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Mom's Attic and the Cost of Downsizing

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- When I first visited my wife's parents' home just outside of Seattle a few years back, it was also the first time she'd been home since leaving for college and graduate school. With my wife and her sister in new homes of their own, their parents decided to invest in a whole-house remodel that would turn their rooms into guest rooms and the floor they lived on into what was functionally a guest suite and workspace.

For my wife, this meant cleaning 18 years of her life out of her old room in one long Sunday. Trophies, stuffed animals, photos, awards and toys all went into crates in what seemed like the emotional equivalent of cauterizing a wound or ripping a bandage of a hairy arm. I didn't envy her and listened to the stories behind each object filed away, hoping it would provide some catharsis and feeling fortunate that I'd already gone through the same process years ago.

Or so I'd thought. About two years later, as my wife and I were visiting my parents in New Jersey just a few weeks ahead of our move from Boston to Portland, my mom informed me that there were a few boxes in the attic that she wanted me to go through before I left. Inside were spelling bee ribbons, old journals, souvenirs from my long-gone grandparents' trips around the world and other items I'd thought my parents had parted with long ago.

Three large boxes made their way to the Belleville town recycling center, each containing the remnants of my last years as a full-time resident of my parents' house. As was the case with my wife's parents, mine just wanted to reclaim some space and move on from a part of their lives that was growing a bit more distant. My wife and I have discussed those last purges ever since and came to one very sobering conclusion: Keeping those items around was a lot tougher on our parents than it was on us.

Removing emotion from the discussion -- not a terribly easy thing to do when you're discussing the emptying of a family home and defeathering of a well-built nest -- it's a far greater financial obligation for those left holding the boxes of keepsakes than the ones stowing away a few dozen cubic feet of safety blanket. Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, for example, found that downsizing from a $250,000 house to one that costs $150,000 could increase yearly income by $3,000 and reduce annual expenses by $3,250, saving the homeowner $6,250 a year.

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