Downsizing and Real Estate

1/31/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

Writer Terri L. Jones saw the value of decluttering for seniors as her mother gradually whittled down her beloved possessions. Jones shares her experience and tips with Seniors Guide readers.

When we were opening our gifts this Christmas, my 82-year-old mother informed us that we’d all be getting a few pieces of the shot glass collection that she’d been amassing for years. She chose each of our glasses with a special meaning in mind. I received a Coke shot glass from a girls’ trip to Atlanta that she, my sister, and I took 15 or more years ago. My husband was gifted a shot glass from Maui because Mom knows how much he loves Hawaii. My sister received a glass from the Outer Banks, where our family has a timeshare. You get the idea!

Mom started this process years ago when she gave me and my sister boxes of baby books, report cards, and school papers, letters we’d sent her, magazines with articles I’d written, and piles of old black-and-white photos of the younger versions of ourselves (how many photos can you take of a baby lying in a crib anyway?!). My mother-in-law is also gradually cleaning out closets for a near-future move to a continuing care community. My stepmom, with the help of a friend, has cleared out a truckload of my dad’s fishing and hunting paraphernalia from their garage, and she gives me lamps and furniture and stuff out of her kitchen cabinets every chance she gets.

Thinning out before you check out

This process of going through one’s possessions and disposing of the things you don’t need anymore actually has a name: döstädning. It’s a Swedish word that essentially means “death cleaning.” It doesn’t mean you’re going to die anytime soon. In fact, according to Margareta Magnusson, the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, people should actually start whittling down their possessions as soon as they’re old enough to think about their own mortality.

“Don’t collect things you don’t want,” Magnusson said in Time magazine. “One day when you’re not around anymore, your family would have to take care of all that stuff, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

The how of decluttering for seniors

Organizing expert Marie Kondo says to keep what you love and trash, recycle, or donate the rest.

Another option is giving things to family members and friends like my mom is doing. Be aware that your kids and grandkids might not want your castoffs, and don’t take it personally. That porcelain vase might have great sentimental value, but not everyone needs objects to hold sentiments. A younger generation might not have an affinity for collections of souvenir spoons, Matchbox cars, or Hummel figurines (and if they sell such collectibles, they might not realize their actual value!). If you have possessions that are truly worthwhile, turn them into cash instead.

Related: 6 tips in decluttering for seniors to part with sentimental items

You can try to make some bucks on some of your discarded possessions, too. Facebook Marketplace gives you a platform to easily market those items at no cost to you, whereas local consignment stores and eBay will take a cut of your sale price. Facebook also offers local Buy Nothing groups, where you can offer up your castoffs to people in your area for free. It’s really rewarding to give something you no longer use to someone who needs it and is excited to give it a new home!

The why of decluttering for seniors

Decluttering and downsizing is not for the faint of heart. It’s a herculean task, so most folks generally need a reason for undertaking it.

Moving, especially to a smaller place with less storage, is one of the best incentives for downsizing. As you pack up, ask yourself if you need it. If you have a box that you haven’t opened in five years, you can probably get rid of it. Same goes for clothes you haven’t worn, makeup you haven’t used, and kitchen appliances from the last century.

But if you’re staying in your home, you’ll find clearing out the clutter will also clear your mind. Sort through those packed closets and feel a sense of accomplishment when you can see the floor again. Clean off those tables and bookshelves and save time with dusting. Attack the years of accumulation in your garage and start parking your car in there again.

If none of that incentivizes you, think of your family. You want to pass down family heirlooms, recipes and treasured memories, not headaches!

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Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over 10 years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones