Disengaging the Albatross


I live in a townhouse in a retirement community, and am part of a volunteer corps that tries to make life easier and more meaningful for those living in apartments, assisted living, memory care, and the nursing home. One of the many projects—the only one I participate in regularly—is to help people dispose of possessions as they downsize, move to assisted living or the nursing home, or move away, often to be closer to family.

Often the family just walks away with most of the furnishings and possessions left behind. We sell what we can, deliver some to charitable organizations for thrift shops, and throw a lot away.  It’s a sobering experience about being prisoners of our possessions, about preparing for the inevitable, and about the excessive attachment to material objects that is not good for our spirits or for the planet. We are a link in the chain of recycling, but the amount of stuff that goes to the landfill is troubling. We also make some money that is used to provide equipment, supplies and services to the residents of those facilities. And finally, it also saves the families the expense of hiring someone to  dispose of these possessions.

Lessons learned?  Lesson #1, possessions for which there is no market.  Cassette tapes (LP records are another matter). Old electronics, which are a disposal challenge.  Framed pictures. Knicknacks. Mismatched glassware. Empty vases and flower pots. Outdated electronics. Holiday decorations do surprisingly well.  A friend of mine organized an annual holiday giveaway of decorations to families served by the local food bank.  We are among the many who ply her with used decorations from artificial trees to ornaments to gift wrap, and it is all claimed by clients of the food bank in a couple of hours.

Lesson #2. Organizations that do this kind of work on a volunteer basis are few and far between, so be kind to your children and heirs and clean out now, starting with the stuff on the list above. It requires some skills in pricing and finding outlets like consignment shops and a lot of hours. The maintenance staff at the retirement community is a big help in the final cleanup. Think about finding an organization like this to work with–or start one!

Lesson #3.  It’s Christmas, when we buy each other things.  My oldest daughter asked for more experiences and consumables.  Theater tickets, wearables, spices  for the cooks are a bigger part of my holiday giving this year, along with a gift card for each family member to select a charitable cause for their/my charitable donation of $25 each through Global Giving online. We pass around the laptop and enjoy seeing what worthy cause strikes their fancy.  It may be chickens for an orphanage in Africa, or solar power for villagers in Asia, or protection for the rain forest or endangered species in Central America. I refuse to give up buying people books, though—and they are definitely recyclable!

So in this holiday season, let’s remember the planet, the wasteful consumption and the challenge of reusing those items in our storage sheds, cabinets, drawers, closets and garages. If you are old like me, consider the burden  on your children of disposing of your stuff.  If you are young, watch your accumulation, and  help your parents or aging relatives find creative ways to disposed  of surplus possessions.  If you are shopping, focus on consumables and the ability to recycle. Grandma, Mother Earth, and the beneficiaries of your creative recycling and restrained consumerism will be grateful.

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