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18. ‘Decluttering’: Your Papers and other ‘Stuff’

The greater the extent to which you can leave this earth ‘tidily’, by which I mean having
taken steps to sort out what you own and to get rid of anything that is effectively useless or
past its sell-by date (and which is not likely to wanted by anyone after you’ve gone), the more
appreciative your family will be.

Here I am thinking of your papers, your letters; files and your photographs, to start with –
and then general possessions such as clothes and furniture and so on.

My Question: if you are of advancing years (and I hit 70 this past September), how are you
doing on this score?

Letters and Files

Many old files can be destroyed. Former Income Tax files, more than six years old, can
generally be disposed of, unless advised otherwise by your accountant or tax agent (for
example, in the case of an ongoing tax enquiry). That said, some files relating to the past may
be of enduring interest to your family for the future, perhaps covering a past episode of your
life when extraordinary things happened. But the mundane stuff can simply be binned.

Letters, if you do keep them, can be rather more sensitive and there are some of a personal
nature which should be destroyed. If you do want to keep them, however, put them in a file
with clear instructions given to your nearest and dearest to destroy (without ‘peeking’) after
your death. Others, of more general family interest, you may wish to retain. At all events, do
an inspection and sorting process.

Your Papers

And then what about your papers (all, of course, meaningful, in some shape or form) however
arranged, whether in your office, study or somewhere else? Once you are gone, it is likely that
none of these will be of any relevance or interest to anybody else (with the odd exception). So
it makes sense to do the culling process now, arranging for recycling – except in the case of
very sensitive material which should be shredded or burnt. Perhaps keeping only that which,
rigorously, you know you will need at some point.


You may be like or unlike me. Like me, if you have a few photograph albums of holidays and
children growing up, with a myriad of other photographs, some in bundles and some
scattered, with the full intention of ‘someday’ putting them in some sort of order. Unlike me, if
you have already put all your photographs in order, neatly arranged book by book on a shelf –
or, indeed, in the Cloud. This is just a reminder, if necessary, to do something about it – and, in
particular, to chuck photographs which really are surplus to requirements, however tough that
may be. Alternatively, you may have your photographs neatly ordered electronically, which is
fine so long as your family can access them.

But the main point is this: thinking of ‘old’ photographs, that were perhaps taken even before
you were born, which have a family interest, it is so important to have names and dates written
on the back so that they can be identified.

And ‘the Rest’

Whether your clothes or furniture or a whole host of personal possessions which are not
likely to be of use or interest to anyone else, are there steps you can take now to ‘tidy up’, in
terms of ‘binning’, shredding or simply taking them to the local tip?

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