Other People’s Stuff

John Yeigh

WE’VE ALL GOT STUFF. Too much stuff. George Carlin was among the first to highlight our obsession with stuff in his 1980s standup comedy routines. I hadn’t thought much about Carlin or stuff for decades—until 2015, when I inherited my parents’ stuff.

Not only did I inherit their stuff, I inherited some of their parents’ stuff and their grandparents’ stuff. Boxes, drawers and shelves full of unlabeled stuff. I wouldn’t call my parents hoarders. Everything was tidily put away. But basically, every nook and cranny of their house was stuffed with stuff.

Each box required sorting and reviewing. There were antiques, pictures and items of sentimental value—keeper stuff. Quite a bit of older stuff had small economic value for others, but not for us. That was eBay or Craigslist stuff. What about the rest? That became donated or trash stuff.

By contrast, settling my parent’s estate was relatively easy, because their financial records were well-organized. They kindly had advised me about the whereabouts of wills and life insurance policies. They’d also named beneficiaries and granted powers of attorney. But despite their solid financial organization, they never sorted out their possessions. They were Depression babies, and I suppose they just couldn’t bring themselves to discard excess stuff.

My wife and I love our parents and appreciate everything they did for us. But in my parents’ case, it took us the better part of three years to deal with their stuff, lots of which was only relevant to them.

End of story? Not quite.

This inheritance journey caused my wife and I to reconsider our own stuff. While certainly not minimalists or Marie Kondo disciples, we’re now sensitive that anything we retain will become our kids’ burden. We have been on a parallel mission to jettison our excess. After all, who else is better equipped to sort out our stuff? Over the same three years we were dealing with my parents’ stuff, we have reduced by half or more our collection of photographs, papers, books, clothes, sports equipment, linens, china and the like.

We now even have a few empty drawers—and we’re not done expunging. After all, we didn’t really need the Betamax recorder, Kodak Instamatic camera, Tandy power cord, left socks and college textbooks.

Want to make life easier for your heirs? Yes, you want to get your financial affairs in order. But do them another favor: Deal with your excess stuff.

John Yeigh is an engineer with an MBA in finance. He recently retired after 40 years in the oil industry, where he helped manage and negotiate the financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects. John now manages his own portfolio and has a robust network of friends, with whom he likes to discuss and debate financial issues. His previous articles were All StocksOff the Payroll and Half Wrong.

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