Decluttering Our Later Lives

Amara Rose June 13, 2017 6

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In a humorous Ziggy cartoon, a man and his dog dig for buried treasure, the man dreaming of gold, and the dog, of course, dreaming of “dog gold”: a chest full of bones. Each uncovers the other’s yearning and, disappointed, re-buries the “treasure”.

downsizingOne man’s (or dog’s) junk is another’s treasure, indeed. And downsizing into a smaller home, perhaps with a HECM for Purchase, is an ideal opportunity for an individual or couple to share the wealth, by relieving themselves of possessions that weigh them down. If a senior has clothes, furniture, appliances, sports equipment, or any number of items they haven’t used in years and know they’re unlikely to use again, it might be a great idea to hold a garage sale, or donate the items to charity, and lighten their load.

One experienced loan officer who has watched many reverse mortgage clients right-size and eliminate clutter says, “When you skinny down, you relieve stress — and find it much easier to maintain your house. The IRS may also give you a tax write-off on donations.”

Simplifying at the time of relocation is a great way for seniors to skip procrastinating about all the clutter, and make the move easier and more enjoyable. But for some, simplifying may not be that simple.

Keeping It Clear Is An Ongoing Commitment

A new magazine from the publishers of Better Homes and Gardens, The Magnolia Journal, offers inspiration for life and home. It features HGTV “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines from Waco, Texas, who remodel older homes with a “wow” factor that’s entertaining as well as practical. And they know a few things about decluttering.

In the inaugural issue of the magazine, Joanna writes about “The Complexity of Living A Simple Life,” noting with humor that while she likes a clean, orderly house, sometimes she can’t open the drawers in her living room hutch because they “are so jam-packed with ‘necessities’ that I can’t get to any of them. If this isn’t irony, I’m not sure what is.” She admits the same is true of her jewelry drawer and closet.

Paring down takes commitment, and it’s not a one-time event: clutter is insidious, and can creep back into a senior’s new home as easily as failing to discard daily junk mail or buying extras when you shop because Costco makes it easy to stock up on essential household goods.

Just as someone who enjoys gardening will regularly prune the yard to keep the flowers looking their best, pruning our lives is an ongoing process — one that may be challenging for an older person if they’ve accumulated a lifetime of “stuff” that feels overwhelming to sort through. Professional organizers can help a senior declutter for a fee, and unpaid assistants may be just as effective (they’re known as children and grandkids).

If you know an elder who’d like to downsize, declutter and simplify, suggest it as a positive pre-relocation step. There’ll be less to pack, move, and unpack — and more breathing room in their new lives without extra baggage that they no longer need.

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What are your thoughts on seniors decluttering? Please leave your input in the Comments section below, and share this post on social media using the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn icons at the top of this page. Thank you!

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  1. mike posta June 13, 2017 at 6:25 am - Reply

    Amara- Thanks for your note! We are right in the middle of the “pruning”. We have a 4,300 sq ft home that used to be home to my wife, myself, three children, two parents, a brother and a golden retriever. The children are grown and successful, the parents and brother passed away, along with our trusted golden.
    We are down sizing to a home half the size with new gadgets and thing-a-ma-bobs. We see the finish line, but painters and carpet and fix-ups are all draining. The promise of the new life is exciting, but just getting rid of the toys from the old are daunting. Our blood pressure has jumped nearly 20 points a piece.
    We are trying the “eating an elephant” method- one bite at a time, but some days you just don’t know if progress is being made. But we do move forward, even imperceptibly!
    So, thanks for your article! It provides some much needed encouragement.

    • Amara Rose June 13, 2017 at 12:12 pm - Reply


      Thanks for sharing your decluttering/downsizing adventure! It sounds like you may want to avail yourselves of those “unpaid assistants” ~ the successful children who are agile, able, and no doubt will be happy to take the toys off your hands for their own kids (present or future).

      I’m glad this post serves to support your evolving journey. You and your wife will be so pleased with the new, more manageable space and just the possessions that fit your current lifestyle.

      All the best ~

  2. Dick Diamond June 13, 2017 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    This is an important message to so many couples regardless of age, and there are some hidden benefits as well.
I recently helped a family friend who lost her husband to illness this year. She had a garage full of “man” stuff that she would never use. We sorted through it in about 2 hours, and she now has the assortment of household tools she may eventually use. 

    The difference in how she felt afterwards was so rewarding. I think it also helped her with the grief issues.

    It must be very hard for a grieving spouse to go through and get rid of their mate’s personal belongings. We all want to hang onto the smells and feeling as long as we can. It just takes some time to get to that point of emptying out the dresser drawers and closets. I only know from losing my parents.

    One thing my sister and I agreed upon was that friends had given our folks some gifts they treasured, and we decided to see if the giver might like to have them back now. Our parents enjoyed them in life and appreciated the thoughts behind the gifts and would have approved this decision. Then other family members could select anything they wanted. The rest went to various organizations. Any vintage clothing went to the Little Theatre for future stage costumes.

    Great article, Amara.

    • Amara Rose June 13, 2017 at 2:56 pm - Reply

      Hi Dick,

      Thanks for this wonderful information! The idea of returning the gift to the giver once a dear friend or relative has passed on, to keep as a memento, is brilliant! So thoughtful. And donating what family members do not want to various charitable organizations makes the most sense. You’ve outlined a way to de-clutter while enriching the lives of many other people in the process.

      • Dick Diamond June 13, 2017 at 4:11 pm - Reply

        My Dad mentored a young artist in Memphis, and he developed a nice career. He had given my folks an oil painting he created early on, and they displayed in in their home and enjoyed it for many years. So when they were both gone, the painting was really worth something and the not-so-young artist was almost overcome that we were willing to give it back to him. It was the only fair thing to do. Friendship is always worth more than money.

        • Amara Rose June 14, 2017 at 9:08 am - Reply

          Thanks for sharing this example, Dick! Such a beautiful story demonstrating how sharing just keeps expanding the love ~ the only “possession” that grows and comes back to you when you give it away, yet is never a source of clutter!

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