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What I’d Keep

Ken Cutler

IT WOULD BE GREAT if my wife and I could stay indefinitely in the two-story colonial-style home where we raised our two children.

Right now, in our early 60s, taking care of the place doesn’t seem like a huge burden. The lawn is only a third of an acre and mowing it helps me stay in shape. Before I retired, we updated the kitchen and had a new roof installed. In the near term, we shouldn’t have any major maintenance issues to deal with. Still, I realize that someday—hopefully in the distant future—one or both of us might need to move to a smaller, more manageable living arrangement.

One aspect of downsizing would be particularly painful. In our family, we’re all readers and we’ve accumulated a lot of books. I count 10 bookcases scattered around the house, not including my daughter’s bedroom. She was a voracious reader in childhood and an English major in college. Her room is essentially a repository for hundreds of books, with some space left for a bed and a desk.

Sometimes, I run thought experiments about which books I’d take with me if, in later years, we had to move to a small apartment in a retirement community. It’s a tough exercise. I occasionally reread books and have a number of tomes that I use as reference works. Parting with a significant portion of my library would feel like losing part of my memory and shedding a piece of myself.

I was a reader from a young age, thanks to the encouragement of my parents, and I started taking out books from the local library when I was a wee lad. One quirky thing I’ve done over my adult years has been to collect books that were childhood favorites. I have titles such as The City Under the Back Steps, The Forgotten Door, Strange But True Baseball Stories and Ever Ride a Dinosaur? I’ve reread them all as a grownup. I don’t know if I’ll ever read them again, but having them reconnects me to some of the best days of my childhood. Would they make the cut in the great downsizing?

In my office, I have a bookcase dedicated to my theological library. In addition to various Bible commentaries and reference works, I have books that have significantly influenced my life. Some of the most transformational are Knowing God, Mere Christianity and The Fight. I would want to take many of these books if possible.

How about my financial library? I’ve assembled a set of classic books that includes titles such as The Millionaire Next Door, The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, The Black Swan and Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? Most of these would probably be left behind. One caveat: In the unlikely event I’m still writing about personal finance at that point, I might want them for reference.

Using Shutterfly, I’ve put together several photobooks devoted to major vacations that my wife Lisa and I have taken. They don’t take up a lot of room and would need to go with me. The 20 or so thick photo albums from my children’s early years are more problematic. A proud dad, I went overboard documenting their lives. Hopefully my kids would take some if there’s no room for all of them in my new abode. I probably should consolidate the best of these albums into a greatest pics volume, but that’s easier said than done.

My classic literature and drama books don’t have to come with me. Most of them could be easily obtained from a library if desired.

I would have to pick and choose from my extensive collection of non-fiction general interest volumes. Would I want to read Freakonomics again in the retirement home? I doubt it, but books like The Forgetting or The Owner’s Manual for the Brain might continue to be of interest.

Among my history books, I’d choose a small number of my favorites that I’d be likely to reread. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, The Endurance and A Distant Mirror would be in that select group.

Every year since Lisa and I got married, I’ve composed a Christmas letter sent to friends and family. We’re up to 32 Christmases together. I maintain a festive-looking looseleaf notebook containing all 32 letters in plastic sleeves. This volume serves as a brief family history. It’s definitely coming with me, and I would want to make sure members of my immediate family also had copies.

Another difficult downsizing thought experiment: What to do with all our fine furniture pieces handcrafted by either my father or my father-in-law? Conveniently, there are several bookcases in that set.

Ken Cutler lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and has worked as an electrical engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than 38 years. There, he has become an informal financial advisor for many of his coworkers. Ken is involved in his church, enjoys traveling and hiking with his wife Lisa, is a shortwave radio hobbyist, and has a soft spot for cats and dogs. Follow Ken on X @Nuke_Ken and check out his earlier articles.

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