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Flood Insurance vs. Home Insurance: Are you Covered?

Extra Mile Staff

Your home may be the single largest asset in your life and ensuring you have the right insurance coverage to protect this important investment may make the difference between minor disruptions and devastating financial losses. A standard homeowner’s policy will provide basic coverage and may reimburse your losses from several causes, such as fire, theft, and water damage due to broken pipes but it won’t pay for flood damage.

If your home is in a region that is susceptible to water damage from sources such as melting snow, overflowing of nearby bodies of water, heavy rains, or even wildfires, it may be a prudent decision to add an extra layer of protection in the form of flood insurance offered through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Understanding the differences between home insurance and flood insurance can be confusing; we’re here to help simplify the comparison so you can make sure you have the right coverage for your specific situation.


Be Prepared! Use these 6 tips to help prevent and reduce flood damage to your home.

Six Retirement Hobbies for the Young at Heart

Derek McKinney

When you think of retirement hobbies, the activities traditionally associated with retirement — such as golfing, gardening, and fishing — probably come to mind. While these are worthwhile pursuits, don’t feel you have to limit yourself to stereotypical retirement hobbies.

You’re never too old to start learning new skills, nurturing latent talents, or experiencing new thrills. Consider these less conventional retirement hobbies to get a fresh take on your golden years.

Running

Many people are under the misconception that they are too old to run, but not you! If you’re energetic and see yourself as active and fit, running may be your optimal retirement hobby.

A 2014 study conducted by Humboldt State University and the University of Colorado, Boulder found that running can help keep you significantly younger. Researchers examined people ages 65 and above and found that those who ran for at least 30 minutes three times a week enjoyed “walking economy” comparable to people in their 20s. (In layman’s terms, walking economy is a measure of the amount of energy a person expends while walking. ) This is particularly important when you consider that, according to an abstract of the study, “Impaired walking performance is a key predictor of morbidity in older adults,” and “Running mitigates the age-related deterioration of walking economy.”

At the age of 71, Larry Gable is living proof that you can become a successful runner at any age. After finding out at age 50 that he suffered from diabetes, Gable began incorporating more physical activity into his lifestyle. “During my working years, my job was confined to office work and, when I got off work, I would not have much physical activity,” Gable explains. He “started out walking a couple of miles and then picked up the pace by trying to run about half my distance.” Gable, who achieved a personal record at the age of 66, when he successfully completed a 10K in under 57 minutes, still runs — and, health permitting, so can you.

Twenty-one years after he began running, Gable says he looks “forward to running in the mornings. It starts my day out on the positive side. I meet and talk to people as I run through the neighborhood.” For Gable, running has proven not only physically rewarding, but also socially rewarding.

If you’re considering becoming a runner in retirement, Gable offers this advice: “Start off by having reasonable goals and advance from there. Having a walking or running buddy is a plus, too, because you can encourage each other and achieve your goals together.”

Motorcycling

Maybe you’ve always wanted a bike but didn’t have the disposable income or time to ride. Chances are, you do now, and it’s time to fulfill that dream!

While experts caution about the dangers of riding a motorcycle after you’ve reached 40, in many states, older bikers outnumber those 40 and younger. Michael Russell, MD, has been riding motorcycles for 41 years. He knows riders who rode into their 70s without incident, as well as those “who recognize their decline in capacity and chose to get off. The issue is not age. It’s the ability to operate the machine safely.”

Riding motorcycles can provide many benefits if you exercise a “safety first” approach, which can include participating in the proper training and donning the proper safety gear. Rider Thomas Stuart sees biking as “a way to really enjoy how you get from point A to point B, often along with friends and loved ones.” The social aspect of riding may also increase its safety: “I believe in safety in numbers. Riding with one or more other bikers improves your visibility and also adds to the fun,” Stuart explains.

Because motorcycling requires a certain degree of strength and balance, as well as quick reflexes, it can motivate you to take better care of yourself so that you can continue to ride. In his “How to Stay Riding,” Art Friedman advises maintaining a regular exercise regimen, keeping your mind sharp, and compensating for changing vision and reflexes by being more careful when you ride — such as not tailgating.

Riding a motorcycle can also be good for your mental health. Dr. Russell sees riding a motorcycle as meditative. “The attention needed to ride safely but with ‘energy’ requires near complete concentration,” he explains. “There is a saying in the motorcycling community that you never see a motorcycle in front of a psychiatrist’s office.” The mental demands of riding can help keep your mind clear and sharp, while the “brotherhood that exists among bikers is very genuine. Riding with brothers (and sisters) provides significant psychological relief from excessive worry.”

Blogging

If you see yourself as the creative type, love to write or tell stories, and enjoy learning new technological skills, blogging could provide an enjoyable retirement pastime for you. Rebecca Kelly used her blog not only to hone her writing skills and preserve precious family memories but also to connect with others. “I wished to share stories with other grandmas. I looked forward to the readers’ comments who related to my stories.” In her blogging adventures as “a first-time nana,” Kelly was also grateful that her new hobby “allowed me to participate in an ever-expanding club of grandmas, who also enjoyed their role.”

In addition to reaping benefits for her social life, blogging was “good for me emotionally and mentally,” Kelly says. “It provided not only the mental task of researching content daily but also the challenge of staying computer-savvy enough to post it! Forcing my laptop to upload, download, and share were tasks that strengthened my aging brain.”

While Kelly’s blog focused on her family and her role as a grandmother, you can begin and maintain a blog about any topic or lifestyle that interests you. Kelly recommends blogging “to anyone who’s discovered a passion, whether it be parenting or sky-diving or saving whales.”

And you don’t have to limit your writing and technology skills to short blog posts. Kelly’s blog has inspired her to begin writing a full-length book. She credits blogging with giving her the confidence and know-how to take her writing to the next level. “The ability to write my book is a direct offshoot of the discipline, commitment, and writing style I developed while blogging.”

Earning

Retirement doesn’t mean you have to stop earning income. If you’ve always been entrepreneurial and enterprising, there are lots of ways to earn extra cash during your retirement years. In addition to income, if your career provided your primary means of socializing, a part-time job in retirement can be a good way to make sure you don’t lose your social outlet after you retire. A healthy social life is important to your overall health.

There are retirement jobs for many different interests and skills. If you love sports and working with youth, for example, you might consider becoming an umpire, referee, or coach. While you will need a tough skin to help you cope with disgruntled players, parents, and fans from time to time, coaching, umpiring, and refereeing can prove rewarding and fairly lucrative. In addition, the role offers lots of opportunities to socialize, as well as to maintain physical fitness.

If you love children but don’t consider yourself athletic, a position as a teacher’s aide can be a good way to earn income, and it comes with the added bonus of summer break. Working with children can help keep you young at heart, while working in the education field can help keep your mind sharp.

If you’d prefer to work largely with adults, consider a job as a tour guide or at an event venue. While both of these positions are likely to require weekend, evening, and holiday hours, they provide excellent outlets for socializing and, in the case of a tour guide, for mental stimulation as you learn about your area and field questions from visitors.

Cross-Country Skiing

If you’re active, enjoy spending time outside, and would prefer low-impact exercise with high-impact rewards, consider taking up cross-country skiing.

Sue Goodrich, who began cross-country skiing during college and continues the sport in her retirement, loves “being able to get outside in the winter, and cross-country skiing is much easier than walking in the snow. It is also easy to get started without a lot of training.” Her husband, Larry Goodrich, also cites the ease of cross-country skiing. “It’s safer and a whole lot cheaper than downhill skiing,” he explains.

Cross-country skiing provides many wellness benefits that can support your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. In addition to the aerobic exercise cross-country skiing offers, Mrs. Goodrich enjoys the ability to commune with nature. “There are rarely many people on the trails, so it is peaceful and quiet and you get to observe the beauty of nature,” she says. Her husband agrees: “It’s great exercise, and the peace of the woods in the winter is a special experience.”

In addition to helping melt away the stress of everyday obligations, cross-country skiing can offer you the ability to see familiar places in a new light. “We have skied at a large zoo that was open for skiing, on the beach at the ocean, and in the woods with the trees laden with snow. Each time is a unique experience,” Mrs. Goodrich says.

If you’re new to the sport, there’s no need to worry. Just “know the trail and remember that often you have to go back the way you came, so pace yourself,” Mrs. Goodrich explains. “You might want to start on a fairly level trail, as well.” Mr. Goodrich adds, “If you’ve never done it before, find someone to teach you the basics. It’s a very physical activity, so don’t push yourself too hard the first time out.”

Learning

You’re never too old to learn a new skill or language and, if you’re inquisitive and curious, retirement may be the perfect time to continue your education. Many universities across the country offer learning in retirement programs. Taking a college-level class without the pressure of grades and graduation can prove an enriching experience, both mentally and socially.

To relive the full college experience, you might consider moving to a university-based retirement community (UBRC). These exist around the country, and allow you to immerse yourself in the college community, living in a campus-like environment with classes, cultural events, and fitness centers close at hand. If you’d rather stay home, many institutions offer online learning opportunities through sites like edX, Open Culture, and Coursera.

If you plan to travel during retirement, consider learning the language of the country or countries you plan to visit. Despite the popular belief that the younger you are, the easier mastering a new language will be, “Many experts now believe learning a second language is no harder when you’re getting on in years than when you’re a child.” Learning a new language creates new neural pathways and stimulates cognitive activity, thereby helping decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s. It also enlarges the number of people with whom you can converse, increasing opportunities to forge new friendships.

If you have always enjoyed exercising and like to motivate others, you might consider learning how to become a fitness instructor — a role that can support your physical health, as well as your social life and emotional well-being. The American Senior Fitness Association offers a Senior Fitness Instructor training program for people of all ages who want to instruct and motivate seniors, and the American Council of Exercise offers a Senior Fitness Specialist Program.

Retirement isn’t the time to slow down and while away the hours with the lull of a rocking chair. In fact, it can prove the perfect time for you to take up something new, redefine your identity, and enjoy being productive in a novel way.

For more ideas on the many ways you can enliven your retirement years, sign up for our newsletter.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Storing Your Car for the Winter

Derek McKinney

Whether you are traveling to a warmer climate for the winter or you own a convertible or classic car that you don’t drive in the cold, snow, and ice, proper storage can prevent an array of problems, some of which cost hundreds of dollars to fix. For example, a storage mistake could lead to blemishes or rust on your paint job, mechanical problems, or even rodents taking up residence in your tailpipe.

To prevent these problems, follow this step-by-step guide to storing your car for winter:

1. Make sure your car is insured.

It’s important to protect your car with standard car insurance or classic car insurance, even when it’s in storage. There are several reasons to avoid letting your policy lapse even when you’re not driving the car. First, a gap in coverage could cause your premium to increase once you’re ready to reinsure your car. Second, if something happens to your car while it’s in storage (e.g., a tree topples onto it), insurance can help cover the costs of repairs.

If you own the car outright, it’s a good idea to maintain your comprehensive coverage. As long as you don’t plan to drive your car, or allow others to drive it, you can drop your collision coverage. Note that if you have an auto loan, your lender might require you to carry both comprehensive and collision insurance at all times.

Depending on your insurer, you can update your address and make changes to your coverage online.

2. Decide where to store your car.

If possible, store your car in dry location with a concrete floor, such as your garage or an indoor storage unit. Many self-storage facilities offer indoor and/or outdoor vehicle storage options. You can safely store your car in the elements for several months if you cover it properly, says Lauren Fix, aka “The Car Coach,” a nationally recognized automotive expert. However, if you need to store your car for years, it definitely should be kept inside.

3. Swap out fluids.

Leaving dirty, used oil in your car can cause engine damage. Therefore, if you plan to store your car for a month or more, have the oil changed. Refill your engine using oil that is specially formulated for storage. And if you haven’t changed your coolant for more than a year, drain and replace it with quality antifreeze.

4. Fill up the tank.

Hit the gas station and fill ‘er up before parking your car for storage. Topping off the tank keeps water out and seals lubricated. Add a fuel stabilizer designed for cars in storage to your gas tank, Fix advises. This will extend the life of your gasoline and help prevent the formation of deposits, known as “varnishing,” that can plug up your fuel injectors and cost $300 to $400 to fix, Fix says. Another option is to drain your gas tank, but that’s not necessary if you’re only storing your car for the winter.

5. Safeguard your battery.

If your car won’t be driven periodically (say, by a grandchild), buy a trickle charger (a.k.a. battery maintainer), Fix suggests. This inexpensive device helps your battery maintain power instead of gradually losing it over time. “If you let it sit more than six months, you’re more than likely going to have a dead battery,” she warns. Save yourself the hassle, and possibly the cost of towing, by shelling out $40 or so for this handy little device.

6. Take care of your tires.

Inflate your tires to the maximum recommended tire pressure, recommends Kevin Burke of SimpleTire.com. “Tires can lose pressure over time when there are changes in temperature,” Burke explains. Loss of tire pressure can lead to “flat spots” on the bottom of the tires.

Sometimes, you can get rid of these spots by inflating your tires and driving your car, but that doesn’t always work. Flat spots can ruin your tires, requiring you to spend hundreds of dollars to replace them. To ensure your tires remain in good repair, you can remove them and use jack stands to hold your car off the ground.

7. Remove wiper blades.

Take the wiper blades off your car to keep them from sticking to the windshield or becoming misshapen from staying in the same position for too long.

8. Release the brake.

Do not engage the parking break while the car is in storage to prevent the brake pads from sticking to the rotors. Instead, if necessary, use a tire stopper to keep the car in place.

9. Keep critters away.

Put a rubber ball or rag in the tailpipe to prevent mice or insects from setting up shop there. Also, cover heater vents or other openings that could provide access to cozy nesting spaces. As a third precaution, place mothballs around the edges of your vehicle to drive away critters.

10. Bring on the suds.

Wash your car to remove bird excrement, tree sap or other substances that could damage your car’s paint if left on it for several months. Make sure to clean the fenders and the tires to get rid of dirt and grease as well. Apply a coat of wax to your car to protect its exterior while it’s stored, Fix recommends. “That way, in spring you’ll have a nice clean car, ready to go,” she says.

11. Get a pad to soak up leaks.

Certain vehicles leak fluid while sitting, especially high performance cars or older cars, Fix says. Buy an absorbent mat designed to be placed underneath a car during storage to keep leaks from staining the driveway, garage or storage space floor.

12. Cover your car.

Whether your car is sitting in your driveway, your garage, or a special storage facility, you should keep it covered while you’re away. Use a good quality car cover, Fix warns. If your car will be stored outside, you’ll need a weatherproof car cover to protect it from rain, sleet and snow. If your ride will be stored inside, use a soft cotton cover, she advises.

When spring arrives and it’s time to drive your car again, first, remove the ball or rag from your tail pipe. Then, put the wiper blades back on. Drive your car around until the gas tank is almost empty to clean out the fuel stabilizer from the system, Fix says. Add a fuel injection system cleaner to the nearly empty gas tank before filling it up, she recommends.

8 Nasties for Snowbirds to Avoid While Away

How to Clear Out Your Parent’s Home

Derek McKinney

If you’re like many of today’s young retirees, you may feel sandwiched between the needs of your adult children and your aging parents. And, just as you’re beginning to enjoy your retirement, you may find yourself tasked with clearing out a parent’s home. Whether your parent is moving into an independent living apartment, into a nursing home, or moving in with you, you’re going to have to deal with sorting, organizing and packing up their home.

“Downsizing or liquidating a home can be a tremendously stressful situation, whether it is parents moving after many years, or adult children clearing out the home after their parents’ deaths,” says Pam Hoepner, a Florida-based professional organizer and owner of The Economical Organizer. “So many of the items have sentimental value, and the children are afraid of getting rid of very valuable items for too small of a price.”

It’s emotional, and it can include sorting through decades of “stuff” that will need to be donated, sold, or given away.

As parents live longer, it’s a task that often falls to their adult children—who are themselves, in or approaching retirement. (According to the most recent U.S. census projections, by 2030, people aged 65 and over will make up 20% of the population.)

When the time comes, use these steps to manage and organize the clear out as efficiently—and diplomatically—as possible.

Step 1: Set a Goal.

Not everyone who clears out a family home has the same goal. In many cases, a property will be sold when a parent dies or moves into a nursing home or retirement residence. In other cases, you or another family member may inherit the property and choose to live in it.

Identifying the goal of the clear out will help you work more efficiently. For example, if the property will be sold, there may be furniture and decorative items that should be stored in boxes to reuse for staging once the home is painted or updated.

Clearly stating the goal—even if it’s only to yourself—will help you focus your activities as you move through the stages of clearing out your parent’s house. Identifying and listing specific decisions as you make them will help you create a plan and a time line.

Is Your Parent’s Home Staying in the Family?

If you or a family member is moving into the home, it’s important to have conversations that include everyone who has a stake in determining what happens to the home and its contents. If your parent has left you the home in their will, talk to other family members—before you start clearing items out to sell or donate. There may be things they’d like to have. And, as Hoepner says, getting an objective opinion on the value of those items can help avoid future family arguments.

“After [family members] spend the day looking through the items, I recommend they contact an appraiser to come in and evaluate the items members want to keep,” she says. “A good place to start is the American Society of Appraisers. The appraiser will give monetary value to those items in an unbiased manner, and family members can plan any distribution accordingly.”

Will You Be Selling Your Parent’s Home?

If the property will be sold, the process is slightly different, although you’ll still want to speak with everyone involved before taking actions. Before removing any household items, decide if any of the furniture, art, or decorations should remain in place for the real estate listing period. Then you can start clearing out items in the home to donate, sell, keep, store, move, or throw away.

Step 2: Talk with Family Members.

Sorting, organizing, and removing things from the home may progress more efficiently if family members aren’t stalling or arguing over every single item/thing to clear out, especially once a parent has passed away.

“There can be strong undercurrents of emotion from family members who haven’t seen each other for years,” says Hoepner, “plus the pressure of having an equitable distribution of items among heirs.” Take the time to address the emotional issues surrounding clearing out a parent’s home before you start the job, even if your parents are simply downsizing.

Listen to Your Parents and Siblings.

Arrange a meeting with your parent(s) and/or sibling(s) to discuss what needs to be done. Instead of jumping right into the logistics of sorting and removing items, begin with discussing the emotional impact of the clear out and possible home sale. Hoepner says to remember that downsizing can be very emotional for the parent.

“It can be a huge reminder that they are getting older, that they can no longer do what they used to, and their lives are about to become radically different,” she says. “Even if they are excited about moving, it can still be a very emotional time, full of difficult decisions on what they can keep and what must go.”

Hoepner says that when she’s working with a family to clear out an aging parent’s home, she tries to remind them to “give each other grace” as they work on going through the home together. “Tempers and past hurts can rise quickly,” she says. And, if the parent has passed away, everyone in the family is hurting and emotional. “I remind them to simply try to be kind to one another. It will all get done and will be much better for everyone involved if everyone works together.”

Share Your Feelings.

Talking about your shared history may help each family member acknowledge the importance the home played in his or her life.

Prepare to share your feelings first. Was this your family home growing up? If so, you may feel sad to let it go. Say so. For example, you could say something like, “I have such great memories of living here. We had some fun times, didn’t we?” Or, “What a good family home this is. It will make a great place for a young couple to raise their kids. I’m so glad I got to grow up here.”

Give your parent and/or siblings a chance to talk as well. Let them know that you realize this may be a difficult and emotional time. Use phrases like, “I appreciate how you feel. I feel the same way,” or, “I understand what you’re saying. I have mixed feelings, too.”

Empathize with your family members. Be honest about your feelings and the reasons why you feel that clearing out the home now is the best option to move forward.

Pro tip: Take photos. Many people may hang on to things because of the memories, not because of the item itself. “For the children,” says Hoepner, “it can seem as if they’re losing their childhood memories.” If you, your parent, brothers and sisters, or other family members are letting emotions get in the way of moving forward with clearing out the home, preserve the memories by taking photos. “I am a big proponent of taking photographs instead of holding on to items,” she says.

Hoepner recommends taking photos of each room and around the outside of the home, as well as close-up photos of special pieces like “grandma’s gravy boat, the old upright piano that no one wants, the growth chart marks Dad put on the doorjamb in the kitchen, [and] the big tree in the backyard, so it can be compared to the picture of it being planted 40 years ago.”

Take snapshots of favorite items, rooms, and even outdoor spots where your family enjoyed special times. Then create a photo album so you can enjoy reliving the happy memories. Hoepner suggests uploading these images to the cloud or saving them to several USB flash drives to share with family members.

Step 3: Budget Your Time and Money.

No one wants to spend weeks (or even months) to clear out a home when a parent will no longer live there. Yet, as Hoepner points out, clearing out the home is a monumental task for adult children, particularly when the parent has died.

“It can seem totally overwhelming to realize they have to clean out the entire home, [when] they don’t know where to begin, what to keep, how to discard items, and they are also dealing with the fresh loss of their parent.” The length of time it will take to complete the clear out will vary from situation to situation.

Arrange a time to take stock of what’s in your parent’s home. Use a tablet or a pen and paper to make notes. Take pictures with your smartphone or digital camera to make a quick inventory and get an idea of how big of a job this will be. This will help you schedule time to complete it. And this is important: Set a completion date. Working with a time limit will help keep you focused on getting the job done.

Hire a Senior Move Manager.

If you don’t have the time or desire to do it yourself, engage some professional help. If your parent is moving to another home, consider hiring a Senior Move Manager: Accredited members of the National Association of Senior Move Managers offer assistance to older adults and their families with both the emotional and physical issues of moving. This can lessen the burden on other family members. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of clearing out your parent’s home after they’ve passed away, Hopener recommends hiring a company to run an estate sale.

“These professionals can organize and advertise a sale of the entire house contents, and many also provide the service of liquidating the rest of the items that were not sold during the sale,” she explains. “Oftentimes, estate sale companies have their own cleaning service as well, who can come in after the sale and clean the house thoroughly so it is ready to be sold.” Hoepner suggests checking with your local Better Business Bureau to find an estate sale company in your area.

Use Professional Organizers or Junk Removal Services.

Search online for local professional organizers and/or junk removal companies that can provide assistance in decluttering, sorting, and removing the contents of the home. Professional organizers may charge anywhere from $50 to $200 per hour for their services, or they may offer project-based pricing. HomeAdvisor calculates the national average cost for junk removal in 2018 at $236; depending on location, the average costs range from $135 to $358.

According to Hoepner, getting professional help can both save time and reduce the stress of clearing out a parent’s home. “I highly recommend that families consider bringing in professionals to help them at this time,” she says. “Professional appraisers and estate liquidators can help the family get the job done in a timely manner, efficiently, and with the peace of mind that they can help guide decision-making. This is especially true if the family members live out of town.”

Step 4: Sort Items in Your Parent’s Home.

Depending on the size of your parent’s home, how long they’ve lived there, their lifestyle, and their household management habits—and whether you have professionals to support you—this step can take days or even weeks to complete. Yet successfully completing the first three steps can save time and reduce stress when it comes to sorting your parent’s household contents and personal belongings.

What You’ll Need:

Before starting the sorting step, gather your supplies. These may include:

  • Moving boxes
  • Garbage bags
  • Large plastic totes
  • Package tape
  • Scissors
  • Smaller sticky labels and markers

Pro tip: Colorful labels help. Use different color labels to identify and sort items being distributed among family members. For example, Bill gets the blue labeled items; Rochelle gets the red.

What Questions to Ask When Sorting.

Think of this step as a form of extreme decluttering. Consider using a method such as KonMari, where you only “surround yourself with items that spark joy.” Or, try a variation on the four box method, which actually uses three boxes and a garbage bag (or dumpster). For each item (or groups of items; for example, cutlery), sort into one of four categories:

  • Keep (either keep it yourself, your parent takes it with them, or it gets stored to use for staging the home for selling)
  • Donate to a local thrift store or give away (gift) to friends or family members (you may have to confirm with your parent or refer to the will to ensure their wishes are followed)
  • Sell
  • Trash (don’t forget to separate recyclables or material to be shredded)

If your parent takes part in sorting and removing items, he or she may find it difficult to make decisions about what to keep and what to trash, donate, sell, or gift. Use these questions to help you both decide:

  • When was the last time you wore this? Would I wear it?
  • Does this still work?
  • Will you need it? Will I need it?
  • Should we photograph this for the “good memory” photo album?
  • Is this something special you’d like to gift to a family member or friend?
  • Is there room for this in your new place?

Pro tip: Start neutral. Begin with the least personal rooms, such as the spare bedroom, cleaning closet, or laundry room. This lets you and your family member ease into the process of sorting and clearing with things that are less likely to evoke strong emotions or memories.

Step 5: Remove the Contents from Your Parent’s Home.

Once you’ve succeeded in organizing and sorting the household contents, actually removing them should go quickly. If you’re using professionals, arrange for junk removal and the moving company at least two to three weeks prior to the move date. However, avoid scheduling this before you have a realistic idea of how long the sorting could take, or you may find yourself having to reschedule.

Setting your goal, and then creating and following an organized plan and timeline, can help everyone work more efficiently when it comes to clearing out a parent’s home. Yet, no matter how well you plan, issues will still arise: Be patient—with yourself, with your parent(s), and with other family members, as necessary.

Transitions like having to clear a parent’s home are among the new challenges we face as we age. Being well prepared is the key; subscribe today to learn more from our newsletter.

Simply Smart Devices for DIY Security

Derek McKinney

After I had house guests who locked themselves out and then climbed in through the window, I bought myself a smart lock — and an old-fashioned bolt for the window.

A smart lock is a simple introduction to do-it-yourself, or DIY, security. Installing and using one doesn’t require being a technological genius, and they are light years ahead of the days of calling a locksmith to change the locks when a relationship went bad.

My smart lock is — well, smart. It can be opened remotely or up close using my mobile phone —I just tap the app and enter a four-digit code. It also can be opened with an electronic keypad that lights up on the lock. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s George will lock and unlock it with a voice command. Or it unlocks the old fashioned way — with a key. That’s a nice feature in hurricane season when both the electricity and internet can disappear.

My lock can store up to 30 codes. I’m not sure why I’d want that many. I gave one to my daughter, one to my neighbor, and one to a good friend. I could give temporary lock codes to service people, but I prefer to have them text me when they arrive, so I can let them in remotely.

However I do it, the lock keeps a record of locking and unlocking. The info pops up on the front screen of my phone and is then stored as history in the app. I wish I had had that info when my children were teens.

Start With a Smart Lock

My daughter’s moderately handy husband installed the lock, which is made by Schlage, the same brand as the old-fashioned lock we removed. The holes for the lock and the throw were identical, so all he needed was a screwdriver.

The lock I bought is compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, Alexa-enabled devices via Wink, and Samsung’s SmartThings hubs, all of which manage all kinds of smart devices. But you don’t need a hub to operate this smart lock. Schlage sells a Schlage Sense Wi-Fi adapter for those who aren’t ready for a full-on smart home.

Other smart locks that are compatible with both Apple and Android phones include:

  • Friday. Friday allows you to retrofit your current single cylinder deadbolt. It is compatible with Google Home and Apple HomeKit.
  • August. This brand attaches to the inside of an existing deadbolt with a thumb turn. It can be used with keys or without.
  • Yale Assure. Yale’s electronic lock can be used with a variety of older, more traditional security systems.

Ding Dong, the Doorbell is Watching You

Doorbell cameras are another step up on the DIY security ladder. They are sold as stand-alone devices and as accessories for hubs. Hardly anyone rings my doorbell, so when it happens, it makes me nervous. I find peepholes worthless because they are so small. Having a doorbell camera and being able to look at my mobile phone to see that the visitor is a uniformed delivery person or the little girl next-door selling Girl Scout cookies could be reassuring. It also has night vision if, for some reason, the light outside the door isn’t working.

If I had limited mobility, a doorbell camera would save me from having to make an uncomfortable trek to the door. It also could be convenient to be able to answer the door from anywhere. It could keep me from missing deliveries because these devices offer two-way conversations with the person at the door.

There are downsides. Some doorbell cams will video the visitor, which you might want to do for security reasons, but saving the video generally requires a monthly fee. Plus, most stand-alone devices aren’t compatible with Apple HomeKit or Amazon Echo hubs, so they don’t integrate easily with other popular DIY security devices.

SkyBell has partnered with Nest, which offers a DIY security system with a broad range of features, including its own video doorbell. The SkyBell product integrates with Nest, but you might be better off with the Real McCoy Nest product.

Two other video doorbells to check out are:

DIY Home Security with Cameras Everywhere

When we started leaving our home empty for part of the year, we invested in a simple, six-camera home security system. We had previously installed a Nest thermostat and liked it because it programmed itself. It will raise the temperature when we are home and lower it when we’re not. It can be monitored and changed from anywhere, and it gives us money-saving advice about our heating and cooling patterns. Adding Nest security cameras was mostly plug and play, although screwing the outdoor cameras into the siding required a drill. In the end, we hired an electrician to do the installation because Nest cameras have to be plugged in and we were fussy about cords.

We put a camera on the front porch that allowed us to see the porch, yard, front door, and the driveway. We also put one on the back porch that surveyed the yard and the back door. The camera in the windowless garage was an infrared that allowed us to see in the dark, so we didn’t have to leave a light on constantly. We put the remaining cameras in the living room, the kitchen, and, after much discussion, the bedroom — safety overcame modesty. If that doesn’t seem like enough, Nest can accommodate the additions.

The cameras shoot video constantly and retain it for three hours. You watch it on your phone or iPad. If you want video saved for longer, there is a charge depending on how long you want it saved — up to a year. The quality is quite good, and the cameras learn the difference between family members and strangers. You can tell the system to ignore familiar faces or let you know when your teen actually got home.

An odd noise will trigger an alarm, but the dog barking won’t. There is also a microphone, so you can talk to the person you’ve caught on camera and that person can talk back. If you catch the dog on the sofa, you can order him off (and sometimes he obeys).

Nest is among the most expensive of the DIY home security systems, but if you’ve invested previously in Nest, adding on is relatively inexpensive. If you are starting from scratch, there are other possibly better, choices.

If you have an Apple HomeKit control device, you can use it to install an array of cameras — wired and wireless. You also can add wireless motion sensors and wireless window contact sensors.

If you are an Android user, consider the Samsung SmartThings hub, which many consider to be the best of the DIY home security management devices because it is compatible with a wide variety of third-party products. Critics do warn that SmartThings is better for do-it-yourselfers who are geekily talented.

Next: Add Smoke, Carbon Monoxide and Water Sensors

Once you have a HomeKit controller or a SmartThings hub, it makes sense to tie in your smoke, carbon monoxide, and water and gas leak sensors. Water and gas leak sensors are fairly new. They detect moisture from leaking pipes or leaking gas. Some of the devices just alert you. Others can be configured to turn the systems off.

The smartest smoke and carbon monoxide alarms send a message to your phone alerting you to the danger before setting off an alarm. Instead of a chirp in the wee hours warning you that the batteries are low, it sends you a civilized message that you can schedule. Nuisance alarms can be turned off via the phone, so you don’t have to stand on a chair and be tempted to take the battery out and throw it away. These devices also can be connected to your security cameras and other smart home components so you get a double dose of warning.

CNET’s smart smoke detector buying guide says NestProtect is the best, but it also likes models from First AlertHalo Smart Labs, and Roost.

You might consider adding some lighting that turns on and off whether you are home or not. Most of them are just light bulbs or smart outlets and not especially expensive. These simple devices are tops on the list of ways to prevent burglaries.

If you decide to go this whole-enchilada route, consider the SimpliSafe home security system, which PC Magazine considers the best DIY option because the hardware is affordable and the system easy to install. SimpliSafe also offers reasonably priced, no-contract-required monitoring. Alerts go to the security team and someone gives you a call. If you don’t respond and identify yourself promptly and properly, they will call the police or fire department.

Most insurers offer a break on the price of your homeowners insurance if you have a monitored security system. This can save you 10% to 20%, which will offset the cost of the monitoring.

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Can I Put My Car Insurance On Hold?

Extra Mile Staff

Yes, you can certainly put your insurance on hold but there are some important considerations when suspending the entire policy. Between maintenance, gas, and insurance, owning a vehicle can be expensive; the good news is that you don’t have to keep paying for something if you don’t need it.  Is your vehicle going to be out-of-use for a period of time? Consider reducing the coverage on your vehicle.

In the below infographic, The Extra Mile introduces you to important information about suspending your auto insurance. Consider each element before jumping into the change.

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How Much Do I Tip a Mover?

Derek McKinney

The first time you cram your car with cardboard boxes and spend the day lugging everything you own up five flights of stairs, it’s sort of fun. But after you’ve moved yourself a few times, you start to think about how nice it might be to have someone else do it for you. If you’re getting ready for a move and you’re planning on using a moving company, it’s probably a wise decision; letting professionals do the heavy lifting can help make the entire process go more smoothly and give you more time to concentrate on all the other little moving details. Like, for example, worrying about the do’s and don’ts of tipping your movers.

From creating a move budget and getting boxes to packing for the move, at the Extra Mile, we know how overwhelming moving can be . The aim of this article is to take away the stress of one particular moving conundrum: figuring out how to tip, how much to tip, and who to tip on the day of your move. In general, current etiquette mostly agrees that a tip should be somewhere around $10 to $50 per mover (calculated by the hour or as a flat fee), or between 5% and 20%, divided among your movers. If this seems like a large range, it is; that’s because so many factors go into figuring out how much to tip. The advice below will provide a more detailed look at all those factors, and help you calculate a tip based on your personal circumstances.

Are you required to tip movers?

Tipping is never required, but because it is widely understood that people in service professions deserve and even depend on tips, you’d almost never intentionally not tip the person who cuts your hair, parks your car, or serves your dinner. Some put movers in a different category, and say they don’t expect tips in the way that, for example, a bellhop does. Others argue that because movers are responsible for the survival of all your material possessions, their work is especially deserving of a reward for a job well done. Most agree that if movers are competent, you should give a tip just as you would for anyone providing an important service.

Depending on your move, that could mean tipping a lot of people. The size of the crew for your move will vary based on how much stuff you have and what the job entails. For a small apartment or house, you may have two or three movers; for a larger home, four or more may be required. Moving companies may use separate crews for packing, loading, and unloading, especially in long-distance moves. You’ll probably interact primarily with the foreman, who manages the rest of the workers. Moving can be quite expensive, but if you’re factoring that into your tip calculations, keep in mind that individual movers are not necessarily making tons of money.

In some situations, you may decide a tip is not warranted. Examples of these might be if your movers are rude or disrespectful; if they arrive late due to laziness or incompetence rather than traffic or other understandable reasons; or if they are careless with your belongings.

Standard tip for movers.

If at all possible, tip individual workers rather than assuming the foreman will evenly divide your cash between the crew. One person may not disperse the tips as you’d assume they would. Tipping each individual also lets you give one a little extra if you feel that person went above and beyond in terms of service, e.g., taking particular care to safeguard a fragile item or doing tasks, like breaking down boxes, that their contract did not require of them. (But don’t play favorites unless you’re okay with the possibility of your movers talking about it later!)

Tip once the move is complete, just before the movers leave. There are two reasons for this: one, you won’t know how well the job has been done until it’s actually done; and two, while it’s highly unlikely that even the rudest of movers would threaten you or damage your things out of revenge over a small or nonexistent tip, it’s always prudent to avoid angering anyone or getting into a confrontation if possible.

For a long-distance move, there may be one crew assigned to pack and load your things, and another that actually drives your belongings to your new home. Ask beforehand how your movers will be dividing these tasks, so you’ll know whether you need to tip the first crew after they pack the truck or whether the tip can wait until the shipment is delivered.

If a mover breaks something or damages your property, you may choose to not tip, especially if the damage was due to unsafe or careless behavior. However, if the incident is due to bad luck rather than negligence, and if the movers act quickly to fix the damage or work with you to manage the situation, you might decide to tip anyway. If the broken item was valuable, you can also deal with the problem through your insurance company. If the damage is minor or simply cosmetic, like smudges on a white wall, you might decide it’s easier to simply fix it yourself later.

As mentioned above, the standard tip can range anywhere from 5% and 20% of the total or $10 to $50 per mover. But within that range, the amount you tip should be partly based on performance. If your movers were professional, polite, worked hard and treated your belongings and property respectfully, that’s worth a lot more than if they dawdled, had a bad attitude, or made you wonder if your stuff would survive the trip. Also take into consideration the specifics of your move. If you had many heavy or bulky items, if your move involved multiple flights of stairs or other tricky maneuvering, or if your movers had to work especially hard for another reason, you’ll probably want to tip more than you would for a simple, straightforward, relatively stress-free job.

As for how to tip, larger moving companies may let you add the tip to your credit card payment if you prefer. Smaller businesses might not have that option; in that case, go with cash or a check. You can also inquire beforehand with your moving company about the best way to handle tips.

Customary tip for movers.

While there’s no one customary amount to tip, it’s safe to say that within the usual range – let’s use the simplest method and say that’s a flat fee of $10 to $50 per mover – your decision should take into account all the specifics of your move. Think about:

  • The amount of time and effort the move requires (movers who spend all day packing your things should get more than those who only load and unload a truck).
  • The norms in the region where you live (movers in metro areas tend to get higher tips).
  • Your satisfaction with the movers’ performance (were they polite? Efficient? Careful with your things?)
  • The level of physical difficulty involved (climbing lots of stairs and lifting particularly heavy or oddly-shaped objects make the job tougher.)

These factors apply both in local and long distance moves. Though longer moves will usually be more complex, that’s not always the case, and local moves may also be full of difficulties; a crew who packs up a six-bedroom house, moves its contents across town, and unloads them in a new home with four flights of stairs are working harder than a crew who loads a small apartments’ worth of boxes into a truck to be driven two states over.

Local or long distance, the choice of whether to tip based on a flat fee or a percentage is up to you; both are valid options in the complicated world of tipping etiquette, and both involve a range that lets you take into account the different factors deserving of a higher or lower tip. And although a flat fee involves less math, the two may come out nearly equal in the end, with exceptions for very costly, complex, long-distance moves.

If you tip by percentage, calculate based on the total, final bill, and remember to divide the amount between all the workers, even if more than one crew handled different stages of your move.

How to treat your workers.

When interacting with your movers, be on time just as you expect them to be. Of course, unexpected delays can happen, but don’t intentionally keep your movers waiting.

Remember that movers are professionals doing a job, and be polite and respectful of their time. If the situation calls for it, you might want to learn their names and chat with them. But if they just want to get stuff done, give them space and let them get to work.

On moving day, have water and/or other drinks like juice or soda to offer your movers, and let them know they’re welcome to use your bathroom. They’ll probably have a plan for lunch breaks, but if they’re unfamiliar with your area, offer to tell them about good nearby spots. If you’re buying lunch or snacks for yourself, it’s always nice to offer to pick some up for them as well. All of this especially applies if the movers are packing your things, or if the move takes all day. Providing fans if it’s hot out and heaters if it’s cold is also a considerate touch, but your movers will probably come prepared for the conditions. Don’t offer beer; movers are not typically allowed to drink during their workday or carry alcohol in their trucks.

Make sure to communicate clearly with your movers, and don’t hesitate to confirm addresses and arrival times to ensure everyone’s on the same page. If you want certain items to be unloaded first, or placed in certain rooms, and especially if your move involves multiple locations (e.g., your new house and your storage unit) go over all of that beforehand, and double check that everyone agrees on the details. (This extends to the labeling of boxes; make sure movers know what contains fragile items, and if you want boxes unloaded in their proper rooms, clearly mark each box with its location.)

If your movers are doing a great job, thank them verbally. Sure, you’re probably going to tip them, but a non-monetary thank-you is always nice. Plus, hearing specific feedback about what you appreciate will help them continue to work well with you for the rest of the day. (If they’re not doing a good job, you can express that too, but don’t just rant; bring up a particular concern and ask if they can make changes to fit your needs.)

Don’t micromanage movers. Yes, you should advocate for your needs, but trust that they’re the experts in packing and transporting household goods, and assume they probably know more than you about the best and safest way to do this.

Tipping with money, as opposed to goods, is always the best option. Everyone can use some extra cash.

Alternatives to tipping movers with cash.

That said, there may be situations and locations where other approaches are acceptable. Do what is right for your personal situation and region.

Aside from a cash tip, there are other ways to show appreciation for the work your movers are doing. Offering extra food and drinks, as mentioned above, shows your concern for their well-being. Some people choose to buy lunch instead of giving a tip; if you do this, make sure your movers actually want their lunch provided, and ask them what they’d like before simply showing up with randomly chosen pizzas or sandwiches.

Depending on the situation, you might even offer to gift your movers household objects you aren’t taking with you. For example, if one of your movers mentions that he loves restoring old furniture, you might let him have his pick of the old dining set you were planning to donate to charity.

Another way to show appreciation for a good crew is to provide feedback to their employer, using specific names if possible. Movers may be rewarded based on recognition like this. You can also refer your friends and family to your movers, or write a positive review for the company online, something many small businesses in particular really value.

What if you don’t leave a tip for movers?

Let’s say the move is over and you weren’t able to tip your movers, either because you couldn’t swing it financially, you forgot to go to the ATM, or the movers left amid the hubbub of the day before you got a chance to hand over the cash. If you still feel guilty and want to tip, you can probably remedy the situation. Call the moving company, explain that you forgot to tip but would like to do so now, and ask how you can forward the money to the crew who worked on your move.

As you’ve probably realized, there is (unfortunately) no official rule for how much to tip movers. You’ll have to decide based on everything from the quality of service to the particulars of your move to the norms in the city where you live. All you can do is research tipping etiquette ahead of time, treat your movers with respect, and try not to get too stressed out about the exact amount of the tip. After all, it is only one small part of a complex and hopefully positive life change.

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Returning to School…At Fifty (and Older): Here’s How

Derek McKinney

Throughout their lives, the baby boomer generation (born 1946–1964) has forged new pathways by rewriting societal rules. Now, boomers are reshaping college life, too, as a growing number of people age 50 and up are returning to school.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, people age 50-plus are returning to the classroom in higher numbers than ever, with students aged 35 and older projected to increase 25% between 2010 and 2021.

The reasons for returning to school at later ages vary, but one factor is changing expectations about retirement. The 17th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Workers found that 66% of baby boomers say they plan to or are already working beyond age 65, or have no plans to retire.

A plan to work longer and fully retire at a later age than previous generations can only be fulfilled by staying employable. That’s where a return to a college campus can come in, whether classes are intended to help prospective students remain in an existing job longer by upgrading skills, or to prepare for a second — or even third — career.

Alternately, some older students may not have a financial motivation for returning to campus, but are instead hoping to fulfill a personal educational goal, complete a long-delayed program, or to make a career change that’s fulfilling in nonfinancial ways.

Whatever your reasons, if you’re thinking about returning to the classroom as a 50-plus student, here are some guidelines that can help smooth the way.

Explore Your Choices

The very first question to answer is what you’re going to study. As a mature student, you have many options for pursuing additional education: There are certificate, associate, bachelor’s, and higher education programs that can help you achieve your goal.

Once you’ve settled on a program of study, in order to complete it, you’ll need two main ingredients ― time and money ― to help ensure your success.

Finding the time to study may be helped by looking for programs that offer flexible schedules, allowing you to combine daytime and evening classes. You might also consider a part-time program or online classes if your schedule and commitments don’t permit full-time study.

Addressing the financial component of college will depend on your individual situation. For those who are staying in their jobs and attending school part-time, employers may offer tuition assistance programs — or even cover college expenses completely. Some accredited, degree-granting educational institutions will allow students above a certain age to audit classes at no charge (although these students will not usually get grades or credit for the courses). Others offer tuition waivers or scholarships that can allow older students to attend classes and receive credit toward a program of study.

Finally, at older ages, prospective students may have accumulated savings that can be used to cover the cost of returning to school. If you are thinking about using loans to finance education at a later age, however, note that the time available to pay the borrowed funds back can be much shorter for you than for a younger student, meaning borrowing is usually not advised for students at more advanced ages.

Go Digital

Perhaps the last time you set foot in a classroom was several decades ago. If so, you may find that a lot has changed since then.

Compared to previous decades, the classroom experience is increasingly digital. Laptops and other handheld devices, such as smartphones, are welcomed ― and even encouraged ― in classrooms. Many courses incorporate a “virtual” component, such as online study groups and tutorials, and lecture notes are posted online for downloading. Entire programs may be offered via distance or digital learning with no physical classroom component required.

This increasing “digitalization of education” can offer the benefit of flexibility for older students. For example, you might choose a course that’s delivered entirely online via distance learning, which enables you to study what you want, how you want, when you want, and wherever you want.

While the traditional in-person lecture hasn’t disappeared from college campuses, the use of computers is now firmly embedded throughout the educational experience. This means that your fellow students, campus administrators, and instructional staff alike will expect you to make use of the digital approaches to learning that are now “baked into” the curriculum. If you’re not up to date in using technology, enrolling in a course of study will provide your chance to hop on board.

Embrace Your Differences

When you are twice the age of the other students — and possibly even the professor ― in your classes, you may feel socially isolated. Your cultural references (and your jokes) may not be shared with your peers. Classroom decorum, as well, may be a bit unfamiliar: when’s the last time you had to raise your hand and wait for permission before speaking?

These potential hitches should be weighed against the strengths that a more mature student can offer in a classroom setting. These can include your self-knowledge, your motivation to contribute to your own education and that of your educational peers, and your personal know-how.

Compared to younger students, you have more life experience that can help you understand and reflect on the material being presented in your courses — for you, the material may be much less theoretical and more easily “brought to life.”

You may also have the kind of skills that can help round out class projects and discussions, or even help your fellow students in their own career development.

All in all, although you may not look like the other students in your classes or program, these differences can be a source of valuable insight and contribution.

Don’t Overlook Support Services

Returning to school can be stressful, especially if you haven’t studied in a long time. You may be dealing with unfamiliar references or trying to study while balancing other commitments your fellow students don’t have, such as caring for children or other family members, or working at a job.

Keep in mind that your educational institution likely provides a variety of support services you can take advantage of, from academic skills classes to counseling, to help get you through any rough patches. Lecturers may be understanding of your other obligations, providing flexibility if you cannot meet a deadline.

Outside the classroom, remember the support others around you can offer. Once you’ve made the choice to enroll in a course of study, chances are many people will be committed to your success. In times of need, you could call on them to provide support, insight, or hands-on help with challenges you may face.

As motivational speaker Les Brown has said, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” By 2030, the U.S. census bureau projects that one in five Americans will be age 65 or older, so you may find that you’re less of an outlier than you expected to be. As career time frames extend, more and more adults will likely seek continuing education.

Whether you’re contemplating a return to school at age 50-plus to advance or start another career, or even for self-interest, as a mature student in a different place in life than your younger peers, you’ll have to make space for this new venture — both in terms of time and finances — and you may need to learn new social rules to fit in and succeed.

The leap back into formal learning may look like a whole new world—what with the digital and remote technologies—but your life experience may well enrich your undertaking, and that of those around you, in ways that make your returning to school even more rewarding.

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10 Ways to Declutter When Downsizing Your Home

Derek McKinney

There are many reasons why you might choose to whittle down your belongings. Perhaps you’re planning to move into a smaller and more manageable home. Or you’ve decided to devote more of your time and money to traveling, seeing family, or having new experiences, rather than to shopping for—and maintaining—more stuff.

Maybe you’re becoming more aware of the environmental or the ethical impact of consuming more consciously, or your tastes and priorities are shifting as you grow older. Or you could be one of the millions of people intrigued by the growing popularity of minimalist trends, inspired by bestseller Marie Kondo or by the alarmingly named phenomenon that is Swedish Death Cleaning.

But when you set out to declutter an entire home, especially one in which you’ve accumulated possessions over decades, it can be so overwhelming that you don’t know what to focus on or where to start. If that’s where you are in the downsizing process, working your way through the following ten categories—in whatever order appeals to you—will get you well on your way to a seriously downsized home and a new perspective on what you really need.

1. Clothing, Shoes, and Accessories

The closet is often the first place people turn when they want to cut some clutter from their lives. There’s just something satisfying about clearing out unworn clothes, shoes, and accessories. But although the result is rewarding, downsizing your wardrobe can be tough. You might be holding on to clothing that represents a former career, a size you no longer wear, or the guilt that accompanies having invested in pricey pieces you didn’t get much use out of. But a move or other new adventure is the perfect time to overcome these obstacles.

To seriously reduce the size of your wardrobe, assess every item—even the small things like T-shirts, socks, and jewelry—and get rid of anything that you wouldn’t wear right now (if the weather and occasion were appropriate). Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit, physically or otherwise. If you’re moving, pay special attention to whether your clothing will work in your new location; if the move is tied to a new job or retirement, factor in your new daily lifestyle, too.

2. Furniture and Home Decor

Even if it’s easy for you to part with a stretched-out sweater or too-tight pair of shoes, it can feel wasteful to get rid of large household items like your couch or dining room table. These items take up lots of space, can be costly to replace, and often have been in your home for many years.

But don’t let all of that stop you from honestly evaluating your furniture, along with decorative pieces like artwork, and asking yourself whether you still use or truly enjoy each item. Determine what fits with your current lifestyle and, if you’re moving, what you will need in your new home and new life. Keep in mind that transporting large, heavy items can sometimes cost as much as buying new ones.

3. Hobby Equipment

If you’ve ever gotten interested in fitness, painting, or any other activity that requires special equipment, you’ve probably accumulated a stash of stuff you no longer use. But if you gave up knitting in 1993, it’s time to admit you don’t need boxes full of needles and yarn anymore. This can be surprisingly difficult, because so many of these items either were acquired as part of a self-improvement project or represent a real passion. We truly intend to learn the guitar; we really want to be the kind of person who rides an exercise bike every day. And no one wants to be the kind of person who sheepishly drops off their unused yoga mats at Goodwill.

A more useful way to think about this unused stuff is that there’s nothing wrong with trying something new and realizing it didn’t work for you. It’s far better than never having had the interest in the first place, and you probably learned something about yourself in the process. You may have since found an activity you enjoy more; if not, you may find one in the future. But holding on to the tools of an abandoned hobby doesn’t move you any closer to that future. Let them go and make room for an activity you’ll actually feel motivated to do.

4. “Junk Drawer” Items

Even the neatest of households can unwittingly accumulate dry ballpoint pens, single socks, broken gadgets no one will ever repair, and assorted thingamajigs of uncertain origin. If you don’t know where to begin downsizing, this is a safe place to start. It is probably the quickest, easiest, and most immediately satisfying category to declutter, and cleaning out your junk—whether or not it’s literally in a designated junk drawer—is a relatively mindless project that lacks the emotional or logistical decisions that can slow you down in other areas.

You can tackle your junk by dividing your space into sections; clearing out a desk or small room might take just minutes. Or, you can dedicate a day or weekend to walking through your house, garbage bag in hand, searching for caps that fit no bottle, buttons that match no coat, or any other extra bits and pieces you don’t need.

5. Duplicates and Backups

Not everyone will have a lot in this category, but if you’re a “just in case” type or a “buy it in every color” shopper, you might have closets full of things you’ll never use, acquired out of a habit that’s no longer serving you. Some backups are good to have around; it’s only logical to stock some extra paper towels, batteries, and pantry staples. But this tendency can get out of hand when it leaves your space cluttered with goods you don’t really need. And that’s especially true if you’re getting ready to pack and move.

Items to get rid of in this category include unopened foods, medications, vitamins, and beauty products you’re not intending to use soon. Check their labels, because these often expire faster than you’d think. Also look out for frequently misplaced items like umbrellas and reusable shopping bags. It’s handy to have multiples of these, but it’s also easy to accumulate too many. You may also encounter duplicates in the clothing, kitchen, or other categories, and recognizing them as such will help you part with them. If you’re moving, getting rid of backups you don’t need will help make packing and unpacking easier. It can also help you get away from a clutter-creating mentality.

6. Kitchen and Dining Gear

Cookware, gadgets, dishes, coffee mugs, and all things cooking- and dining-related are among the most fun items to buy and the least enjoyable to declutter. They’re fragile, heavy, and useful (unless they’re broken), so it can be hard to justify giving them away. Plus, like clothing and hobby equipment, they sometimes represent a phase of life that’s over (for example, wine glasses for those cocktail parties you used to throw), or an unrealized dream (such as specialized tools for those elaborate meals you once thought you’d enjoy making).

But having more kitchen goods than you need leads to serious clutter, and having to bring them all with you when you move is a bubble-wrapped nightmare. Unless the unused item is a beloved heirloom, pass it on to someone who will actually use it. After all, you can always find another spiralizer if you feel the need to make zoodles someday.

7. Linens

Bedding, towels, throw rugs, and other bulky inhabitants of the linen closet are easy to hoard, even if you don’t intend to. You start out needing extras for guests and cold nights, or wanting to change the look of a room, and, before you know it, you’ve got a closet full of soft, cozy clutter. To cut down, discard any items that are torn, stained, or badly frayed. Then get rid of any items you don’t actually use, whether it’s because you don’t like them or you simply don’t need them anymore.

If you’re moving soon, think about the number of boxes — and the amount of space in a moving truck — unnecessary linens can occupy. And of course, if you’re moving from a five bedroom house to a two bedroom condo, you won’t need as many pillows and blankets, and, if you’re moving from the coast to the mountains, you probably won’t need that many beach towels.

8. Outdoor Equipment

You might not think of this category as a potential clutter zone—in fact, it’s easy to ignore lawn mowers, garden tools, and outdoor furniture or decorative items altogether when you’re not using them. Because they’re usually stored not in the house but in a garage or shed, they’re easy to buy, stash away, and put out of your mind. So you may wind up with a collection of outdoor equipment far beyond what you really need. Let go of anything that doesn’t function properly or that you haven’t used in a few years.

If you’re moving, consider whether you’ll need the same tools and toys in your new space, climate, and lifestyle. You might balk at parting with larger, more expensive items if there’s even a small chance you’ll use them someday. But, as with furniture, it can sometimes be financially and logistically easier to find new items that better fit your needs once you’ve reached your new location.

9. Memorabilia

Nearly everyone keeps some treasured memories of the past, like an album of family photographs or a collection of personal letters. Most people also have collected quite a bit of less meaningful memorabilia—items they never intended to save but don’t feel quite right about discarding. This could include birthday cards from relatives, souvenirs from long-ago vacations, and anything that blurs the line between keepsake and clutter.

There are two ways to handle this sort of unintentional collecting. The first is to save the items, or a select few of them, in a manner that reduces the space they take up; for example, you can scan those nostalgic birthday messages before tossing the paper cards. The other is to train yourself to think differently about the significance of physical objects. You don’t need old ticket stubs or fridge magnets to remember the shows you’ve seen or the places you’ve visited.

10. Long-Term Storage

These items often live in a basement, attic, or storage unit, and, unlike the memorabilia mentioned above, they once served a real purpose. They are often documents, like bank statements or college notes. But they can also be toys from your grown children’s youth or sets of high school yearbooks. It can be hard to simply shred or donate these items, even if you haven’t looked at them in 20 years. And yet, you probably don’t want to store them for the rest of your life, especially if you’re about to move.

To pare down these items, start with anything that doesn’t belong to you. Ask your kids if they want their old books, papers, or teddy bears. They may come and get them; they also may give you the green light to toss everything. Then, determine if anything really important is lurking in the remaining clutter. Documents you need to keep can often be digitized to save space. As for anything you don’t need, ask yourself if it makes you truly happy knowing it’s stored in your home. Also be honest about whether you’ll ever really go rummaging through those boxes for a particular memory. If the answers indicate that the stuff isn’t a meaningful part of your life anymore, it might be a good time to give it up.

Downsizing and moving can be both stressful and exciting. It’s also the perfect time to embrace one of the key lessons of decluttering: Many possessions come into your life for a specific period of time. When that season is over, and their usefulness and value to you are gone, you can feel free to let them go—to help make room for your adventures that are still to come.

Where Can I Find Boxes for Moving?

Keep Turning the Pages With Your Book Club

Derek McKinney

While reading is a solitary pursuit, talking about books with others and listening to book discussions with authors adds a social element to an already healthy activity. Belonging to a book club can help you build relationships with others, while reading more deeply and committing to a reading goal.

Especially as we age, maintaining social connections like those which joining a book group provides, is beneficial to your health. Scientific research shows that increased in-person engagement with others — whether it’s a chat over coffee or catching up with friends — provides both mental and physical health benefits.

Numerous research studies point to the specific benefits of reading as an activity:

  • Increasing your vocabulary
  • Improving your attention span
  • Gaining greater brain connectivity
  • Lowering your chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increasing your empathy for others, becoming open to different perspectives
  • Reducing stress

For example, scientists at Mindlab International at the University of Sussex in the U.K. found that reading for only six minutes a day lowered stress by up to 68%.

And yet nearly one-fourth of American adults (24%) say they didn’t read a single book in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. The numbers are worse, the older you get: “Some 28% of adults ages 50 and older have not read a book in the past year, compared with 20% of adults under 50.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the particularly passionate readers who belong to book clubs. More than half of American adults (57%) who read more than one book each year belong to a book club, according to a survey by BookBrowse.com. Participation in book clubs increases with age, according to the BookBrowse survey, in part because empty nesters and retirees have more time, want to connect with others, and like the intellectual challenge of belonging to a book club.

Joining a book club typically doesn’t require you to pay any fee. In fact, if your group chooses books with multiple copies available from the public library, you don’t even have to pay for the books. Otherwise, you may need to spend a little money on purchasing the reading material. Some book clubs deliberately pick older books that are available used or in paperback versions.

Finding a Book Club

While there are plenty of established book clubs, both in person and online, it’s not always easy to find one that meets your expectations. Some people like to belong to a group with people they already know, while others seek to meet new people through a book club. Groups can be organized by gender, age, or interests, or can be open to anyone. One-third of book club members belong to more than one book club, according to the BookBrowse survey.

If you don’t know of an existing book club, you can start your search by checking with your library system or a local bookstore. Many offer several book clubs that meet at different times and have different themes. You can search on Meetup.com for local groups. Some groups are formed at community centers and neighborhood clubhouses or through a local online newsletter. The Women’s National Book Association supports book clubs and sponsors literary events around the country.

Online-only groups are also an option, although they don’t carry the benefit of meeting people and interacting in person. However, discussing books online still offers intellectual stimulation, plus the opportunity to virtually meet people from a broader geographical area or with specific reading interests. You can find online groups on Goodreads.com and on BookBrowse.com.

Before you join a book group, think about what you would like to get out of it and whether you would like the group to have a particular focus. For example, some book clubs choose to read only books on The New York Times‘ Notable Books list or just Russian literature or only science fiction.

You can contact the librarian, book store, or leader of a book club to find out more about how often they meet and to see if the group would be a good fit for you. Ask if you can attend a meeting as a guest before committing to become a member.

Founding a Book Club

If you don’t find a book group you want to join, or you just want to start your own with a few people you know who love to read, you’ll need to make some decisions about how to organize the group, such as:

How many members you want. Typically, you want at least four to five people to regularly attend, but you can go as large as 20 if you have someone who can lead the discussion.

When you want to meet. While many groups meet in the evening, a daytime meeting can work well for a group with flexible hours or who are retired. It’s best to schedule the same day and time each month or week or bimonthly so everyone can put it on their calendar. Even with a standing date, it’s helpful to have someone designated to email reminders of the meeting and the book to be read.

Where to meet. Ideally, you want a place that’s quiet enough for a discussion and yet allows groups to meet. Some local coffee shops and libraries work well and so do community centers or rooms at universities. Many groups meet at someone’s home — either the same person’s home every month or rotating among the group’s members.

Food and drink options. If you’re hosting book club meetings in someone’s home, it’s a good idea to set guidelines. Some book clubs love to make food that fits with the book being discussed, while others want to go simple with just dessert and coffee, or perhaps wine and cheese, depending on the time of day. Keeping it simple means you’re more likely to find people willing to host.

Deciding What to Read

Whether your book club prefers fiction, nonfiction, or a mix of both, BookBrowse’s survey found that most book club members identified these four factors as important to a good book choice:

  1. The book should be well-written and successful with other book groups.
  2. The book should be in a different genre than recent choices but still enjoyable for the group members.
  3. The book should be challenging and provoke good conversations.
  4. The book should be inspiring, topical, and even a little bit controversial.

Fiction tends to be the most popular, with 70% of book clubs reporting to BookBrowse that they read primarily fiction and occasionally add in a nonfiction selection.

If you’re setting up your own book club, one of the most important elements is to decide how the books will be chosen. Some book clubs have one meeting to choose the books for the rest of that year. Members can have a formal vote or an informal discussion about which ones to choose. Other groups have each month’s host choose the book. If you have a group leader or meeting facilitator, that person may want to either choose the books or offer a list of preferred books from which the group can choose. You may want to choose slightly older books that are available at the public library or in paperback to help keep costs low for your group members.

Numerous resources are available to help you select books, including newsletters you can sign up for, sites such as Goodreads.com, your local librarian, bookstores, book reviews in magazines and newspapers, and personal recommendations from friends and book group members.

According to BookBrowse, about 80% of groups read local authors at least occasionally and invite them to join their book group in person or via Skype. Many authors — especially local ones — enjoy the opportunity to talk about their work and to sell more books, so they will typically make arrangements to participate if asked. Authors tend to have pages on Amazon or their own websites that will provide their contact information or that of their publishers.

More resources for book selections include:

Tips for a Good Book Discussion

Some book groups last for decades and the enthusiasm among members never wanes, while others flounder without a good structure for the meetings. It’s easy, particularly if your book group includes your friends, to become a social group that rarely talks about a book. That’s fine if that’s what everyone wants, but it can be frustrating to those who joined the group for in-depth literary discussions.

One way to avoid misunderstandings is to establish a structure in the beginning and a few rules, such as how often people can miss meetings, expectations for reading the book before gatherings, and even a timeline for the meetings. Some groups like to build in 30 minutes of social time while everyone gathers and then set aside one hour or more to focus on the book. Others like to start the meeting with the book discussion and allow for socializing afterwards.

If your discussions are stale or you are preparing to start your book club, try these ideas from LitLovers submitted to ILoveLibraries.org:

  • Try a literary game as an icebreaker, particularly if your members don’t know each other well. For example, have everyone name as many authors as they can whose last names (or books whose titles) begin with “D” or try warming up with charades based on favorite literary characters.
  • Start with a general question — such as an overall reaction to the book or to name a favorite character or scene — and ask anyone in the group to comment.
  • Bring in some type of visual or audio item related to the book, such as a map, photos, or music, to start the conversation or offer inspiration.
  • Write questions — about the book’s plot or main characters — on index cards and distribute them to members. Have each member (or a team of members in a larger group) answer them.
  • Have a quote or an idea from the book ready and ask members to comment on it.
  • Choose a character and ask for comments on the character’s motivations or actions.
  • Consider providing handouts with character names or a plot summary, particularly if you’re discussing a long, complex book with numerous characters.
  • You may also want to suggest that your book club members take some notes as they read or flag passages they find interesting or want to discuss. A little preparation can go a long way to make your book club even more valuable and enjoyable.

Whether you already love to read and want to broaden your choice of books, you’re looking for a new way to build relationships with your friends and neighbors, or you want to meet new people, a book club can stimulate your mind while you have fun.

Let’s spark some ideas for book club members…leave a comment below with the name of your favorite book.

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