Tuesday, July 26, 2016

8 Tips for Decluttering

     Like many retirees, our household is downsizing. As many of you know, we have sold our house in the suburbs and now, just last week, moved into a one-bedroom condominium. Six months ago we had a basement full of old boxes and an attic full of memorabilia. We had overflowing kitchen cabinets, closets bulging with old clothes, bookcases bursting with books and tabletops littered with little trinkets and tchotchkes.

     But now, everything has been packed away and moved out the door. We have one truckload in our condo, and another has been sent to storage -- to await the time when we settle down into a house or condo that is bigger than what we have now, but smaller than what we had before.

     How did we do it? Honestly, a month ago it seemed like an impossible task. But it happened. So here are eight tips from personal experience on how to declutter and prepare for downsizing in retirement. 

     1. Call the kids. The first thing we did was put our four kids on notice that we were moving, and we expected them to come and sort through their things, take what they wanted and dispose of the rest. One son had already moved 800 miles away and had taken most of what he wanted. We sent him photos of the rest. He told us what to bring him when we met him at B's mother's 100th birthday party. The rest we got rid of. We were lucky that another son had recently bought his own house. He came with a U-Haul and not only took all of his own stuff, but loaded up a couple of extra pieces of furniture into the back of the truck. 

     2. Donate to the church rummage sale. Our church has a big rummage sale every April. We donated two carloads of clothes and kitchen equipment. Plus, church volunteers came with a pickup and took away several bookcases, a TV case, a dining room sideboard and a few other pieces of furniture. 

A work in progress
     3. Make trips to recycling. Our town recycling center accepts old electronics (so do electronics stores such as Best Buy), both paperback and hard back books, scrap metal and paper of all kinds. I made at least a dozen trips to our recycling center. 

     4. Shuttle to Goodwill. We have a Goodwill store near us; others have the Salvation Army or some other thrift shop. They accept free donations of clothes, books, CDs and small household items. My Goodwill does not accept rugs. We had three rugs that I had to cut up into strips and throw away. 

     5. Find your pickers store. There's a second-hand store in the next town over from us. There's probably one near you, too. I called the owner and made an appointment. Then I loaded up the back of our small SUV with tools, framed prints and a few knickknacks, and the woman there picked through my pieces, took what she wanted and gave me $140. I made a second trip a few weeks later, and she gave me another $60 for the lot.

     6. Trash, trash and more trash. Some towns offer bulk pickup a few times a year. Our town does not. We have a limit of two full garbage cans, twice a week. So we didn't miss a trick. We filled two garbage cans to the brim, twice a week, for six months straight. Plus, we sneaked in a few extra items when we thought we could get away with it. 

     7. Call the junk man. There are people who will come and haul the last of your stuff away, for a fee. They advertise on community bulletin boards, or leave their business cards in local shops. I found a card at the second-hand store. Fortunately, using all the other methods, we never had to call the junk man. But it's good to know he's there, if and when you need him. 

     8. Have a heart-to-heart with your partner. None of this works if you are furiously disposing of things while your partner is agonizing over whether to throw away a Christmas card from 1985. Most relationships, it seems, consist of one hoarder who has piles of possessions, and one simplifier who owns one coat, one book and one photo. To avoid working at cross purposes, you need to sit down and talk things out. The hoarder must realize that many things (VHS tapes, a record player, old sports equipment) are outdated or can easily be replaced. The simplifier has to appreciate that some things have sentimental value and can't be replaced, and if you get too enthusiastic about downsizing you might end up regretting what you've lost. So don't be like our dysfunctional politicians. Respect your partner's point of view, realize there are deep emotional issues embedded in this whole process and be ready to compromise.

Friday, July 22, 2016

I'm "Out of It"

     A week on Cape Cod. Here are some of the things we've done:

     We went to see a Vince Gill concert at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis. I'm not a country fan and barely knew who he was; but we wanted to see what the venue is like. He put on a good show and in addition to some of his well-known (to others) country songs, he rocked out a few numbers that appealed to the rest of us.

     We also went to the Harwich band concert, held outside on the village green and led by a conductor who is well into his 80s. The songs were very different, kind of corny, featuring the likes of Disney and John Philip Sousa. But the audience was enthusiastic and consisted of pretty much the same demographic as the Gill concert -- men and women over age 50.

     We rented bikes and rode up the old railroad trail to a freshwater pond to go swimming. We also made a few trips to the beach on Nantucket Sound where the water was warm enough to take a swim. We drove up to the ocean in Orleans, at Nauset beach, but the water there was not warm enough to go in, at least not for us -- there are always a few kids who will brave the frigid waves.

     We attended the Harwich music stroll, with several bands outside on the street playing music from the 1960s and '70s. Later, we walked down to the beach and watched a full moon rise over the waters of Nantucket Sound.

     I read two mysteries set on Cape Cod. They were okay. I also read American Lion by Jon Meacham, and decided if the nation survived the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829 - 1837) -- an outsider from Tennessee with two bullets in him (one from a dual, the other from a gunfight) who owned scores of slaves, ran as a populist against the Eastern establishment and was largely responsible for the Trail of Tears that removed Native Americans from the South and sent them out West -- then we could survive a presidency of Donald Trump. Not that I'm recommending Donald Trump. Far from it. But I'm not too worried about it, especially since his chances of winning seem slim to none.

     But here's what we did not do. We have not watched TV. In fact, the last time I was in front of a TV was two nights before we moved, a week ago Monday, the 11th, when I saw the last episode of the Netflix show "Happy Valley." If you haven't seen it, I recommend it highly. It features a strong female lead in the form of a British police detective who has troubles with her family as well as the evil nemesis who raped her daughter.

     I have not seen the news. But I heard there were more shootings. I saw something on the Internet about Trump's wife plagiarizing her speech (don't they all?). And Trump picked a vice presidential candidate. I didn't catch his name. Has Trump actually been nominated yet?

     Two more days of vacation. Then it's back to reality . . . or what passes for reality in our crazy modern world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tom, Where Ya Been?

     B and I recently downsized from our four-bedroom house in New York to a one-bedroom condo in nearby Connecticut. We moved last week. We were in the condo for three days, and then as planned, we left for a week-long vacation to Cape Cod.

     The idea of temporarily moving into condo is to give ourselves the time and money to travel around and seek out our retirement destination. One problem is that B and I have different ideas about what our destination should look like. But that's a story for another post.

     There are a lot of retirees living on Cape Cod. But for various reasons we've decided that Cape Cod is not a possibility for us (or at least, we think it isn't but, gee, it's awfully nice up here). We're just taking a brief vacation to rest and recuperate from the move.

     The first thing we did was rent bikes and ride up to a pond to go swimming.

     Then we went into town and had a drink and some clam chowder.

     On the second day, after a couple of hours on the beach, I drove over to the fish market, bought some fresh swordfish, then we cooked it on the grill of our rental house.

     We'll be here for a few more days while the workmen finish up some renovations on the kitchen and bathroom of our condo. Hopefully, by the time we get home, the place will be back in one piece and we can finish unpacking. Then we will continue to transition from our old lives (I'll still be playing in my old golf league; B is still working at the library, until she fully retires at the end of the summer) into our new lives (we've already got three other trips on the planning board).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Today We Move

     Yesterday the movers came and put half of our belongings into storage. Today they arrive to take us to our new condo.

     This morning we are still New Yorkers. Tonight we will sleep in Connecticut. We are only moving about 25 or 30 miles away, but we will now become New Englanders.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Volunteering an Opinion

     I just finished tutoring for the first summer session at our community college. I've been volunteering there for the past three years, helping students with their essays and presentations, their applications to four-year schools, their resumes and covering letters for job openings.

     I can't volunteer for the second summer session, because I am too busy moving. And I'm not volunteering next year, either, since I'll be doing a lot of traveling and won't be around that much.

     I'll miss going to the college, helping the kids, and hanging out with the other volunteers. It got me thinking about volunteering, and how much it means to us retirees.

     There are about a dozen volunteers in the writing center, a division of the Academic Support Center. There are over a hundred when you count those volunteering in the math center, in science and technology, and for ESL as conversation partners. So I have a lot of company, but not just here in New York, all across America as well. It turns out that America is one of the most generous nations in the world. According to figures from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, some 60 percent of Americans regularly engage in some kind of charitable activity, compared to an average of about 40 percent for other developed countries.

     Another study, from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, found that Americans offer almost 8 billion hours a year volunteering for charitable causes, from church activities to political organizations to helping out neighbors and strangers. While Americans of all races and ages contribute both their money and time, retirees are the ones who reach out the most.

I tutor writing at -- where else? -- the school library
     Retirees have the most opportunity to volunteer, since our time isn't consumed by working or taking care of children. We have almost twice as much free time as working parents in their late 30s and early 40s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we are looking for something to do with all that extra time. So while retirees comprise less than a third of the population, we account for 45 percent of all volunteering hours, Merrill Lynch found.

     We also have the most money. Retirees have the lowest poverty rate among all age groups, and also have the most savings. As a group, we are sitting on more than four times the net worth of our children who are working and raising families. This explains why retirees account for 42 percent of the money donated to charity, according to Merrill Lynch.

     As my own experience has shown, retirees find it fulfilling to volunteer; it gives us the feeling that we make a difference in the lives of others. Most volunteers report that helping others brings them more happiness than spending money on themselves. Retirees who are active in charities also exhibit a stronger sense of purpose and higher self-confidence, with lower reported rates of depression as well as lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates.

     Volunteering is also a way to make social connections, offering retirees an opportunity to meet people with similar interests and values. Some 85 percent of retiree volunteers say they have developed new friendships through their volunteer activities. Personally, I've found a group of like-minded friends at the college. We sit around and talk shop, but we also talk about our families, our lives, our interests. We occasionally get together for coffee before or after a session, and I've found one fellow volunteer who likes to dance, and so B and I meet up with her and her husband once or twice a month to go dancing.

     Speaking of B, she devotes most of her volunteer time to her church, and according to Merrill Lynch, that makes her more typical than me. About half of people who donate to charity contribute to a religious or spiritual organization, while 30 percent donate to relieve poverty, 25 percent to provide disaster aid and roughly 20 percent to educational institutions.

     But it's true that charity begins at home. While some people say that leaving an inheritance to their children is an important goal, today's retirees are twice as likely to say it's more important to help out family members in times of need instead of accumulating an estate for their children. Over 60 percent of parents have given some kind of financial support to their adult children. Others have extended a helping hand to parents, siblings, in-laws and grandchildren.

     It may come as no surprise that women are more generous than men. They are more likely to give money and more likely to volunteer. They are also more likely to say they achieve happiness by giving to others rather than spending money on themselves, and define success in terms of helping others rather than accumulating wealth. Women give out of gratitude, not guilt. And because of their greater longevity, women also exercise control over the family inheritance. Today, about a third of charitable bequests are made by married couples. But almost half are made by women alone.

     So anyway, I got an email from the college the other day. The writing coordinator said she understood I wasn't available next year, because I'd be traveling. But maybe I'd be around toward the end of the semester when things got busy. Would I be available to volunteer in November and December? So now I'm thinking, I'll probably be home, maybe I could just help out during the crunch period.