Thought Leadership

What would happen if I died?

By Colin Walls

When I wrote the title to this post, I immediately realized my error: there is no: ”if” about it. There are few certainties in life, and that is one of them. I should have said “What will happen when I die?” My late father was quite realistic about such matters. Many years ago, he gave me a sealed envelope on which was written “To be opened when I die” – none of this “In the event of my death” malarkey! [Sadly, its contents were a bit of an anticlimax, as I had been hoping for a great revelation or confession or a hidden fortune and there was nothing like that at all.]

Having said all this, today’s topic is not on existential matters – I am interested in decluttering …

When I drew up my 12 Things for 2019, one of my goals was refurbishment of my home office. Before I can start thinking about updating the furniture and storage, I need to review all the stuff I keep. I need to declutter.

I am mostly a tidy and organized person. If I use something, I return it to its “home” when I have finished. I try to avoid doing any tidying by not doing any untidying. However, this breaks down when I acquire something new and a home has not yet been found for it. This results in clutter – stuff lying around. Typically, this will occur when I run out of storage space. And this is the problem in my office.

The solution, of course, is to go through lots of my belongings and dispose of things that I do not want/need to keep. I find this task very daunting and I am very adept at finding more urgent/important/interesting jobs to do instead. However, I am lucky enough to have a wife, Libby, who is good at encouraging me to get things done. This might sound like a euphemism for nagging, bit it is not; she is just pushing me to do things that I actually want to get done.

The first job in my office was to sort out the three large cupboards, which are all full of stuff. I had reached the point where I was almost afraid to open the door to any of them. Libby’s suggested approach was to do one cupboard at a time – allocating a one hour period to the job, which makes it sound manageable. The plan was to remove absolutely everything from the cupboard. Then, each item was scrutinized, resulting in its disposal or return to the cupboard. The keep/chuck decision was the hard bit …

Some things were obvious disposal candidates – items that were old or obsolete or where I had accumulated an excess quantity [like packing materials]. Others were obvious “keeps” – things that I use or seriously anticipate using in due course. The hard things were items that I wanted to keep because I felt that they should be kept – old photos would be an example. This is where my new idea comes in. I ask myself what would happen to the item if it is still there when I die. Will someone most likely chuck it? If so, that tells me what I should do now. Would it be passed on to someone else? If so, maybe I can pass it on now and get it out of my life. I guess there is one other answer to this question about items’ fate on my death. And that is “It will be buried with me”. But I do not expect any of those. ?

So far, we have “done” two out of three cupboards. There are still drawers and shelves to go …


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at