Do you feel suffocated by stuff? When you open a drawer or cabinet, do you experience an anxious feeling you can't quite explain? Do you ever come across a chipped glass or a sweater with a hole in it and wonder "Why do I still have this?" If so, you're not alone.
Multiple studies have found that Americans are drowning in their possessions. A study by the University of California at Los Angeles found middle-class families with garages full to bursting, sprawling toy and book collections and refrigerators cluttered with magnets. The U.S. Department of Energy reported that 25 percent of people with two-car garages didn't have space to park a car, and a report by the National Association of Professional Organizers found we'll spend an average of one year of our lives looking for lost possessions due to clutter.
As you age, clutter can become even more of a problem, causing tripping hazards, stress and exacerbating memory loss issues. Whether you're planning to move to an assisted living community and want to downsize, or are thinking of the future and don't want to put your family through the added grief of poring through your possessions after your death, now is the time to declutter. What's more, you may find yourself feeling free and cleansed. Here are a few tips on how to declutter for good:
Choose a method
You may find yourself feeling free and cleansed when you declutter.
Decluttering has become highly popular over the last few years, which means you have plenty of methods to choose from. One of the most popular methods comes from the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a bestseller that encourages readers to tackle clutter all at once. The author advises setting aside full days or large sets of time to declutter for good. The core of the method is to only keep items that "spark joy" when you hold them and to part with the rest, as well as to declutter by category – clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous and mementos – rather than by room.
This method will certainly yield the most dramatic results in the shortest amount of time, but if you don't have the energy level to undertake a tidying marathon for days at a time, you can try a more gradual approach. If this sounds like you, you can try the 40 Bags in 40 Days approach. Set aside some time each day to rid yourself of one garbage bag of trash, clutter, clothes you haven't worn in years, etc. This may sound daunting, but the average household is so full that you may be surprised how easily you can fill a trash bag.
Or you can set aside a chunk of time to begin – one hour, three hours or 30 minutes if you can't do more – and start with your closet or office.
Ask for help
If you have mobility issues or just need some emotional support, don't be afraid to ask. Don't be shy about enlisting help from your children – chances are they would rather help you declutter and sort through your possessions now, with your input, rather than after you pass. Or you can invite over a friend, or another person who lives in your assisted living community, to come sit with you while you undertake decluttering. You can hand them items to sort into keep, donate and trash piles. Turn on some music to make it more enjoyable.
Part ways with mementos
This is often a tough one, so don't start with mementos. Instead, when you come across keepsakes that spark joyful memories or a pang of sadness as you recall something or someone from your past, put them aside in a box or bag to be sorted later. Once you've gone through all of your other, less sentimental items – clothing, old receipts, the clutter in your kitchen cabinets – then you can get to the more difficult items.
When you're having trouble letting go of a memento, ask yourself whether it brings you happiness. If so, keep it. You may be surprised by how many items you have that do the opposite, and instead evoke feelings of anxiety, guilt or sadness. Resist the temptation to keep these around.
Why do you want to be reminded of a relationship that went sour or a book you're ashamed you never finished? You don't have to rid yourself of all mementos – instead, surround yourself with your favorite ones that remind you of the happy times.
Donate items ASAP
Get rid of the clutter by getting these items out of the house as soon as possible. Once you've filed a bag or box with items to be donated, put them in your car and drive them to the donation center as soon as you can. You can also look for charities to pick up your donations from your home. Then enjoy the freeing feeling you'll get once you've parted ways with unnecessary clutter.