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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 the

topic: 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

toss it:

• 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.

Photographic Memories

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 them

to the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (www. 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 the

U.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.