With the aging baby boomer generation and life spans extended by advances in medicine and technology, America’s population has an ever-growing predominance of those over the age of 65. Plenty of older people are staying in the same homes they raised their families in, even when facing medical challenges that used to require a hospital or nursing home setting.
It may have been easy to navigate one’s home in younger years but aging in place requires an honest, practical evaluation of belongings and furnishings. Safety first should be the mantra of all homeowners. If there are ample trip factors in a space, we all stand the risk of tripping and falling but falls can be potentially very serious for seniors. They may need more space to manipulate canes or walkers, oftentimes have complicated medication dosing to stay on top of and may need to have more handrails or grab bars installed. Any way you look at it, less clutter is of benefit whether someone will adapt their home to age in place or eventually move to smaller accommodations.
Decluttering and downsizing can be a daunting project. Imagine trying to make decisions about years and years worth of holiday, Mother’s Day or birthday gifts, antiques, china and glassware, décor or ephemera that belonged to previous generations or how to divvy up parts of your estate to multiple children and grandchildren without hurting feelings or arguments.
Here are 10 tips towards simplifying your surroundings.
• One of the more overwhelming aspects of downsizing is deciding where to start. Assess possible trip factors like cluttered stairs, thick or loosely secured throw rugs, and all avenues of egress. It may mean you’ll need to start with entrances and exits in order to open up enough space for outgoing items like boxes of donations or furniture.
• Thinking about the overall project can easily overwhelm us, so it’s better to break things down into little, doable tasks such as keeping fewer shoes in an entryway or letting go of piles of magazines. Starting at the doorway or in a corner of a room and working from top to bottom, left to right can help you stay focused.
• Decision fatigue is a real thing! Trying to make decisions about multiple items over and over is mentally exhausting. Start with 15-30-minute work sessions and add on more time as tolerable. Be sure to build in breaks and stay hydrated. Decluttering can be hard but satisfying work!
• Enlist help from a non-judgmental, compassionate friend or relative to act as a clutter buddy. Teaming up not only lightens the burden of unsavory work but it can be valuable to have someone else act as the voice of reason.
• Set reasonable goals. Clutter takes time to accumulate and so it will take time to decimate. Unless there are lots of extra hands helping, it can be a slow process that can take weeks, months or even years. All the more reason to begin chipping away at excessive belongings sooner.
• Be prepared for family or friends to turn down your offers of china dishes, glassware, big, brown furniture, knick-knacks, books, steamer trunks, decorative collector plates, scrap books or your collection of thimbles. More and more, minimalism is becoming the norm and younger generations don’t want to be burdened by possessions especially those that don’t support their modern, travel-heavy lifestyle.
• It’s always a good idea to call ahead to whatever charity you are planning on bringing donations to. Nothing worse than loading up the car or truck with what you think are perfectly useable items only to be turned away because charities have had to change the criteria of what they can take. I spoke with an intake employee recently who said they’ve had to refuse china hutches because at one time, they had 12 that garnered very little interest.
• Use words like favorites, beloved, invaluable and terms like “can’t do without” to help discern what to keep. You may come across possessions that you haven’t seen for years and somehow you feel automatically reconnected. Were you able to get by all those years without that possession? Enjoy the serendipitous moment but don’t let a long-lost find derail your efforts.
• During your curating sessions you may find things to let go of but don’t want to lose the forever memories. Taking a picture is almost as good as keeping the item itself! You can even make a little photo book based on your downsizing efforts so you can re-visit the memory but lose the 3D inanimate object.
• By editing your belongings now, you are giving a gift to your inheritors who otherwise would be stuck with the burden of liquidating your estate. A lot of people, perhaps yourselves included, have experienced the onerous chore of figuring out how to empty a home while their loved one goes on to assisted living, a retirement community or has passed. I’ve seen family relationships deteriorate quickly as arguments of who gets what escalate. Adult children can often live miles away from their senior parents, in other states or even countries. They oftentimes end up taking time off from work and being away from their families in order to help their loved ones who are up against a deadline. Homes have sat silent for years while inheritors try to figure out how to disperse of its contents, meanwhile paying for utilities and property taxes. It’s sometimes called the “Boomer Burden”. The more proactive you are about downsizing sooner than later, the more time, money and aggravations are saved for you or your inheritors.