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Lightening the Load: How Seniors Can Start Getting Rid of Their Stuff

“Mom, can I use your silver set for my party?”
“Yes, it’s in the buffet, or maybe the cabinet above the refrigerator. Oh, I’m not sure where it is. I haven’t used it in years ...”
“Gramps, can I borrow your hedge trimmer?”
“Sure, if you can find it. It’s in the garage or the shed, I think ...”

You’ve lived in your house since marrying. You’ve raised your kids there and welcomed grandchildren, and it’s been a gathering place for the entire family. Over the years, you’ve collected a lot of stuff.

If you’ve had conversations like those above with your family members, you might be starting to think about what you are going to do with all of the things you’ve accumulated over your lifetime. Maybe you are considering downsizing, or maybe you’re planning on living in your current home forever. Whatever your plans, if you are starting to think about what to do with some of your belongings, it may be time to sort it out. But where do you start?

Make a Plan When You Start to Downsize

The thought of getting rid of some of your possessions can be daunting. A good place to start, according to Senior Living, is to make a plan. And, a good plan always starts with goals. For example, take one room at a time and make four or five piles based on what you want to do with the items placed there. Good categories are:

  1. Keep
  2. Give away
  3. Donate
  4. Sell
  5. Toss

Make decisions as you go. And, although creating a “maybe” pile is tempting, it’s not a good idea. It’s too easy to procrastinate by hanging on to sentimental items that you no longer need, or that family and friends won’t want.

Questions To Consider When Decluttering Your Home

As you move through each room, consider which items are useful or essential. Of course, you’ll also want to be certain your family receives things of value or that hold memories, like fine jewelry or the family bible. You can start in each room by taking an inventory first. As you go, consider these questions:

  • Do you have multiples of things? For example, is your linen closet harboring four or five sets of sheets? You may just need a couple of sets. Are there three ice cream scoops in your kitchen drawer? The donate pile will have two scoops, please.
  • Is your buffet a treasure chest? Who in your family would like your grandmother’s 12-piece china set?
  • What about that plastic tub full of old family photos? A fun way to sort pictures is to hold a “picture party” with family. Give each person a box to hold their favorite photos they’ve chosen from your stash.
  • Is there clothing hiding in the back of your closets or the bottom of drawers that you’ve forgotten about? Select articles to donate to a local charity. Many charities will pick up your things. You may also consider taking items to a consignment shop. Not only may someone buy them, but recycling clothing is also good for the environment.
  • What have you hidden away in your spare bedroom’s chest of drawers or bedside tables? Chances are, you’ve tossed items there over the years that you didn’t know what to do with or couldn’t throw away at the time, such as birthday cards, thank-you notes, etc.
  • What’s in your garage or storage shed that you don’t need or use any longer? It’s probably been several years since you’ve done your own lawn work. Could these items now go to the younger members of your extended family who are just starting out on their own?
  • How much stuff have you put in the attic over the years? You might have many of your children’s things there such as your son’s letter jacket, your daughter’s first pair of shoes, or a collection of their toys. Buy a plastic bin for each child to fill up as you sort through their childhood memories. It will be a nice surprise the next time they visit.
  • Where are your important documents such as insurance papers, financial statements, and bank information? They all should be put in one place. Identify one drawer or file cabinet to hold them, or look into getting a safe deposit box.
  • What about your fine jewelry and other valuables? Take stock of them and think about which pieces your children or grandchildren have admired over the years. Make a list with your suggested recipients and put it with your important documents.

Living Easier and Safer at Home

If you plan on aging in your current home, getting rid of unneeded stuff is not only a good thing, but it can also make your home safer and easier to take care of. Right at Home offers an Aging-in-Place Guide to help you. Or, if you’re planning to relocate to a smaller home, check out Senior Living for helpful suggestions.

Decluttering your home is a stressful and emotional process, but it’s also rewarding. The results will be satisfying for you and appreciated by your family. And, you’ll feel relief knowing that the things you truly treasure have been taken care of.

Ask for Assistance When You're Planning

If this task is just too overwhelming, one option is to hire a professional organizer. They truly are professionals and usually have tricks that can save a lot of time. They also will help keep you focused and on track—another benefit. You’ll typically pay hourly for this service, but some professional organizers offer packages for an attic or garage, for example.

A moving company can also be helpful if you are downsizing to a smaller home. Be cautious, however. AARP offers valuable tips for selecting a reputable company. You can also search for a senior move manager through the National Association of Specialty & Senior Move Managers.

If your mobility has declined or some of the projects are overwhelming to do on your own, ask your family to help. This can be a great opportunity to reminisce with your loved ones and tell the stories that always bring fond memories.

Right at Home Can Help

Right at Home offers comprehensive in-home care for seniors as they age, including light housekeeping, meal preparation, and assistance with hygiene and mobility. Most of all, Right at Home believes aging isn’t just about staying healthy, safe and independent. It’s also about living well. We believe that no one should have to face the long list of complex decisions and unforeseen changes alone. We are experts, providing not just care, but helping to navigate every step of the aging journey. Find a Right at Home location near you to schedule a free in-home consultation.

Marsha Johns, blog author

Marsha Johns is a veteran health care marketer and award-winning writer. She strives to make medical topics understandable and relatable for all readers.

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