“I recommend you dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.”― Marie Kondo, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”*

Ms. Kondo offers great advice in the above book for discarding personal property and decluttering your household.  I jokingly refer to items around my house as Things, Useless Things (UTs) and Totally Useless Things (TUTs).  In theory, my wife derives some pleasure from the UTs and TUTs, even if it is just knowing the items drive me nuts.  Other than venting, my reason for bringing this up now is that all too often heirs are faced with cleaning up and discarding a houseful of stuff.  Bigger houses mean more storage space, more storage space means more stuff.  No room?  Rent more storage!  You want to give yourself and your heirs a real gift?  Start the de-cluttering process now.  To get you started, I thought I would offer some guidelines keeping Ms. Kondo’s advice in mind.


     Things Currently in Use

Obviously, personal property that you currently use should be retained.  Ask yourself, “When was the last time I used this item?”  Get rid of anything that isn’t being used by you or someone in your household.

     Things, UTs and TUTs That Make You Happy

Ms. Kondo states that “The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.”

Please make sure the personal property you are discarding doesn’t bring joy to a loved one before donating it to charity.

      Documents that You Currently Need to Reference

You may not find certain documents and records useful or joyful, but they should nevertheless be retained.  These documents include:

  • Current emergency plan
  • Current financial plan and information
  • Current Tax Receipts and Support for Financials
  • Minute Book with Corporate Records (articles, bylaws, minutes, shareholder agreements, operating agreements, employment agreements, partnership agreements)

For a checklist of what should be included in your emergency and financial plans, please see our checklist at http://www.deangelislegal.com/emergency-planning-checklist/.


     Things that you will use in the near future

Just because you were a star soccer player in high school doesn’t mean you should keep your old cleats for posterity.  This is also true for your children, as they probably don’t have any sentimental attachment to those personal property either.  Another great quote from Ms. Kondo is “The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

In legal terms, I would classify this category as items for which it is reasonably foreseeable that you will use in the near future.  Like the tool box.  Not a daily item, but one that you know you are going to use again.

Last week I dug into my pile of bike parts and pulled out the pedals that I replaced six years ago, and have been storing since.  As I struggled to re-install them on the bike, it occurred to me that it may have been easier to simply purchase new ones now, rather than wasting space for all of that time.  Spare parts and equipment only add to clutter.  Get rid of them.

     Things, UTs and TUTs that are used seasonally

Clothing, china, holiday decorations and other items that are used, but only during the appropriate season should be retained, but they do not need to be placed in prime storage space in the house.  Find a spot that seasonal clothing and decorations can be stored and accessed when appropriate.  However, if you have not used the blow up snow man in years, maybe it is time for it to go too.

     Documents that You May Need to Reference

These are documents that you may need to support a tax deduction, a claim for repairs or prove that you made a payment.  They should be easily accessible and stored in a secure location.  For example:

  • Bank and Investment Account Statements for the last three years.
  • Support for Tax Returns for the last three years.
  • Blueprints, Plans, Specifications, Receipts and Records associated with improvements to real property, keep until three years after property is sold.
  • Passports until they expire.
  • Property and Health Insurance Policies, retain until expired.
  • Life Insurance Policies, retain until policy and reinstatement period is expired.
  • Warranties, retain until item is sold or disposed of.
  • Private Placement Memorandums retain until three years after investment is sold.

Many of these documents may also be stored electronically, eliminating the need to keep paper files around the house.  Eliminating paper and destroying these items after they expire or are no longer applicable also reduces the risk of identity theft.


     Things, UTs and TUTs that make you happy

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”― Marie Kondō

Enough said.

     Things, UTs and TUTs that tell your family story

Careful with this category.  An easy trap for personal property that does not give you joy is to retain it because of the assumption that it will give your heirs joy.  Family photo albums are usually wanted.  Items with name brand labels have long term value and are coveted by heirs and others, but unbranded antiques, art and collectables are not and are often donated or sold for pennies on the dollar.  For a list of personal property name brands that hold value see the following article https://www.americanbar.org/groups/real_property_trust_estate/publications/probate-property-magazine/2019/january-february/how-avoid-three-personal-property-misconceptions-could-be-losing-your-clients-money/.  My suggestion is that you talk with your heirs and find out what things bring them joy.  More often than not, you will be surprised at the feedback you receive.  This will give you the freedom to release yourself from storing unwanted items and the pleasure of knowing they will be in the hands of someone who will enjoy them.

     Documents that may be needed by your heirs, trustees and personal representatives

The following is a list of items that we are consistently searching for upon death or disability:

  • Medical Records.
  • Retirement Plans and Statements
  • Military Papers
  • Tax Returns, or at least the last seven years.
  • Passwords to access computers, accounts, social media, etc.
  • Current Estate Plan Documents (Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, etc.)
  • Birth, Marriage/Divorce, Death and Religious Certificates

These items give important information to your heirs, support claims for benefits and prove certain events and timing for tax purposes.  To assist your heirs upon your death or disability, assemble these documents in advance and let someone know where they are.

Before I start working on my garage, I will leave you with one last quote from Ms. Kondo-“The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.”  Good luck and keep in mind this article contains guidelines, personal circumstances may dictate holding personal property for longer periods of time than are reflected herein.  If you have a question, give us a call and we can help you sort out what should be retained and for how long. Q.

*All quotes are from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Copyright © 2014 by Marie Kondo. Published in the United States by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.  All rights reserved.