“We can keep the memories and get rid of the stuff,” says Linda Hetzer, co-author of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family, written with Janet Hulstrand. Julie Morgenstern, author of Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life, says retirement is the perfect time to declutter.
Some retirees say cleaning out their homes is a gift to their children or other family members. Morgenstern says that it is important to have items that are of value, either monetarily or sentimentally, easily accessible to your kids or family members. In addition, your retirement years will be better if you are not consumed by items that are obsolete or no longer have relevance in your life.
Havas Worldwide conducted a survey of 10,574 adults ages 16 and up in 29 nations. The findings reveal that half of people around the world could live happily without most of the items they own. Two-thirds say they make it a point to get rid of unneeded possessions at least once per year.
Hetzer and Morgenstern share the following tips for retirees to tackle their clutter:
- Take your time. Hetzer says that because it is a huge task for most people, you might feel stressed and get rid of things you wish you kept.
- Decide what is most valuable to you. Ask yourself what you would miss the most if someone magically cleared your clutter. It might be sentimental items or homemade cards but not Internet printouts.
- Make a plan. Morgenstern says to decide where everything is going to go after it’s sorted. Label bags and boxes so you are not sorting twice. For donated items, arrange to have them picked up or drop them off within a specified time frame. If documents need shredding, plan on a service to use if you do not own a shredder.
- Clean out by category. Sort by categories of items instead of by room, Morgenstern says. For example, sort magazines, receipts, and old tax returns separately. Divide clothes into casual and business and work from there.
- Divide and conquer. Break down large tasks into smaller ones, such as tackle one shelf at a time in your kitchen cabinet, or one dresser drawer at a time. You will feel a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to keep moving forward.
- Make a guideline for difficult decisions. Morgenstern advises that when you can’t decide whether to keep something or not, ask yourself what is worth more to you: the object or the space and energy it will make for the next chapter of your life? If it is a sentimental item, ask yourself: is this the best representation you have of a person you love or a time of your life? Keep in mind that getting rid of objects does not mean getting rid of the memory.
- Make family heirlooms and sentimental items. It might be comforting to give away family heirlooms or items such as china, wedding gifts and other treasures to children and other family members as gifts. One retired woman who did this wished she had done this sooner.
- Anticipate a slow start and second thoughts. Morgenstern says that the process may go slow for the first 90 minutes but then the momentum usually picks up. On the flip side, once you are at the end, be prepared for the amount of empty space. Always keep in mind that the space will be filled with experiences or objects more relevant to this chapter of your life.
- Time to mourn. In giving away belongings, Hetzer says it is helpful to separate the memories from the objects. It might be useful to talk about the objects with other people which can make the items easier to let go.
- Check everywhere. Leave no stone unturned. It is important to look through your entire house, all rooms, furniture and through your possessions. Hetzer knows of one man who found $1,200 in the bottom of a shopping bag at his mother-in-law’s house.
If the job is too big to tackle on your own, consider hiring a professional organizer who can assist you with the process and share insight to help you get your home ready to live your best life in retirement. If you have questions about being able to discard or keep specific documents, please contact a financial advisor or accountant. The advisors at Financial Voyages are happy to assist you in retirement as well. Please call our office at 215-256-7845 to schedule a complimentary appointment.
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Hellmich, Nanci, “Retirement: 10 Tips to Clearing the Clutter,“ USA Today, May 13, 2014.