Lately, a lot of attention has been placed on downsizing as a way to reduce expenses and improve quality of life.
However, the majority of older Americans exhibit a strong preference to age in place. The challenge is most seniors have accumulated far more stuff than they know what to do with.
The most critical decluttering tips for seniors include allowing plenty of time, start on an easy area and stick to a schedule. In addition, deciding what to keep, sell, donate or trash requires some real thought. Finally, asking for help can make it easier and more enjoyable.
Our basic nature is to accumulate things. In fact, the average American household has around 300,000 items! The problem is further compounded as we age.
Sure, we make a valiant effort to keep things under control. Maybe a spring cleaning or a garage sale to pare things down. However, it’s hard to part ways with something we paid good money for or might need one day.
When a parent or other loved one downsizes or passes away, often, this results in a massive influx of more stuff of sentimental value.
Sometimes it’s said, less is more and there are numerous benefits to simplicity and less clutter.
Benefits Of Decluttering For Seniors
As it turns out, there are numerous benefits to decluttering, particularly for seniors. In a disorganized area, all that extra stuff can create a low level of stress. In contrast, a cleaner, more organized space is calming.
Some of these possessions serve little purpose, however have sentimental value. They can be filled with memories of the past and could detract from living in the present. Expanding upon these benefits:
Proactively organizing the living space and shedding unnecessary possessions has shown to improve quality of life. While it can be a daunting process, breaking it into manageable steps leads to greater success.
1. Get Started Now, Yet Allow Plenty of Time
The first tip is to get started now, yet allow yourself plenty of time. An old saying which comes to mind is, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. When it comes to an aging loved one, you’re likely dealing with a lifetime of possessions and associated memories.
Human nature, being what it is, we all procrastinate to some degree (I think I have a doctorate on how to, LOL). This is especially true when it’s something we really don’t want to do. Like getting rid of prized possessions or more expensive items.
Unfortunately, when the situation isn’t addressed, there may come a day when it’s forced upon us.
Examples could include a fall, sudden illness or life altering diagnosis. In a heartbeat, life changes and staying at home may no longer be an option. Then a massive downsize is required.
Thus, the sooner you get started, the easier it'll be on everyone. It can help minimize the stressful situation of scrambling to deal with things on the fly.
Another advantage of starting early is having the time to proceed in a thoughtful manner. This can be an emotional process and it’s important to take the time needed to reminisce and reflect.
By not rushing, it'll help in letting go and preparing for the future.
2. Focus On an Easy Area at First
There may be obvious items to get rid of such as sporting goods, unused kitchen appliances or furniture. These can be quick wins to kickoff rightsizing the household. After this, where to begin can feel daunting.
In fact, it can be overwhelming to go through an entire home. The experts suggest starting in a small area, such as a closet. If you’re anything like me, there’ll be clothes hanging there you haven’t worn in ages and are becoming antiques themselves!
Now they take up space and, deep down, I realize I’ll probably never wear them again. It would be smart to give them to a charity or someone who can make use of them. The same mindset applies to women’s shoes and purses.
Next, you might choose a bathroom or laundry area as they tend to be more utilitarian with easier pragmatic decisions on what to keep. Once you’ve got a couple of rooms under your belt, confidence grows and everything gets easier.
Going through a single room at a time is far more manageable and less disruptive than taking on the whole house.
3. Commit To a Schedule
While allowing plenty of time to process your decisions is advisable, maintaining a schedule is critical to ensure everything gets done. For instance, if you’re helping an elderly loved one, set aside a regular time to get together.
This could be once a week or whatever works best for both of you. This allows time to pace yourselves while making thoughtful decisions. Plus, it’s a great chance to bond!
Likewise, if you’re working on your own place, by sticking to a schedule you’ll make progress. It won’t be as overwhelming and it won’t be long until your entire home is completed.
4. Lifestyle Changes
In addition to getting better organized, it’s imperative to prepare for the day you may need to downsize. As unpleasant as the thought may be, it’s unfair to expect someone else to be burdened with the task of cleaning up after you.
This underscores the fact we’re not getting any younger. With age, our lifestyles change and evolve. What was important in our 40s may not be as relevant today.
For example, rock climbing may have been something you once eagerly participated in. However, due to the high level of physical conditioning and inherent danger, you may have hung up your helmet, harness and climbing boots long ago.
There are many other sports and activities which lose appeal with age. If you're not going to use it, now’s the time to part ways with any such equipment and apparel.
After retiring, everyone should evaluate their possessions and figure out what they should keep. For instance, a closet full of business suits might no longer be required.
It's an opportunity to reshape your living space into something better suited to your lifestyle.
5. Organize Categories
Another one of the valuable decluttering tips for seniors is to organize everything into four categories.
These consist of the things to keep, items to sell, donate and throw away. In all fairness, when it comes to personal possessions, they're not always easy decisions.
Duplicates are one of the easier choices. If you have two of something, get rid of one of them. Another tip for seldom used items is the 20/20 rule, “if you can replace something for less than $20 and in under 20 minutes, throw it out.”
Undoubtedly, you’ll come across items which warrant a second look or you’re hesitant about. For example, I’d forgotten about a stir fry pan we’d bought years ago. Rather than get rid of it, we decided to give it a try with the intent of eating healthier.
Don’t pressure yourself to make immediate decisions on everything. Sometimes setting it aside for awhile provides greater clarity. Similar to my stir fry pan, it can always be given away later if you choose not to keep it.
The Keep Pile
The overarching goal is to get everything organized and in its place.
When it comes to the kitchen, certain things like a favorite frying pan, cutting board, cutlery and plates are used every day. These are necessities, everything else is on the proverbial chopping block.
By that I mean any other household items infrequently used are candidates to get rid of. A helpful way is to visualize what would be kept if downsizing into an apartment. This applies to clothing, furniture and everything laying about.
Family heirlooms, collectables and other memorabilia are always difficult decisions. With so many memories attached, these can be agonizing to let go. This is when it’s important to reflect on how much these really mean to you.
From another perspective, what’s practical to keep, especially if downsizing? Possibly, taking photos will capture the memories and help with letting go. Alternatively, the desire could be to pass them down to other family members.
The Sell Pile
When it comes to most household items, they sell for pennies on the dollar compared to what you paid. Having stated the obvious, hanging onto them just because you’ll “lose money” isn’t a valid justification.
In almost every situation, the longer you keep something, the less valuable it becomes. This applies to sporting goods, tools, furniture and almost everything else. If it’s worth something and no longer needed, now’s the time to sell it.
The easiest way to determine the value is searching online to see what other people are selling similar things for. You might decide it’s not worth the hassle, in which case you could donate it.
The Donate / Give Away Pile
There’s probably a nearby charity who would greatly appreciate your donated items. From a convenience perspective, it's way easier than trying to sell them yourself. To make things even easier, some offer free pick up.
Besides helping those less fortunate, another advantage is many of these organizations also repair or recycle broken items. It’s a double win as it minimizes what goes into landfills.
Many seniors hang onto family heirlooms such as prized China in the belief they’ll one day pass them on. While a noble sentiment, this can lead to family squabbles and hard feelings. Alternatively, what if no one wants them?
While they might have high sentimental value, such matters should be discussed with other family members. Now might be the opportune time to pass them on or, at least, make arrangements for the future.
The Throwaway Pile
Another of the decluttering tips for seniors is to dispose of / repair anything hazardous or unsafe.
This is particularly true when it comes to expired medications and food products. It also applies to anything around the home which creates an unsafe condition.
For example, included could be an old rug or piles of clutter which have become tripping hazards. In addition, broken furniture, faulty electrical products (such as a toaster or lamp) or anything else unsafe should be fixed or trashed / recycled.
When it comes to decluttering a hoarder, it’s a whole new ballgame!
There’s a reason they kept everything and you’re probably in for the fight of your life. The obvious signs are piles of stuff everywhere. The scariest part is the basement is usually jammed full.
On a concrete floor, cardboard boxes deteriorate over time. If any moisture occurred, mold may be present. If bugs or rodents have gotten in, it'll make it an equally miserable task to clean up.
Depending upon the condition and value of what you find, renting a dumpster might make the most sense.
6. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you’ve never sorted through an entire household of possessions, it can be an overwhelming task. Expect it to take far longer than you might think. Furthermore, it can be physically and emotionally exhausting so you’ll want to pace yourself.
Rather than doing it all on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only can it make everything go smoother, it can also be more enjoyable. Options include:
Find what best works for you to get through this process.
Closing Thoughts on Decluttering Tips for Seniors
I can attest to the fact it’s not easy to declutter a lifetime of possessions.
In fact, it breaks my heart getting rid of any of my good stuff or those filled with memories. What I recognize is I've become a caretaker of inanimate objects and need to move forward.
All the stuff never used and just collecting dust needs to go. It’s simply not fair to burden someone else when the time comes and we’re unable to take care of it ourselves. The truth of the matter, it won’t get any easier as we age.
When it comes to an elderly loved one, without some assistance, it’s likely beyond their capabilities. Sharing time together and organizing a safer living space might be the greatest gift you could give them.