It’s that time of year again, when people start talking about getting rid of clutter, deep cleaning their home or making a change in their life. This year in particular, spring cleaning has gripped the nation in its rubber gloved, Pine Sol-smelling hand, with the rising popularity of Marie Kondo’s cleaning and minimalist living show dominating Netflix. But sometimes, getting rid of the clutter is easier said than done. Maybe you have a lot of things in your home and just don’t know where to start. Or maybe the things you have collected over the years have sentimental value you just aren’t willing to let go of. Getting rid of clutter doesn’t have to be a chore, nor does it have to mean choosing memories over clean living. Instead, use this year’s spring cleaning as a time to start organizing your home and your life in a way that makes your golden years easier and purposeful.
If your home is a menagerie of wonderful things you’ve collected over the years or just a bit messy, decluttering your home can open pathways, get rid of havens for harmful allergens and allow more light into the space. It can also help if you are planning to downsize at some point down the road to start getting rid of things early, rather than throwing everything out in one go. Here are a few tips and tricks to try when tackling the clutter.
Start with the messiest room: You may think it is going to be easier starting small and working your way up, but starting in the most challenging room when you have the most energy will keep you going for the entire rest of the clean up. Once you’ve tackled the biggest hurdle and come out victorious, the rest will seem like a walk in the park.
Take small steps: This may seem like a contradiction to the last point, but taking smaller steps keeps the project from becoming overwhelming. Especially for larger homes, focusing on one task at a time will make the clean up less stressful. Organizing your time is as much a part of organizing your home as the actual clean up. Aim to clean up one corner at a time for larger room.
Use the four-box method: This method is the fairly typical solution to downsizing and decluttering. The basic premise is you have four boxes to place each thing you own into: keep, trash, donate, and store. Keep the things that are of practical use to you, throw away anything broken or any trash, donate the things you don’t want anymore but still can be useful and store the things that you don’t at the moment have a practical use for. We will touch back on the storage portion of this method later.
Ask yourself, what would you replace first if you lost everything: Deciding what is of practical use can be very difficult, especially when you may have a lot of sentimental belongings. So, instead ask yourself, if your home burned down to the ground tomorrow but you could buy back everything you lost, what items would you buy first? Those are your keep items. As your list gets longer, those items become store items, donate, then trash.
In practice, decluttering can help you open up your home or prepare for downsizing if you are moving out of a large, empty house to a smaller, more practical one. However, deciding what to get rid of can be extremely stressful, especially if you have many items in your home that are of sentimental value to you. Sure, you would say that the drawing your three-year-old daughter who is now 40 is awful, but it brings back memories of that little girl. To you, it’s not trash, it has a value more intimate than many of the other items in your home. However, you really don’t need that old lion statuette your friend gave you 30 years ago, even if he has now passed and you think of him every time you look at it. It may be time to part with it, but there are ways of keeping the memories these items are associated with in your mind.
Online scrapbooking: Sure, you can do normal scrapbooking, but soon, storing and keeping track of all those scrapbooks can become bothersome. Instead, there are easy websites and programs that allow you to upload photos and keep the memories of some of the special moments in your life. Ask for help in connecting your computer to a television and make a slideshow to have on in the background or at family reunions so you can reminisce together.
Make a memory box: One of the oldest and best ways of keeping sentimental things is a memory box. Keeping a single box of good size doesn’t take up that much room, and if you fill it with small trinkets and photos, you’ll be able to keep those memories for a long time. The lion statuette might not fit in the box, but take a photo of it, and allow yourself to donate it without losing any of the feelings you had with it.
Pass it on: For some special items, they may not just be important to you. Family heirlooms are still a practice going on today, but it doesn’t just have to be family. Know of a neighbor or family member that really liked that big, old vase? Pass it on so they can enjoy the item as much as you have.
Get creative: Sometimes instead of getting rid of the things that don’t have a practical purpose, you can make something practical from those items. Sometimes, you just have to roll up your sleeves and think outside the box. Have a bunch of children’s projects and drawings you really can’t part with? Have them made into a quilt. Have far too many photos to fit into a memory box and not comfortable with the computer? There are services that allow photos to be printed onto tiles, floor boards, any number of things. By making something out of them, you can use them every day and remember all the good memories associated with them.
Maybe you are thinking sure, my home is messy, but I like it a little messy and I don’t think there’s any need for me to do these things. Sounds like too much work, especially when I should be spending these years enjoying the rest of my life. Decluttering your home now can actually help make those years just as wonderful as you deserve them to be. It’ll put you in a better position for when moving around gets difficult, or if you or your spouse are beginning to have memory problems. And, if you are convinced about jumping head first into the decluttering fad, here are some things to keep in mind during the process.
Make an inventory: As you are going through your home, make a note of what items you are going to be keeping. This can be useful if you ever have home damage due to fire, natural disasters or burglary, as you will have a record of your possessions. However, it can also be useful for divvying up your possessions in your will. Keeping track will makes things easier to remember what all you have to pass on to your family.
Stop losing items: If you or your loved one is suffering from memory problems, keeping track of items may be difficult. By getting rid of excess items, you make it easier to find the things you use on a regular basis and by keeping something in the same spot, it’ll make it easier to find later on.
Downsizing: There may come a time when you decide your home is just too big for you. Whether you need to move due to mobility issues or because there’s too much room for what you need to live, downsizing when you have already decluttered your home makes the process less stressful. Moving is never easy, but not having to deal with excess will take a bit of the burden off your shoulders.
Improve your home’s mobility: Many seniors begin to have mobility issues as they grow older. Having a clean home can make it safer for you to get up and around, as you will have less tripping hazards in your way, and it also clears the way for mobility improvements to be made on your home. Ramps, handrails and bathroom accommodations are all easier to install when you don’t have as much stuff laying around.
Have a healthy environment: Along with everything else, keeping your home clean can help prolong your life. Allergens tends to hide in unused items, plus it’s harder to keep a space clean of dust, dirt and germs if there are more things to clean. Bringing your possessions to the essentials will help keep your home a safe, clean environment.
Now, you’re all set to start your cleaning adventure. You might be dreading it, and no one would blame you, but once it’s over, you’ll be left with a beautiful, clean space to continue living your best years. Without the worry of all the clutter getting in your way and while preserving the memories most important to you, decluttering can make your home the haven it’s supposed to be.
Council on Aging of West Florida is compliant with the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability. Learn more at www.bbb.org.