October 12, 2016

Eight Tips For Decluttering

A blog you will find listed on the right sidebar is Sightings Over Sixty. Tom Sightings writes well and often has a take on a subject that makes me think or chuckle. He also writes regularly for US News & World Report's web site

While on my 7 week RV trip, I asked Tom if he would write a guest post about decluttering, a perennially popular topic. Here are his thoughts.


Like many retirees, our household is downsizing. This summer we sold our house in the suburbs, and at the end of July we moved into a one-bedroom condominium.

Six months ago we had a basement full of old boxes and an attic full of memorabilia. We had overflowing kitchen cabinets, closets bulging with old clothes, bookcases bursting with books and tabletops littered with little trinkets and tchotchkes. But now everything has been packed away and hauled out the door. We moved one truckload of boxes and furniture into our condo, and another truckload was sent to storage -- to await the time when we settle down into a house or condo that is bigger than what we have now, but smaller than what we had before.

How did we do it? Honestly, last spring as we stood amidst our piles of possessions – not to mention a few piles belonging to our kids -- it seemed like an impossible task. But it happened. So here are eight tips from personal experience on how to declutter and prepare for downsizing in retirement.

1. Call the kids. The first thing we did was put our four kids on notice that we were moving, and we expected them to come and sort through their things, take what they wanted and dispose of the rest. One son had already moved 800 miles away and had taken most of what he wanted. We sent him photos of the rest. He told us what items to bring along when we met up with him in June for a family gathering. The rest we got rid of. We were lucky that another son had recently bought his own house. He came with a U-Haul and not only took all of his own stuff, but loaded up a couple of extra pieces of furniture into the back of the truck.

2. Donate to a rummage sale. Our church has a big rummage sale every April, and other groups hold fund-raising rummage sales as well. We donated two carloads of clothes and kitchen equipment. Plus, church volunteers came with a pickup and took away several bookcases, a TV case, a dining room sideboard and a few other pieces of furniture. Of course, you can hold your own tag sale and make a little money. But remember, it’s a lot of extra work when you may not have a lot of extra time.

3. Make trips to recycling. Our town recycling center accepts old electronics (so do electronics stores such as Best Buy), both paperback and hard back books, scrap metal, and paper of all kinds. I made at least a dozen trips to our recycling center. One other tip: Recycle with family and friends. Send out an email with a list of free stuff up for grabs – just make sure to keep track of who wants what, and when they can come and pick it up.

4. Shuttle to Goodwill. We have a Goodwill store near us; others have the Salvation Army, a shelter or community shop. They accept free donations of clothes, books, CDs, and small household items. My Goodwill does not accept rugs. We had three rugs that I had to cut up into strips and throw away.

5. Find your pickers store. There’s a second-hand store in the next town over from us. There’s probably one near you, too. I called the owner and made an appointment. Then I loaded up the back of our small SUV with tools, framed prints and a few knickknacks, drove over to the store, and the woman picked through my pieces, took what she wanted and gave me $140. I made a second trip a few weeks later, and she gave me another $60 for the lot.

6. Trash, trash and more trash. Some towns offer bulk pickup a few times a year. Our town does not. We have a limit of two full garbage cans, twice a week. So we didn’t miss a trick. We filled two garbage cans to the brim, twice a week, for six months straight. Plus, we snuck in a few extra items when we thought we could get away with it.

7. Call the junkman. There are people who will come and haul the last of your stuff away, for a fee. They advertise on community bulletin boards, or leave their business cards in local shops. I found a card at the second-hand store. Fortunately, using all the other methods, we never had to call the junkman. But it’s good to know he’s there, if and when you need him.

8. Have a heart-to-heart with your partner. None of this works if you are furiously disposing of things while your partner is agonizing about whether or not to throw away a Christmas card from 1985. Most relationships, it seems, consist of one hoarder who has piles of possessions and one simplifier who owns one coat, one book and one photo. To avoid working at cross purposes, you need to sit down and talk things out. The hoarder must realize that many things (old electronics, old sports equipment, and most old paper records) are either outdated and useless, or they can easily be replaced. The simplifier has to appreciate that some things have sentimental value and can’t be replaced, and if you get too enthusiastic about downsizing you might end up regretting what you’ve lost. So don’t be like our dysfunctional politicians. Respect your partner’s point of view; realize there are deep emotional issues imbedded in this whole process. And be ready to compromise. 



Thanks, Tom. Betty and I occasionally struggle with point #8. She keeps most everything; I don't keep enough. We are working on it, though. And the 250 square feet on an Rv helpw us focus on what is important.


30 comments:

  1. We take advantage of everything that Tom lists, except the pickers and the junkman. Since we have likely decided to stay in our house for the forseeable future, and travel months out of the year, much of our "stuff" to support the house will need to stay. I have had too many instances of throwing things out after years of non-use, only to have a need for it shortly after, or someone we know. Clothes, etc are being pared down, and things like furniture to populate a home can be donated easily if/when the time comes.

    We are lucky that living in our small area in TN we have such an amazing recycle center. Everything can be taken there - electronics, tires, oils (cooking and automotive), and for awhile they did every number of plastic (until the American rug makers, who were using plastic as high as #7 for their underlayment, moved overseas). Short of construction materials like cinder blocks, they will take it.

    Big house, two vehicles, two motorcycles, and four acres of lawn and gardens to maintain means we can only get rid of so much. But we are exercising as much restraint as possible and beginning to use up/get rid of as much as possible. Maybe we will have to full-time RV someday to finally get rid of most everything. Continued safe travels to you and Betty, Bob.

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    1. On our trip through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama we were amazed at the number of very large grass yards in front of many homes. I joked that the best way to make retirement money in those places was to run a lawn care business! Your 4 acres fits what we saw.

      Actually an RV doesn't mean you can cut down on total belongings. Much of what is in the motorhome is a duplicate of what is at home. For a long trip it is much easier that way, rather than try to remember everything that is needed and then cart it out of the house. But, while in the RV, the number of belongings is certainly kept low. Frankly, after 6 or 7 weeks I am really sick of the same T-shirts and jeans.

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  2. Of course as soon as we thought we "might" keep our vacation home, it sold! So the decision was made and now I have a truck of "stuff" in the driveway! We have had 2 houses for years. Now, I don't need two of everything.. from irons and vacuum cleaners to extra sets of dishes! We left quite a bit for the new owners, but we will still spend the week making up Goodwill piles and donating.It's a good feeling to "right size" and simplify.More time and energy for travels, and play!! Thanks for the post!

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    1. Yes, thanks, Tom, for your excellent thoughts (and giving me a 3 day break from post-writing!)

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  3. We live in a very small house already and have no plans to move once my husband retires. But over the last 5 years we have gotten rid of more than 50 % of our things. We strive towards minimalism. but the reason we were motivated, is that we don't want our 2 children to have to deal with stuff once we're gone. Since I do live with an incurable but treatable cancer, It's a motivator to live with less and enjoy that simplicity. We still are finding things to get rid of. This past haul too goodwill included lots of Christmas decorations I just don't want anymore. Honestly, I had 5 fake trees in different sizes and each actually was decorated in a theme. Ugh... all gone.

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    1. 5 artificial Christmas Trees? Actually, that might be exciting for my wife. She adores Christmas decorations. We went to a massive (think Walmart-sized) Christmas store in Gatlinburg. She showed great restraint in how much she bought. After all, there is only so much room in an RV.

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  4. We just went through the same thing 2 years ago. Our son left a set of snow tires in our basement when he moved to MD where they're illegal. He didn't want to get rid of them 'in case' you know. It was just a portion of what we weeded out over a few months when we condensed 2 homes into one. It difficult during the process but, so freeing when it's all said and done! Good luck on your moves.
    b

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    1. From what I understand, Tom has made great progress in his down-sizing. Still, kids do leave behind the strangest stuff.

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  5. Decluttering isn't a one time deal. Every year, I go through the house getting rid of things I don't use. I actually look forward to it. I keep going until my enthusiasm wanes. Next time, I start at the opposite direction. I moved last month and only had about 3bags of stuff to get rid of. Downside was everything in the house had to be packed.

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    1. That is an important, point, Jane. Decluttering is never really done. Things wear out, we stop using other stuff, we buy more.....clutter breeds in darkness and corners.

      I have always liked the idea of spending New Year's weekend tossing and decluttering. Too bad football often gets in the way.

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  6. If you have a freecycle group in your area, you can post items for people to take away. When we downsized, we posted a photo of the items we put on the curb to freecycle, left the house for an hour to run errands, and when we got back, the only thing left was a box of drop cloths that a friend ended up taking.

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    1. We have used Freecycle, too. It is the perfect way to allow others to use what you no longer want. It keeps stuff out of the landfill.

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  7. In our case, while not exactly hoarders, we are both collectors. Some of what we save is for sentimental reasons, some is because we haven't got around to sorting through it to toss it (e.g., boxes from the last move that have never been opened yet), but mostly we have lots of stuff because we have a lot of different hobbies and interests. For example, Rob designs and builds stereo speakers, repairs and rebuilds bicycles, collects films and music, and is a computer buff. I have heaps of books, 20 boxes of career related books and papers, and oil painting equipment and dozens of paintings I have done. We both have skis, bikes, gardening equipment, and outdoor gear.

    In our last move, we gave away furniture and linens to the women's shelter, and lots of furniture and equipment to a young couple that was setting up their first house. We threw a big good-bye party and every guest left with a houseplant. But we still have way too much stuff. So, great suggestions!
    Jude

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    1. I love what you did with the excess furniture, linens, and houseplants.

      Most decluttering folks would probably say if you haven't opened boxes from your last move you probably don't need what is in them!

      You two are busy with lots of passions. More power to you.

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    2. True, but the unopened boxes are behind and underneath the boxes of camping equipment, Christmas decorations, and computer parts...!

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  8. Bob, Many thanks for reposting my decluttering advice. I think Jane has the right attitude . . . would that we were all that disciplined and well-organized. Anyway, we've now downsized. And guess what. The clutter has already started to accumulate! Arghhh!

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    1. Thank you, Tom, for the offer of the reposting. This seems to be a subject that never grows old.

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  9. I am the simplifier in our household. My husband is the keeper of everything. So far we haven't been able to sit down and talk about getting rid of stuff because he is so terrified of getting rid of something he "may need some day" that he heads for the garage at just about my first word on the subject. One of these years!

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    1. Well, at least your place in Tucson is a little small for Art to move everything with him. But, the "I may need that sometime" is also a favorite expression of my wife, so I can certainly relate.

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  10. We did over two and half years of decluttering/downsizing before our move to Hawai'i. Probably the biggest thing I learned was that it is a process. The process will eventually end, but it helps to keep going back a couple of or a few months later and asking yourself if you still want to or need to keep something. I can count the number of times we were sure we couldn't live without something or had to keep it for whatever reason, and then three or six months later we discovered we could easily part with it. In the nearly two and half years since our move, we've come up with only two things we wished we had kept, but we're still managing fine without them. Otherwise nothing we got rid of has been missed. I could actually still live with less, but am happy with what we have for now.

    I think it's important to give yourself achievable goals for decluttering, maybe one or two things a month. Achievable is the key. Telling yourself you're going to clean out the whole garage or basement over the weekend will probably lead to frustration and not much of anything getting done, but getting one set of shelves cleaned off is doable, or one closet, and you'll have something to show for your efforts. "Plan your work, and then work your plan." Give yourself time. I love Jane's suggestion of walking through your house one way one month and getting rid of things, and then going back the other way the next month, and so on.

    The biggest motivator for us though was constantly asking ourselves, "Do we want to pay to move this to Hawai'i?" The answer was almost always "no!" Over our two years of downsizing we gave sentimental items to friends and family, had several yards sales (both personal and fundraisers), sold lots on Craigslist and eBay, donated furniture and kitchen items to an organization that helps people coming out of homelessness; took carloads to Goodwill, and threw stuff away (or shredded it). In the end we moved just the right amount of stuff (4,500#). Both my husband and I enjoy not having so much to care for these days; we've freed up a lot of time for other things we want to do and enjoy. I've always been the simplifier in our home while my husband was the King of the Packrats, but once he caught the decluttering bug he became a changed man. Our children were not as enthusiastic, but in the end they all did a very good job of paring down their stuff.

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    1. I would think that a move across a few thousand miles of ocean and having to put all one's belongings in a large container on a ship, is a major inducement!

      Your support of the small bites approach is a solid one. It took us several months to actually get a storage shed thinned out enough to organize things after our move, and that was just a 10 by 10 foot space!

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  11. Just yesterday Habitat for Humanity came and took away our '80s china cabinet. It didn't really fit into our latest home, but we had brought it with us anyway. About a month ago my wife had cleaned it out- we took about half of its contents to Goodwill and found homes for the other half in the house- and moved the cabinet to the garage. I tried to repurpose the thing by taking the hutch off and using it as a bookcase, but in the end we decided to just dispose of it. It hurt a little to see it go since it was one of the first things we bought after we married. It's gone, however, and like everything else we've gotten rid of, after a few days we won't miss it.
    The comment about leaving our children less to clean up after we're gone- my father in law just died, leaving my mother in law with a packed house of 68+ years of possessions. She borders on hoarding, so it's overwhelming to her. Even a piece of junk mail frustrates her- "What am I going to do?" is something she continually repeats. Frankly, with the exception of about 2 or 3 items, the rest can be trashed. We want to avoid this for our children.
    Jeff in OK

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    1. When my wife's dad died several years, she had to remove almost 30 large trash bags of his trash and saved junk mail before being able to actually see what was of value in the house. It is a very tough thing to leave for one's children.

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  12. Excellent post! I had planned on spending the day in declutter mode and now I'm even more enthusiastic about getting started. This came about after spending last weekend with a friend in CA and seeing her massive clutter, and then watching her bring in 5 or 6 bags of more stuff from her community yard sale. It was actually a little depressing but made me realize I have plenty of my own "stuff" that I need to take care of.

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    1. Flea markets and garage sales are nothing more than my junk being redistributed to your house!

      I am glad the post gave you some encouragement. Getting rid of unnecessary stuff is an ongoing challenge in our culture.

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  13. Great topic for reflection. My husband and I are moving from our current home of 25 years to a different home that is smaller and with less storage. We started about a year ago and began in 2 hours time frames rather than by rooms/location. Our children have surprised us; some things they wanted, some they took pictures of, and some they did a "pass" on. I have sold items on ebay, made regular trips to Goodwill, and just keep breaking the process or "project" down into smaller bites.

    Recently downloaded from the library the book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo and enjoyed reading her ideas and suggestions. It was a good reminder on what brings us joy.
    That's what I asked myself when deciding on items-does it bring me joy?

    Thanks for your great blog Bob, I read it faithfully-!

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    1. Thank you for your faithful readership! I read Ms. Kondo's book, too. Some of her ideas and philosophy are a little over the top for me, but reading the book does open your eyes to how much we invest in our stuff and how often it is just stuff, not something that brings us joy or comfort.

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  14. How do you let go of a lifetime of memories? My kids trophies, kid bikes, fancy dolls, etc.. Then there is my wife's old piano that she got from her grandmother. And her Mom's china cabinet. And my old stereo stuff that still works. And so forth. It is just a lot of stuff...

    Bill

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    1. I hear you, Bill. We have an entire closet full of photo albums...too many to digitalize. Over time they are fading. Our kids say they would only want one or two from each trip or event to remind them of that time, but my wife can't even consider tossing them. They will likely remain in our home until we are gone. Then, they will find their way to the junk pile.

      My wife has taken well over 70,000 digital photos since we stopped analog photos. Those can be stored on a few hard drives...not nearly the problem of old physical photographs.

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