September 14, 2020 – Downsizing, ridding out, whatever you want to call it, paring down your stuff is an important job in retirement. This past week your Editor and his wife had the pleasure of safely disposing more than a dozen boxes of important papers that were cluttering up their home. Here are some tips on how you can do the same (with links to many of our other downsizing articles at end).
Don’t leave cleaning up to your surviving spouse or children. It’s just not fair. Give your kids a break – they have lives to live – so don’t leave them with a basement or attic full of old papers or documents to dispose of. They will have no idea what was is important and what is not.
The shredding event. The Rotary Club in a town near us sponsors an annual shredding day. You show up with your papers, and for a small donation ($10/box in this case), a volunteer dumps them into a container and then the shredder. You witness their destruction. In our case many of the boxes were very old patient records from my wife’s psychology practice, my business and volunteer records over many years, and tax returns going back to the 1990s. The pleasure of seeing empty space in our attic and offices, and knowing the papers were safely disposed of, was very sweet.
How to find a shredder.
You can of course buy a shredder, and you should. Regularly shredding statements and papers you don’t need will keep your inventory down and save space and hassle. But once you have reached a critical mass, you could spend days and even weeks shredding stuff, and home use shredders are not up to the task.
There are plenty of companies that will be happy to shred your papers for you. UPS Stores, Office Depot, and Staples will all do it safely for you at around 99 cents a pound (A standard bankers box holds roughly 30 lbs or 6 reams worth of paper).
You will probably save money and help a good ause if you can find a shredding event held by a local charity. But to do this you need to plan ahead, have your stuff culled and ready to go. Keep your eyes peeled for local announcements, or ask a friend if they know of any annual ones. You can also search online for “Shredding events near me” and come up with possibilities.
What needs to be saved?
Tax records. Experts advise keeping 7 years of your income tax records, as the government has 6 years to collect unpaid income taxes.
Credit card receipts and the like. Probably no more than a year is needed.
Loan and mortgage documents. Need to be kept until they are paid off.
Personal Records. Some records are important enough they should be kept safe in a fireproof location. Birth and death certificates, baptism and marriage licenses, divorce papers, Social Security cards, military discharge papers should be kept indefinitely. Estate-planning documents and life-insurance policies, and your bank safe deposit box’ inventory also need to be safe and accessible. Your heirs need to know where they are. At the minimum these papers should be stored in a fireproof case, which you can buy at any office supply store.
Home improvement costs. When you sell your home you will be taxed on any value greater than your cost. So if you made improvements over the years (added a room, upgraded the windows or AC, etc.), having those records will provide documentation of your increased basis. Keep those in special file.
The biggest disadvantage of getting rid of your old papers is the work – it takes a lot of labor and angst to go through the process. You might worry that you will destroy something in the process (your old report cards?). But on the other hand, you will be ready to move into your next home without lugging truckloads of papers around the country that you never will read again. Moving or not, the people we know who have completed their decluttering all say the same thing – it was so liberating to clear everything out! Your kids will thank you to, as they won’t have to waste time from their busy lives someday trying to sort out decades of your old bills and bank statements.
Time to Downsize or Declutter
A Tale of 3 Downsizings
Retirement Planning: Our Members Are on the Move
Downsizing Checklist and Tips
Topretirements Members Getting Ready for Big Moves
A Sad Surprise: Nobody Wants Your Stuff
eDivvyup – a Web-based tool for dividing property
How to Run an Estate Sale
Lucy Burdette: The Mysteries of Decluttering
About Home Downsizing (eHow)
Downsizing Advice from Here and There
Downsizing Baby Boomers Looking to Sell Their Stuff (Smart Money)
Why Aunt Betty’s Silver Won’t Pay the Bills
AARP: Donate, Sell, or Get Rid of Your Stuff
Comments: Please share your tips and experiences for shredding in the Comments section below. We all want to know how it worked for you!