If you are not familiar with Homer and Langley Collyer, spend a few minutes on their part of NYC history. Okay, I will make it easier here. According to Wikipedia.com, “For decades, the two brothers lived in seclusion in their Harlem brownstone at 2078 Fifth Avenue (at the corner of 128th Street) where they obsessively collected books, furniture, musical instruments, and myriad other items, with booby traps set up in corridors and doorways to ensnare intruders. In March 1947, both were found dead in their home surrounded by over 140 tons of collected items that they had amassed over several decades.”
To this day, the New York City Fire Department will use the term Collyer’s Mansion condition to describe a hoarder’s den. They train their new recruits at the fire academy about this, and you will hear it on the radio when the battalion chief lets the dispatcher know about the conditions of the fire. “Battalion 9 to Manhattan.” “Go ahead Battalion 9.” “We have to two lines [fire hoses] stretched and in operation [water on the fire]. Trucks are opening up [ventilating the fire building to release heat and smoke]. Searches will be delayed due to Collyer’s mansion conditions.”
I am not suggesting millennials are hoarders. On the contrary; they are often very minimalistic. Micro apartments or tiny homes are their thing. Many of the urban dwelling ones prefer their bicycles and Uber to owning a car. There is even a van life movement, where people convert cargo vans, airport shuttle vans, old school buses, etc. to campers. You can search Pinterest and Facebook for all sorts of ideas and groups for support and advice.
One day, all baby boomer or older generation X parents might wake up and realize their kids don’t want their plates collection from the Franklin Mint, or all the shelves full of books, CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes.
They may not even want their photo albums, although they might like the fact that you put everything up in the cloud so they can show the grandchildren who their family is, or who they are named after. They don’t care about mom’s Lenox vases, serving dishes, etc. They may not even want their parents’ home.
This topic is personal. Last year a close relative lost her battle with cancer. Her husband had died a few years earlier. They didn’t leave too many instructions. But in the period from the first death to the second death, the amount of hoarding that took place was incredible. It was a fire hazard. It was as close as you can get to a Collyer’s mansion condition as possible. Even before her hoarding, her late husband had an enormous collection of valuable (to collectors). I spent thousands of dollars on roll-off dumpsters and carting fees. Wasted money. Wasted time.
If you are a millennial, or even a generation X-er, have that talk with your parents. If you cannot store or have no interest in their ‘valuables,’ let them know.
Tell them it’s OK if they sell, donate, or dump it all. If you feel that they need a more robust financial planning for their long-term care, talk to them to stop wasting money on collecting. Suggest other ways of leaving a legacy, which does not have to be income or assets to heirs. It could be a legacy of charitable giving. If it is income or assets to heirs, now it is a wonderful time for you to speak with your parents and their financial advisors. There are ways to leverage wealth on a tax-free basis. There are some wonderful options to help the grandchildren too.
Even if you think your parents are hoarding junk, your junk may be valuable to someone else. Consider opening up an online store with your parents to sell your items using resources like Shopify that are easy to manage.
Whatever it is, don’t do what I just did (and still doing). Don’t let your loved ones not have a plan. If they don’t, you’re going to be climbing over junk, trash, and former valuables. You will get angry. You may get depressed. But you will have a renewed outlook on life. You will start to evaluate what is important in life, which is a good thing.