Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Managing Retirement: Declutter EARLY

HoardA Funny about Money reader writes to report the difficulties he and his siblings have had in helping their elderly, recently widowed mother move out of a home and settle closer to the family. After sixty years of wedded bliss,  the senior couple’s house was full of — you guessed it: Stuff.

We’ve talked about the way Stuff accumulates like kudzu: all the valuable pieces of junk we guess we must have or that we can’t part with after we no longer need them.

  • There’s the collection of Costco soaps filling a giant black plastic lawn bag. Why throw them out? Everyone uses soap. Sooner or later these will get used. Right?
  • And Uncle Orville’s hand-carved plywood footstool that we’ve kept in the back of the hall closet for lo! these many years. Sure, it’s a little ugly…that’s why it lives in the closet. But how can we get rid of an objet with that much sentimental value? What would we have left to remember Uncle Orville by?
  • Never mind the 25 shoeboxes full of old Kodak prints.
  • The cabinet shelf crammed with old mayonnaise and jam jars, carefully washed and stacked on top of each other. Watch out! That pile is about to fall on your head!
  • The bike with flat tires.
  • You can’t get this insecticide anymore: the gummint took it off the market. Keep!
  • This collection of crumbling comic books is valuable!
  • Old Yaller’s collar, leash, and chewed up toys… Good Old Yaller, waiting at the Rainbow Bridge after all these years.
  • The 35-year-old bottle of Kahlúa, opened  34½ years ago and never touched since. You never know when you could have a dinner guest who likes the stuff.
  • The flowered Penney’s dinnerware, only slightly chipped. The kids will love inheriting it. These things are collector’s items!
  • The dresses and shirts that still have their tags with the marked-down prices. Never got around to wearing them because you can’t see them in the jammed-tight closet.

In my experience, the longer you live in a house, the more of this kind of stuff grows inside the closets, fills the garage, and packs the storage sheds. You don’t even notice it all building up…until you have to move it.

But chances are your retirement castle is the last home you expect to inhabit. You don’t have to move for a job and you can’t afford to move to a better house or neighborhood. So you’re likely to be there for a long time, especially if you live to an advanced age.

The problem is, even if you have a place out of sight for all the Stuff that accumulates in the course of daily living, when you die or move, someone is going to have to haul it all out. And that someone is likely to be your hapless kids.

Dear Reader describes filling a 26-foot U-Haul twice and making eight trips in the pick-up and still not emptying the house of its junk collection.

This is not uncommon.

When SDXB bought a house here in the ‘hood, he got it from a couple who were the original owners. The old guy was a stasher. He pretended to be in the junk-selling business as an excuse for acquiring and stashing piles and piles and piles of junk. The garage was stuffed to the rafters with trash — literally full all the way to the ceiling. The backyard was littered with things like old toilets and half-rusted evap coolers.

The inside of the house looked normal enough…until you opened a closet door or peered into the garage.  These houses were build in 1971, so the old boy had plenty of time to accrue valuables.

Their kids lived in a couple of small towns in southern Arizona. They had to drive up here to help the aged parents, who no longer were up to heavy labor. The son who lived in Willcox — on the way to New Mexico! — had to drive his flatbed truck up to Phoenix several weekends in succession. The other kid came up from Sierra Vista, a garden spot depending from an old Army base, also spending many weekends helping to shovel out the house. They made trip after trip after trip to the city dump. Finally, after the third or fourth time the flatbed showed up there in a single day, the lady at the dump’s gatehouse looked at the kid and said, “This is a business, right?”

He had to talk fast to persuade her that no, it wasn’t a business: it was just his father’s hoard.

So…have a little consideration, f’rhevinsake.

In the first place, even if you don’t care that your kids will have to break their backs to get rid of your lifetime collection of priceless junk, consider this: keeping Stuff isn’t frugal.

To the contrary, it’s unfrugal. If you’re not using it, then someone else could be using it. Donate it to a thrift store or yard-sale it so someone else can get some use out of it, and a little less junk will be manufactured.

Declutter early and often. Whenever you buy a new shirt or skirt or pair of pants, take one clothing item out of your closet and donate it. Bought a new set of wine glasses or dishes? Take the old set (or what remains of it) over to Goodwill.

And every now and again, look around the house and garage and ask yourself what can go. Stuff has a way of making itself invisible — we get so used to having it around we no longer even see it.

The other day I gave a pricey grown-up’s scooter to the neighbor’s kids. It had been gathering dust on top of a garage cabinet, where it went after I was laid off from ASU. If I want to get around the ‘hood on two wheels, I use a bike.

The kiddies were thrilled to have it! 😀 Very, very adorable. And I was very happy to see it get some use.

Stuff: Use it up. Wear it out. Get rid of it!

Image: TheDoctorMo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34481543

Author: funny

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10 Comments

  1. I’m so totally with you on this. I’m nowhere near moving and I’m not widowed, but I mentally need to keep my stuff pared down. I have an open bag in the back room that sits there every day asking for donations. 😀 When I pass through a room and see something that isn’t being used I’m thrilled to move it to that bag.

    I’m also always on the husband to toss things from the garage (AKA his man room.) Slowly he is getting rid of his many, many tools. A funny story is that I recently persuaded him to sell his heavy floor jack as he is too old to be making car repairs. There have been no takers, as younger men don’t work on cars much any more.

    • Get. rid. of. tools…?? OHhh the pain!

      Yah, and ain’t it the truth about the floor jack — and a lot of other gear we have that the younger generation hasn’t a clue what to do with. Luckily for them.

  2. You’re never done decluttering. I think that’s where many people go wrong. Once you ‘finish’, you need to go back to where you first started, because it’s most certainly reappeared.

    It’s like weeding.

    • Yeah. That’s why I like the idea of discarding one thing for every new thing you bring into the house. Think that came from Frugal Scholar.

  3. Oh, this is bringing back memories! I lived in an apartment building for over 20 years and had a mentally ill neighbor who was a hoarder. I’d suspected this when she first moved in. She didn’t have much at the time but what she did have just seemed odd. For one thing, she had 3 or 4 old fashioned tv stands from the 60’s/70’s. The stands were covered in plants or lots of random, cheap-looking tchotchkes. About 9 years later, she died and her brother and sister were stuck with getting rid of her overstuffed apartment. She also had a storage unit that she’d been paying rent on for decades. We’re not sure what she died of because God told her not to trust doctors, that he would heal her.
    Anyway, her place was a lot like something you’d see on “Hoarders.” Her family allowed us neighbors to take whatever we wanted before they donated the rest to charity. There was a huge empty birdcage hanging from a hook in the kitchen ceiling. There were 2 huge book cases crammed with mostly hardbacks and who knows what else. She’d had some beautiful plants but they’d died because she became too weak to water them. Her goldfish was living in a very brown aquarium and her poor cat was so terrified of strangers, he hid every time someone came in and it took several weeks to find him amongst all of the junk.
    She had 2 huge piles of mardi gras beads in her bedroom, as well as a lot of rickety furniture that fell apart when you touched it. Her walk-in closet was so crammed full you couldn’t reach into it, forget walking in. Her bathtub was full of junk, too. After going in 5 or 6 times looking for things, I literally couldn’t force myself to go in anymore. It was just too overwhelming. Needless to say, I’ve been on a mission to declutter ever since. When I moved to a smaller place, I got rid of roughly 25% of what I owned and don’t miss any of it.

    • Poor soul!

      Hoarding — the excessive type like this, prob’ly not the “I’ll get around to cleaning whenever I get around to it” variety — actually is a mental illness. I think it’s classified as a type of obsessive compulsive disorder. Imagine how depressing it would be to live in a mess like that. You’d never be able to shake off the depression enough to shovel it out yourself…plus you’d probably worry that if you got rid of all the stuff you were familiar with, it would make you feel even worse.

      Getting rid of Stuff is great. It makes you feel physically lighter!

  4. IMHO there are many kind of hoarders and reasons that folks hoard. For me if I hear one more person tell me “they came thru the Depression”…and that’s why they saved a ball of broken shoe laces…I’m gonna scream…LOL. Plenty of folks came thru the Depression and exercise good judgment and self control. I’ve witnessed in the rental biz a lot of these folks can’t resist “a deal” and some take it to the next level. In other cases folks pick up things with every attention to start a hobby or project and never do. It’s sad to see and painful to watch….

    • That’s a good excuse… But my father went through the Depression. He and my mother spent ten days with nothing to eat but oranges and pancakes. He was the most clutter-averse person I’ve ever known.

  5. I’m cringing at the thought of how much decluttering my friends are going to have to do when their parents go. The parents are … “collectors”. But I think the right term now that the kids are out of the house is hoarders 🙁 The place may generally be clean but stuff is piled high to the ceiling, room to room, and it’s worrying. Obviously I want the parents to have long and healthy lives but at the same time, oh my goodness, the thought of how much the kids are going to have to clean when their parents DO go is scary. I don’t think three dumpsters will do the job.

    • {sigh} There’s not much you can do to persuade Mom and Dad (or Granma and Granddad) to clean out the debris while they still can. I mean, how tacky: “You’re already making plans for after we kick the bucket? Brats!!!”

      But I guess we ourselves can think about the next generation and make a conscious habit of getting rid things we no longer use. If there’s some precious set of memorabilia you just can’t bring yourself to part with — in my case, it’s the gigantic collection of Steiff toy animals my mother gave me while I was growing up — at least pack it neatly in a box so the heirs can carry it out easily and not have to gather it all up before they haul it. Remember: even if they inherit your home and WANT to live in it (some people do…), they’ll still want to move their own Stuff in. Make it easy for them to shovel your Stuff out.

      If you collect piggy-banks or cat sculptures or the like, why not have put eight or ten of the things on display, have the rest packed, and rotate them, every three months or so? Pack those up, unpack another ten, put them on the mantelpiece…wash, rinse, repeat. That way at least SOME of the Stuff will be packed whenever you croak over.