We are a nation of unbridled consumers – and as we age, all those consumer goods have to go somewhere – given to our heirs or to charitable organizations, sold or given to strangers or carted to the dump. When you look at the numbers, adults have a lot of downsizing to do.
According to the 2007 video The Story of Stuff, the United States has 5% of the world’s population, yet we’re using 30% of the world’s resources and creating 30% of the world’s waste.
An incredible 99% of the materials harvested, processed, and sold to consumers in the U.S. is trashed within six months. The average person in the U.S. consumes twice as much as we did 50 years ago. This is not a sustainable way to live – or die.
Will our kids, siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins or friends want all the stuff we have in our homes? Probably not. A good place to start is to ask them what they might want, and give it to them TODAY.
Selling your used household goods can be a lot of hard work if you hold a yard sale. However, if you advertise desirable items online, you can make some easy sales. For example, I made $700 selling a top-of-the-line gas grill and a rooftop car carrier through Craigslist.
Donating goods to nonprofit organizations is easy and provides financial benefits at tax time. Charitable organizations will pick up or accept a majority of gently used household goods and give you receipts as proof for tax deductions. Popular charities include Goodwill, the Salvation Army, ARC, Vietnam Veterans, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ReStore for Habitat for Humanity, and others. However, many won’t accept old televisions, mattresses, computers, and some furniture.
Three camping pads I wanted to donate qualified as mattresses, which are unacceptable. Placed on the curb with a “FREE” sign, after a day, they were still there. So I posted those on Freecycle.org. The Freecycle Network matches people who have things they need to get rid of with people who can use them, with the goal of keeping usable items out of the landfill.
Don’t forget that hazardous wastes, many found in the garage, require special handling. These include paints, solvents, pesticides, chemicals, and automobile fluids. Check with your local public works department for guidance. Some hardware stores collect and recycle batteries and CFL bulbs, also considered hazardous waste.
A professional painter provided this tip for neutralizing leftover paints: mix these hazardous liquids with kitty litter – it turns paint into a solid waste. Once the material has hardened overnight, it should be okay for disposal in your ordinary trash.
Americans live – and die – in a land of plenty. Let’s avoid overwhelming our heirs by trimming our material excess BEFORE there’s a death in the family.
Gail Rubin, CT, is a death educator who uses humor and funny films to teach about end-of-life topics. She’s the author of A GOOD GOODBYE: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and HAIL AND FAREWELL: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips. Her next book is KICKING THE BUCKET LIST: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die. Click here to sign up for a free 50-point Executors Checklist from the book, reviewed and approved by AAEPA’s Steve Hartnett! Learn more at www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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