I’m participating in an exercise with bankruptcy colleagues to blog about bankruptcy topics from A-Z.  My intention had been to start with A and work my way through to Z, naturally.

But, several times in the last few weeks I’ve received calls wherein the potential client was primarily concerned with their “STUFF.”  During the same time frame, I heard a report that, before 1960, there were no storage facilities in the United States.  Now, there are an estimated 50,000.  More than 80% of all storage facilities in the WORLD are in the United States.The very popular show Hoarders is based on the attachment some us have to our STUFF.  A nurse  recently told me that a grandmother could not take custody of her neglected grandchildren because she was a ‘hoarder’ and there was literally no room in her house.  Various experts expound their respective theories on the phenomenon.  Suffice it to say that North Americans have a fetish for STUFF.  Most of us are not so extreme that we cannot walk through our homes.  But, many of us are obsessed with our possessions.

Courtesy of Bill Longshaw's: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=341

Perhaps those very possessions are at the foundation of our financial woes.  Can I keep my STUFF?  Will they take my STUFF?  Do I have to give up all my STUFF?  What will happen to my STUFF?   The short answers are– “maybe” and “it depends.”   What I often wonder is whether the acquisition of STUFF contributed to the caller’s predicament–and whether the caller realizes the connection.  Would they be willing to downgrade their car, or relinquish that $5,000 rug to eradicate $75,000 worth of debt?

The law acknowledges and understands our need for stuff and offers each bankruptcy filer a proverbial pot within which to hold their most important stuff.  As a bankruptcy filer, you can keep everything that fits in the “pot,” that is, items that are EXEMPT and cannot be taken by the bankruptcy court.  Federal and state bankruptcy law allows certain exemptions.  Depending on your jurisdiction, your pot may include (with certain limitations) your retirement account, equity in your home or car, jewelry, clothes, or other things.  It is crucial that you disclose ALL your belongings to your attorney in order for he or she to ensure that everything possible can be exempted.

The easiest way to lose your stuff is to try and hide it instead of using the protections allowed by law.   A competent bankruptcy attorney can advise you on the best way to keep your stuff.  Yet, I still wonder whether we should occasionally think about letting some of our stuff go.

Maybe it’s up to each of us to ask: “Is this stuff something I own?  Or is this stuff owning me?”