THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
furniture is that you can buy replacements at your new loca-
tion for a song. We picked up a mahogany dining table with two
extensions and eight carved chairs for less than what it would
have cost to ship my old table and chairs across the country. We
have had fun trolling through consignment and antique shops to
select replacement pieces for our new home.
Don’t think you can manage to do this culling on your own?
Look for a senior real estate specialist in your local yellow pages
or online. These people provide counseling and advice to people
relocating into retirement homes. Or you can read up on thetopic: one book that looks useful is Bruce Nemovitz’s Moving in the Right Direction (Book Publisher's Network, 2006).
The Sorting Process
Sorting through those mountains of paper can be daunting.
Do not succumb to the temptation to ship it with the idea of
using that free time you think you will have in retirement to sort
through it. First of all, those files are heavy (remember, $1 per
pound); second, you will not have room in your retirement home
to store all that paper. I worked through a couple of files each
evening while the family watched TV. I set up two boxes: one for
material to shred and the other for retention. It was easy to leaf
through the files and separate the dross from the gold.
This is how I decided what to keep, what to toss and where to
• If it is related to your work at State, learn the rules on what
must be retained and for how long. If you must keep it, decide
if you can retain a scanned copy and dispose of the paper copy.
For example, I scan the first page of travel vouchers so I have
proof the voucher was filed, and then shred the actual voucher. If
the travel was recent, I retain the original receipts.
• If it is a personal document, decide whether you will need it
in the future for tax or insurance purposes. If so, will a scan suf-
fice or do you need the original? If it is not needed, shred it.
• If the document is related to your family history, you may
consider keeping a scanned copy for your relatives. If it is some-
thing unusual, you may wish to retain the original.
• When in doubt, always shred receipts. Remember that old
receipts had the full credit card number printed on them, and
many checks and old State personnel documents have your SSN
on them somewhere.
Those of you who travel lean may only have a few snapshots
of your favorite people and places. Of course you will take all
those with you. Shutterbugs like me, however, have thousands of
digital images stored on our computer and boxes of old nega-
tives waiting to be scanned. I also have photos and negatives
going back to 1902, which were taken by my grandfather and
father. Most of you will be somewhere in the middle in terms
of the volume of video and photo holdings. Here’s how I would
suggest you approach downsizing:
• Do a survey to identify exactly what you have and what form
it is in, then sit down with your family to decide what kinds of
images should be saved. Even if you have been diligent about
photo albums, and you already have all your best pictures in
those, odds are that your retirement residence will not have suf-
ficient space to store them all.
• Explore digital scanning of your negatives and photos. Once
that is done, you can select your favorite photos and use them to
decorate your new home. It is easy to create collages or to touch
up a faded image. Make sure that you have a good back-up stor-
age system for your photos so that you do not lose them in the
event of a computer malfunction. (We store a separate hard drive
with a backup of our computer files in a safe deposit box.)
• If you have photos that document Foreign Service life or
international events or people of note, consider offering themto the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (www. adst.org) for use in the oral history program. ADST will accept
relevant photos provided they are already scanned into JPEG
format and are accompanied by a brief description of the photo’s
content (who, what, where, when). You also can offer such
photos to theU.S. Diplomacy Center
, which is collecting photos
relevant to diplomatic history.
• Create boxes of family photos for relatives (kids and
grandkids, in particular) to explore. My grandchildren love to
see pictures of their mother when she was a child. I let them
take any of these pictures they wish to have because I have them
all in digital form. My cousins were very happy to find pictures
of long-forgotten family gatherings showing their parents (my
aunts and uncles) back in the 1950s. I gave away about half of my
old photos this way.
Let It Go!
You cannot save every item documenting your life. The key
is to retain only the most important ones and find a good home
for all the others. That is why you need a full year to accomplish
downsizing. You will find that you will need to examine the same
collection more than once, each time winnowing out a few more
Believe me: The day that moving van pulls up to your door,
you will be glad you took the time to downsize.