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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: August 2023 | Where to Live

What To Do With the Stuff: Tips for Decluttering

Rod Kubat


  • Gain some practical advice for decluttering both personal and professional belongings before or after retirement.
  • Use proactive organization strategies and the digitization of sentimental items.
What To Do With the Stuff: Tips for Decluttering Joel

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“Too much stuff-you have too much stuff, and I/we don’t want any of it, and we don’t want to deal with it after you pass on, so please get rid of it before you do.”  Sound familiar?  All those heirlooms, collectibles, pictures, valuable papers, mementos, gifts, etc. that you thought one day would be needed or wanted by, or passed on to, the next generation, seem to have been relegated to the category of “Stuff!”  And the “Stuff” is yours to deal with before you retire or, worse, after you retire and before you pass on!  Who says you can’t take it with you?

Of course, this may exaggerate the situation a bit to make the point that most people do not want to devote the time and energy to dealing with another person’s “Stuff.”  Whether it relates to the law practice paper files you have retained for 30+ years, or your personal property at home.  Like planning for retirement, we need to address the “Stuff” in our workplace and in our personal lives.  Here is a non-exhaustive list of common tips for decluttering “Stuff” that may be useful whether you apply them before or after retirement from your law practice or at home.  These tips are not listed in any particular order of priority or efficacy.  There are innumerable books, articles, and services available to assist you with decluttering so if these tips are not useful, feel free to search for ones that are.  A simple internet search for decluttering will reveal a world of references and services to help you.

Start the process and set a realistic and probably flexible deadline to complete it.

General Tips:

  • Start with the easy “Stuff” that you know you want to keep or discard.
  • Ask those you think might want something if they do, and if they don’t, get rid of it-discard or donate.  If they want it, give it to them now so it becomes part of their “Stuff.”
  • For the other “Stuff,” make a decision to keep it, discard it (including selling), or donate it-no “maybe” category.  Remember: it’s about making decisions.
  • Break the project down into smaller sized tasks, work on one small task until completed and then start the next one.
  • Consider using a “time” test for items, e.g., if you haven’t worn it in a year or used it in 180 days, discard, sell, or donate the item.
  • Get rid of the duplicate copy of the item.
  • Organize the items you keep so you know where to find them and where to look if you decide to buy a new one.  Consider whether to keep the old item or get rid of it when you acquire the new one.
  • Digitize your old photos, slides, and videotapes-there are many services available that will put these items on flash drives for you.  The flash drives are easier to store, can be duplicated, and make great gifts.
  • Get rid of expired food items and trash.
  • If your community has a “clean out day,” plan for it and discard items.
  • Hire a decluttering service-there are many of them.

Law Practice Tips:

  • Review your open files, determine if any can be closed, and close them. 
  • Comply with your firm’s policy on file destruction-paper or electronic.
  • Scan and store paper electronically-shred paper except original client documents, but including treasured law articles or important cases you think you may use.
  • Send to clients their original documents (such as original deeds, powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and wills).  Be sure to obtain a receipt or confirming email from the clients.
  • If your law practice has an electronic document management system, use it for existing active files and new ones to avoid having to scan and shred later. Wean yourself from paper over time.
  • Eliminate duplicate copies.
  • Take digital pictures of the mementos, gifts, plaques, awards, and other collectibles you have accumulated over the course of your career.  If you keep the original, then plan a place for it to go.