It’s like a perfect storm. The Baby Boomer generation is setting the ensuring generations for some decisions. Boomers are wealthier, living longer in bigger houses all of which makes it possible for them to accumulate more stuff. Collections, furniture, art, whatever. They are also likely lugging around items from their parents as well.
Allison Pohle writing in the Wall Street Journal talks about this development. Not only have tastes changed, but our emotional investment in stuff is different. Pohle writes:
By now, it is common knowledge that millennials like me don’t want the old furniture, china or trinkets that we could inherit when our relatives die, or are offered to us as our parents downsize. In general, we want to experience the world, but not have physical items signifying it. As I’ve watched my parents navigate their own parents’ deaths, and have observed the sheer number of physical items to sort through, I wondered: “How do we millennials know what to throw away and what to save?”
The chances are the stuff you leave behind has little monetary value. If it does, it may makes sense to dispose of it while you are alive and know best its value. For example, Geddy Lee, of Rush fame, is auctioning of a substantial part of his massive baseball memorabilia collection at Christie’s. If you are not going to self-liquidate your valuable assets, at least make sure you have a clear plan for their disposition.
There are no easy answers for family members left behind. There can be a lot of emotion in items, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense to hold onto them. Pohle again:
All of this is why so many people struggle with what to do with inherited collections and other items. “The most common thing we hear is, we don’t really want anything,” says Travis Sholin, a family wealth adviser at Keystone Financial Services in Omaha, Neb.
This all assumes you have an estate plan in place. You can make things easier on the next generations by doing some ‘Swedish death cleaning‘ while you are still able. Nevertheless, any estate plan should be explicit about both physical goods and digital goods. Just be aware that you stuff will become somebody else’s at some point. So be realistic and most of all be willing to let emotionally let go of a lifetime of collecting and accumulating.