Simple Living Works!

Giving Ourselves Ten Years to Retire

Posted on: April 8, 2013


Graphic: Spirit of Simplicity
1. Voluntary Simplicitiy

Planning for retirement is much more than socking money away.

When we were in our early 50’s, Rita and I pledged to each other that in preparing to retire, we would reduce our possessions by ten percent per year for ten years. Doing the math, we’d end up with 30% of what we started with. We planned to retire in my hometown on the California Central Coast. We figured we could move there with 30%.

We discovered that it takes time to find a good home for usable stuff. When I retired from ministry of music, I gave all my choral music to our daughter’s alma mater, Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD. I gave my organ music to our son’s alma mater, Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa. They were appropriately grateful. And after the third car-load they said they had plenty, thank you.

Rita devised her own plan to reduce. She really likes clothes. So each January she would reduce her wardrobe by 10% and give it to a worthwhile non-profit thrift store. Then she practiced the one-for-one rule. One item in, one item out. As we got closer to the end of our ten-year pledge, she had to start with two-for-one. Two items out for each incoming.

Because we gave away rather than selling – garage sales are such a pain – we got a nice tax deduction each year.  That’s important to us because we don’t want our tax money used for war.

The plan worked well. We were able to move to Calif. in two compact cars. No moving van, no trailers.


Most parents pass some of their precious possessions to their children. They’re called hand-me-downs. We have a similar tradition but in reverse – hand-me-ups. Our kids give us their obsolete items. After college our son gave us his old car. It gave us five more years of service. In fact, we’ve never bought a new car. Our daughter gave me her old laptop when she needed a faster one. It serves me very well.

On my speaking tours I’ve met elders who complain, “I’ve been saved all this stuff for my kids, and now they don’t want it!” Rita and I vowed that we would not make our possessions a burden for our kids, so we save the few things they do want – memorabilia mostly – put their name on the bottom, and find a new home for the rest.

If you are set to inherit over 20 tea cup/saucer sets like Rita was from her mother or hundreds of old pop bottles from her father, then save one or two to focus all your love and attention on. Remember, it’s not about tea cups. It’s about memories.

Another way to preserve memories is to take a picture of some precious objects. Put the pictures in a scrap book, go through it from time-to-time to bring back that flood of sentimental memories. But don’t keep all the cups and bottles. They slow us down and collect dust!

Is it time for you to make or update your retirement plan? Give yourself time so that useful items don’t end up in the landfill or as a burden to you kids.

The podcast Simple Living – Practical Implications contains these and other ideas to hear and share. | Program notes.



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