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• A sturdy paper file box for those

documents that need to be retained

in original paper form (deeds, for


Go Green

To downsize in an environmentally

responsible manner, you need to keep

as many of your extraneous household

effects as possible out of the landfills.

This means taking time to find places

to sell, give away, donate or recycle

what you no longer need. Look beyond

Goodwill or the Salvation Army; you

will find that there are many nongov-

ernmental organizations interested in

your ephemera.

I donated a carload of artifacts frommy career to the U.S. Diplomacy Center Foundation ( Anoth


carload went to the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide, for their annual Bookfair at the State Department.

If your 220-volt appliances are in good working order, find a

new FSO out at the Foreign Service Institute who can use them

on their first tour overseas. Remember how pressed financially

you were when you first started in the Service?

We also used

Freecycle (

to give away

items we did not plan to take with us to our retirement home.

Remember all those old record albums stored in boxes in the

basement? The good news is that generation Y has rediscovered

the beauty of high fidelity, and records are coming back into

demand. As with all things, the rarity and the condition of the

album will determine its value. The local record resale shop was

quite excited to see my Paul McCartney album, issued only in

the USSR in the late 1980s.

Items of Value

If you have valuable collector’s items you wish to sell, think

through whether you want to take the time and effort to market

them online (e.g., via Ebay or Amazon) or whether you want to

use an auction or consignment house. We used auction houses

to sell my father’s collections of bronzes, paintings, firearms and

other antiques. One auction house, Cowan’s, was particularly


If the items have value, a good auction house will readily

accept them for inclusion in their next catalog or for online

sales in small batches. Ask around to find out which firms and

consignment shops have been used

by people you trust. Make sure you

clarify what the auction house or con-

signment charges for their services

before you turn over items to them

for sale.

Especially valuable items will

bring in more money if handled by a

dealer or a specialized auction house,

because they are more apt to know

collectors who have an interest in

such items. You would be wise to get

estimates from several different deal-

ers on your high-value items.

How do you find out whether your

treasures are really as valuable as

you think they are? The easy way is to

look up the item on Ebay or Amazon. This will tell you the value

of similar items being offered. But beware—this does not mean

that anyone is actually paying that price. Still, it should give you

an idea of what is collectible and what is just not worth your time

and effort to sell.

Sadly, for those of us who love fine china and crystal, there is

not much interest in sets of traditional china among the younger

generations. Families today have no space to store grand-

mother’s china service for 12, nor do they care to use china that

cannot be washed in a dishwasher. Select a few pieces you think

you will actually use in your retirement home, and then consign

or donate the remaining china service.

Deciding What to Keep

So how do you decide what to keep and what to shed? Obvi-

ously a very personal decision, it is also constrained by the

location and size of your retirement home. Let’s assume you

know where you will be moving and have a firm idea of the kind

of housing you will occupy (e.g., single-family home or condo).

That will give you an idea of what you can accommodate. In

addition, I found that a good rule of thumb is to assume that it

will cost you a dollar to move each pound of your household


We decided to leave behind much of our furniture; it was

worn after so many moves in and out of storage, and the style did

not seem to fit with the Pacific Northwest. There is virtually no

market these days for old, dark wood furniture (called “brown

furniture” in the trade), so consider donating it to a charitable

organization. The bright side of the cheap prices in vintage

We used the stairwell in our new home to

showcase our Central Asian plates.