George Carlin and the new retirement minimalism

It is finally spring. Among the rituals of spring is spring-cleaning.

Comedian and colorful social observer George Carlin described a house as “just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” Spring-cleaning is an opportunity to sort that stuff — making the option of downsizing possible, aging-in-place easier, or simply helping family members make sense out of all that “stuff” you have accumulated for decades.

Over an adult lifetime you collect your stuff, family stuff and legal stuff. Here are some ideas on what to do with it.

Your stuff is everything under your roof. However, as you approach retirement, or may already be in retirement, that stuff makes life and future housing choices more difficult. The more you have, the more there is to maintain, clean and organize. A house full of furniture that was once the home of a family of five, but now only has two, makes the decision to downsize difficult. Moreover, should something happen to one member of a couple, a home’s contents can be a near insurmountable burden to manage and ultimately sort out. A new ritual of retirement, may be the adoption of a new retirement minimalism — eliminating items that are in the house because … well, because they have always been there. Even if you don’t want to downsize to another home, consider what you can downsize while staying in the home you are in.

Family stuff used to include furniture, glassware, tableware and a long list of family’s artifacts such as great grandfather Joe’s steamer trunk. Lifestyles have changed and keeping and handing down family “things” has become less important. Just consider the fact that the children of the baby boomers — the millennials — aren’t following the same life course timetable or preferences of previous generations. They are marrying later in life. Choosing to have fewer or no children. Moreover, the homes they are choosing, many in urban areas, are smaller. Consequently, mom’s dining room set doesn’t have a place to go and, even if your children have a need for a crib, chances are the one in your attic it is out of style or painted with something that has been, or will be determined to be hazardous.

Family stuff today is about memories that can neither be bought nor replaced. Photos across the generations that are annotated identifying who is in the photo and their relationship to children and grandchildren. Family videos that have been copied to the most current medium — no your VHS player isn’t worth keeping. Even your own audio stories recorded to memorialize family history. All of these items can be safely kept in the cloud, occupy little space, accessed by everyone while preserving generations of memories.

Legal stuff includes important documents that you and your family need access to for managing legal, financial and health matters that will become more critical as you age. The list can be long but includes legal and financial records for real estate, wills, health proxies, medical orders and desired intentions, insurance policies, inventories and assessed value of insured property, investment records, bank account locations, etc. These documents, along with an up-to-date list of contacts for attorneys, financial advisers, accountants, physicians should be organized, discussed with selected family and friends, and copies maintained in the home as well as with the appropriate professional, e.g., lawyer that assisted with will writing.

Like spring itself, life after work is an opportunity to start new. Retirement spring-cleaning through all that stuff makes considering alternative housing options possible, simplifies life in older age, and can be an invaluable gift to loved ones.


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