Tuesday, July 26, 2016

8 Tips for Decluttering

     Like many retirees, our household is downsizing. As many of you know, we have sold our house in the suburbs and now, just last week, moved into a one-bedroom condominium. Six months ago we had a basement full of old boxes and an attic full of memorabilia. We had overflowing kitchen cabinets, closets bulging with old clothes, bookcases bursting with books and tabletops littered with little trinkets and tchotchkes.

     But now, everything has been packed away and moved out the door. We have one truckload in our condo, and another has been sent to storage -- to await the time when we settle down into a house or condo that is bigger than what we have now, but smaller than what we had before.

     How did we do it? Honestly, a month ago it seemed like an impossible task. But it happened. So here are eight tips from personal experience on how to declutter and prepare for downsizing in retirement. 

     1. Call the kids. The first thing we did was put our four kids on notice that we were moving, and we expected them to come and sort through their things, take what they wanted and dispose of the rest. One son had already moved 800 miles away and had taken most of what he wanted. We sent him photos of the rest. He told us what to bring him when we met him at B's mother's 100th birthday party. The rest we got rid of. We were lucky that another son had recently bought his own house. He came with a U-Haul and not only took all of his own stuff, but loaded up a couple of extra pieces of furniture into the back of the truck. 

     2. Donate to the church rummage sale. Our church has a big rummage sale every April. We donated two carloads of clothes and kitchen equipment. Plus, church volunteers came with a pickup and took away several bookcases, a TV case, a dining room sideboard and a few other pieces of furniture. 

A work in progress
     3. Make trips to recycling. Our town recycling center accepts old electronics (so do electronics stores such as Best Buy), both paperback and hard back books, scrap metal and paper of all kinds. I made at least a dozen trips to our recycling center. 

     4. Shuttle to Goodwill. We have a Goodwill store near us; others have the Salvation Army or some other thrift shop. They accept free donations of clothes, books, CDs and small household items. My Goodwill does not accept rugs. We had three rugs that I had to cut up into strips and throw away. 

     5. Find your pickers store. There's a second-hand store in the next town over from us. There's probably one near you, too. I called the owner and made an appointment. Then I loaded up the back of our small SUV with tools, framed prints and a few knickknacks, and the woman there picked through my pieces, took what she wanted and gave me $140. I made a second trip a few weeks later, and she gave me another $60 for the lot.

     6. Trash, trash and more trash. Some towns offer bulk pickup a few times a year. Our town does not. We have a limit of two full garbage cans, twice a week. So we didn't miss a trick. We filled two garbage cans to the brim, twice a week, for six months straight. Plus, we sneaked in a few extra items when we thought we could get away with it. 

     7. Call the junk man. There are people who will come and haul the last of your stuff away, for a fee. They advertise on community bulletin boards, or leave their business cards in local shops. I found a card at the second-hand store. Fortunately, using all the other methods, we never had to call the junk man. But it's good to know he's there, if and when you need him. 

     8. Have a heart-to-heart with your partner. None of this works if you are furiously disposing of things while your partner is agonizing over whether to throw away a Christmas card from 1985. Most relationships, it seems, consist of one hoarder who has piles of possessions, and one simplifier who owns one coat, one book and one photo. To avoid working at cross purposes, you need to sit down and talk things out. The hoarder must realize that many things (VHS tapes, a record player, old sports equipment) are outdated or can easily be replaced. The simplifier has to appreciate that some things have sentimental value and can't be replaced, and if you get too enthusiastic about downsizing you might end up regretting what you've lost. So don't be like our dysfunctional politicians. Respect your partner's point of view, realize there are deep emotional issues embedded in this whole process and be ready to compromise.

23 comments:

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

Have you read Marie Kondo's best seller on decluttering. Or perhaps the AARP publication? A whole new cottage book industry on this subject has arisen with the aging Baby-Boom. You have first-hand knowledge now. Thanks for sharing it.

Cindi said...

It's a process. A long term process. It's good to NOT think about it and just do it! I've completely decluttered my house except the basement. It's filled with my 2 daughters crap! I told them I was getting a container delivered to my home and since they haven't used the crap in 15 years, it's garbage and will all be thrown away. Only 1 kid showed up, this past weekend to be exact. She spent 2 days going through her junk. Everything has been categorized: go, stay, shred, donate. I count the days till my basement is clean and not an obstacle course.
HOW DID WE EVER COLLECT SO MUCH CRAP INTO OUR LIVES? I'll never know.
My husband still has to do his shed AND his work barn. There's a 2000 Jeep stuck in there somewhere.

Unbelievable!
Thanks for the post. Good tips!

Carole said...

We have several boxes in our basement filled with "stuff" that moved with us 11 years ago from our old house. I knew back then it should have gone right into the trash. However, sensitivity to a differing point of view convinced me to take it with us. I think it is now time to haul it out of here, since we have never opened up any of these boxes, and cannot remember what is in them!

Thanks for the good tips. It's always nice to think that someone else can benefit from something that we no longer need or use.

DJan said...

I'm the collector and my guy is the simplifier in our marriage. I'm glad he makes the decisions, and he will ask me before getting rid of something he thinks I might want. Usually I don't mind it going the way of all things. Good post, Tom. We did a lot of this when we moved from Colorado to Washington state eight years ago. :-)

Tom Sightings said...

I'm the simplifier in our relationship, and yet to my embarrassment, I too had a few boxes that had never been opened since the last time we moved almost 10 years ago. As I've said many times, Pobody's nerfect!

Jane said...

I'll add a couple of tips. Books can go to the library or PTA for resale. Many household goods can go to Habitat or a shelter. Finally, I emailed friends with a list of free stuff up for grabs. My only mistake was not being specific about time.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! These all are GREAT tips for letting things go. Too bad it takes selling a house to do it though huh? What I'm sure you'll find (at least I did) was that 99% of that stuff I not only didn't miss, I didn't have the slightest regret letting it go either. Moving really does give us a PERFECT excuse. ~Kathy

Jeanette Lewis said...

Hi Tom,
We just down-sized from a large house where we lived for 25 years. We went through a process similar to what you've described. It took 5 months to organize, sort, pitch, donate, etc. in Mid-June we moved into our somewhat smaller house that is better suited for independence as we grow older. Most of the essentials are unpacked; kitchen, bathrooms, and main living areas are organized. As we get to the remaining boxes, we realize that another round of de-cluttering needs to happen as most of what we are unpacking won't be needed for our new lifestyle. As one of the readers said in an earlier comment, it's a process...........

Barbara said...

I agree with Jeanette. No matter how much I pare down, I always find I have carried more items to the new house than I need/have a place for and even more importantly, items that I might love but are no longer part of or needed in my current life's pursuits.

Wisewebwoman said...

Yes. I feel I could write my own pointers list having done it many times and now facing it Gain in a year or so. I find truly, that nature abhors a vacuum and that an empty space begs for adornment no matter how small. But hey take bow!
XO
WWW

Alison Michael said...

Tom, I love your articles. I was looking for a way to contact you as I have done before with some bloggers for Huffington Post to ask permission to share some content in print, crediting you. How can I contact you? I have a free publication in upstate NY that targets the 55+ audience. I'm working on our Fall issue and would love to include one of your articles and reference your name and your blog site. You can email me at alison@55pluslivingguide.com
Thank you,
Alison

Meryl Baer said...

Congratulations! A long, exhausting job well done...We still have some boxes in the garage that I took with us because we could not live without the contents. Five years later I have no idea what is in the boxes and do not miss a thing.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Excellent post, Tom! You hit all the problems and possibilities. I'm working -- very slowly -- on a post about hoarding (the psychopathology of it). But most of us are not hoarders. We've just accumulated too much memorabilia over the years. Bob and I scaled down when we moved from L.A. to rural Arizona six years ago. We were moving from a small house to a much larger one, but still did a lot of purging of stuff because we were moving ourselves and wanted to make as few trips back and forth as possible. Like Meryl, I did bring some sentimental stuff in boxes that are sitting in garage cabinets and rarely disturbed. You've inspired me to take a hard look at some of these things I thought I couldn't live without.

Stephen Hayes said...

Just last week I have our 36 year old son a box of stuff he'd left at our house. He didn't want it but I put it in his car anyway.

Anonymous said...

We donate to a place that houses homeless people and to a domestic violence place and they love the things we give, all gently used and clean and neat..cannot use stuff goes to a place that funds a food pantry where I cook, bake and clean weekly they seem to love the things and sell them for food money they so need..

Olga Hebert said...

I downsized, but I also have two places so I can't be too smug at all.

joared said...

Good tips. Now i just have to start doing it. Should have started when I was younger. I was/am the hoarder and my now deceased husband the simplifier. Children halfway and clear across the continent so am on my own. Must get on with it.

gigihawaii said...

We recently donated 2 end tables and 2 lamps to the Salvation Army. They picked them up so we did not have to deliver them.

Rian said...

Your tips are great and I'm working on it... slowly. Since we aren't moving anytime soon, I find that I get motivated and go through boxes, shredding and discarding for days, then stop, take a break, and then have to force myself to get back to it.

And yes, I'm the sentimental one and DH is the simplifier. But the thought of my children having to do this after I'm gone is what gets me motivated. I've had to do it for family and friends (some of who/whom? WERE hoarders) and it was difficult.

Barbara - said...

Great tips. I'm not a keeper (I took less from my parents home than any other sibling) and I'm also a loser when it comes to certain things like family jewelry,..........I may find that ring someday. However I still am constantly re gifting and downsizing. I not only gave my kids their own stuff, but told them to come and get the heirlooms they wanted.

rosaria williams said...

Excellent tips. Your real estate contacts know people who can come and relieve you of the stuff you're too tired to deal with, for a fee. We downsided many times, and still do when you realize your can no longer fits in the garage. It is an ongoing process.

rosaria williams said...

Excellent tips. Your real estate contacts know people who can come and relieve you of the stuff you're too tired to deal with, for a fee. We downsided many times, and still do when you realize your can no longer fits in the garage. It is an ongoing process.

Lynne Bucher said...

Am trying to get my mom to do this. She really isn't that motivated and seems perfectly fine with leaving the product of 50 years accumulation to her kids to deal with. It's frustrating. She's even holding onto things of no value like empty food and laundry soap containers. That's why it's not good to stay in a big house long after the kids are gone. She has five empty bedrooms and two store rooms to hold all this clutter.