Decluttering, Paring Down & Getting Rid of Stuff

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A&E’s “Hoarders” is a fascinating look inside the lives of people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis. It’s shocking and disturbing to watch but, truth be told, there’s a little hoarder deep inside each of us. Unfortunately, clutter is a growing problem today among all population. Just take a peek in your closets, drawers, under the beds, up in the attic, in your garage (or inside that suitcase you call a purse, ladies), and you’ll agree.

We love our stuff… and “Gramps” is no different, according to “GrampsCare™”. If Grandma and Grandpa have been in their home for 20 or 30 years (or 52 yrs. in my friend’s grandparents case), it will be nearly impossible to fit their stuff in a new space when it comes time to move in with a family member or retirement home. Sentimental grannies have a special memory attached to every item, so it’s extremely important to be sensitive when they transform into a Star Wars “Klingon” (a.k.a. Cling-on) when it comes time to pluck stuff from their death grasp. The more involved they are as you slim down, the better. Don’t run roughshod over them. Get approval on where things go. Recommend declutter options they’ll feel good about, like sharing furniture with a grandson who just moved into his first apartment or with a niece who recently married. Discuss donating items to a worthy cause, such as a favourite charity or church/synagogue. Showing them the limited amount of space in your home or at the assisted living facility can help too. As you pare down, continue to remind Granny & Gramps that things won’t fit into the small bedroom or closet.

Dr. April Benson, the founder of stopovershopping.com, says that “letting go reminds them that they are closer to the end of their lives and many older people want to hold on. Explaining that letting go does not always signal loss but can also mean making space for something [new and exciting], is a good way to ease anxiety.”

Care.com has some great decluttering ideas. If money is a motivator, have some fun together discovering the value of family heirlooms from local antique dealers. Mary Carlomagno, the owner of Order (which specializes in clutter control and shopping addictions) reminds us to be realistic. We think everything in mom and dad’s attic is worth a million bucks. Andy the Antique Dealer – not so much! It’s also important to be content with slow and steady progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your parents didn’t fill every square inch of their home (and that storage unit they pay for every month) overnight. It accumulated over many years, and it’s going to take some time to get things organized. The good news is that together you can declutter, pare down, and get rid of stuff. Slow and steady wins the race.

If things get a little, shall we say, heated during the declutter process with your parents – consider hiring a neutral professional. Sometimes we’re simply too close to the matter to be objective. I highly recommend that you give Kari at Peterson Organizing a call at 800-961-4086. if you’re in the Mountain View area. She was featured on Hoarders. She’s an excellent resource here in sunny California. Don’t forget to draw on your family for support. “Letting family members take a remembrance or keepsake is a great way to preserve the legacy, especially if the elder family member can see something valued and put to use.”

If you decide to do some decluttering of your own after you help mom and dad get organized, don’t listen to the evil clutter fairy when she tries to convince you that you’ll need something three weeks after you toss it. Just say no, and let ‘er go! If you can’t toss it for yourself, do it for your kid’s sake. Think ahead 30 or 40 years. Don’t force them to deal with your mess when they’re facing a crisis or grief. The Estate Lady has been helping people settle their estates for more than 20 years, so she knows a few things about people and their stuff. Her mantra is, “Don’t organize your junk – get rid of it!” She uses the three pile approach: Sell it, Donate it, or Discard it. Pile #3 requires brutal honesty. If you haven’t worn those brand new skinny jeans in 20 years ladies, odds are good you never will. Enjoy your stretch pants over a big piece of chocolate cake and let some other woman roll around on the floor in an attempt to zip them up! Speaking of up, the Estate Lady also recommends working a declutter plan that includes starting at the top, namely the attic. It’s usually the biggest disaster, so everything after that will be a breeze.

Consider clearing the clutter now to free up space for more important things – like spending quality time together with mom and dad, or Granny & Gramps. Whether you call it the “Family Jewels,” treasures, valuables, stuff, or just plain junk – we’ve all got too much of it. And an ounce of declutter brings a ton of relief!

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