to hold on to people and products in a constantly changing world.
Our stuff represents our history, an accumulation that marks who we think we are. When we recognize change is constant, that all we really have is the present moment, we can learn to let go of our attachments to objects representing the past. We can distance ourselves from the discontentment and dissatisfaction the stuff we don’t love fosters.
You’re a grown-up – admit it.
As a child, your parents probably admonished you to pick up your toys and clean up your room. When you became a teenager, perhaps those efforts were abandoned in favor of encouraging you to wash your dishes, or at least put them in the dishwasher.
If your parents are still alive, as a grown-up child, the tables are turned. Parents have accumulated decades of stuff, including things that their parents passed on to them. You – and your siblings, if you have them – will have to go through generations of photos, knickknacks, papers, and household goods after your parents are deceased.
While the parents are still alive, and hopefully cognizant, find out the stories behind the items worth keeping. It may be the story is the true value of any given object.
Purging possessions, old documents and useless files before there’s a death in the family will reduce confusion for the estate executor. If you dread the thought of going through your own files, imagine the increased peril of facing your parent’s office files.
Don’t get caught a clutter trap. Help yourself and help your clients by embracing downsizing now.
Gail Rubin, CT, is a death educator Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement and a Certified Funeral Celebrant. Her newest book is Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips, a follow-up to her award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She “knocked ‘em dead” at TEDxABQ with her talk on pre-planning for end-of-life issues. She is a regular contributor to the AAEPA blog. Download a free planning form from her website, http://www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
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American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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