As adults, we tend to have a lot of stuff. And as seniors, we tend to have even more stuff — our stuff, our children’s stuff, sometimes even our grandchildren’s stuff.
If you’re getting the urge to do a little spring cleaning, there can be a lot of challenges when it comes to tidying up in and around all those material possessions. Fortunately, there are people out there who have some very practical and helpful suggestions.
Spring cleaning, experts say, can involve a lot more than just dusting and straightening. It’s an opportunity to reduce the clutter — to declutter — and in the process improve your home environment.
The way to do that, newspaper columnist Marni Jameson suggests, is to create a strategy. Tackle one area at a time: the garage, the linen closet, the bedroom closet. "Pull everything out," she said. Then dust the shelves and surfaces and put items back in layers onto "clean, fresh spaces."
The key, she emphasized, is to put back "only what you love."
"If you don’t need it, use it or love it, let it go," she said.
For Jameson, whose weekly helpful hints and humor column appears in 25 newspapers around the country, including the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, spring cleaning, decluttering and downsizing go hand in hand in hand.
If you want to have less stuff in your home, "spring cleaning is the time to get a jump on it," she said.
Jameson, who is in her "late 50s" and lives in Winter Park, doesn’t pretend it’s easy to let go of long-held possessions. "I have to talk myself off the ledge every time," she said of her spring cleaning and decluttering sessions. "If something is in great condition but you don’t use it, give it to someone who will, give it to Goodwill or put it on Craigslist. Try to cut the bulk down."
Part of the decluttering and downsizing challenge, Jameson said, is that we are emotionally attached to some possessions — the high school yearbook, Christmas cards from the 1970s, old maternity clothes — and it’s hard to let go.
But she cautioned that we have to live in the present.
"Move on," she said. "Holding on to everything that is part of every precious thing that ever meant something to you, you miss the present. Focus on who you are and who you are becoming."
Jameson has even written the book on how to get started, or rather two, both done in conjunction with AARP: Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go (2016) and the new Downsizing the Family Home: A Workbook, designed to help readers plan, organize and, yes, let go. (She also has authored three other books.)
Have you been saving stuff for the kids or grandkids? You may want to rethink this, Jameson said.
"They may not want it," she said. "Kids want their own stuff. Do a favor to your kids. Don’t leave them a burden."
If downsizing involves a move into a new living space, either a smaller home or an adult retirement community, there may be additional things to consider.
Make a very detailed list of what needs to be done, advises Amy Waugh, owner of Redefined Living in Belleair. You should have "a physical piece of paper as a reminder," and not just a mental list, she said.
If you’re simply decluttering, start with the most cluttered room first, Waugh said. "Set a realistic time frame to finish up." A garage might take a week or two, for example.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help, either, she said. Get friends or family members to pitch in. If you’re downsizing ahead of a move, "have specific piles assigned: keeping, donating, giving to family, what you’re taking."
In general, Waugh, 41, recommends decluttering two times a year — "when the time changes."
She also advises that people follow the Three Check Rule. Check the smoke alarm batteries, check your stuff to see if there’s anything you can donate or give away and "check your medicine cabinet. Dispose of any outdated medicines."
Decluttering "is a marathon," Waugh said. "It’s not a sprint. Set time frames that are realistic (for decluttering). Don’t try to do too much too fast."
By decluttering twice a year, you’ll be better prepared for a potential future move to a smaller living space.
What if there is simply too much clutter? What if the home reflects a lifetime of collecting? What if it’s overwhelming? Then the living environment may be edging into something more dramatic: hoarding.
"Collecting brings you happiness," said Matt Paxton, host of the A&E series Hoarding. "Hoarding starts to bring you harm. You’re losing your friends. You’re losing your money."
Viewers of the reality TV show have seen the signs: yards full of car parts, homes so full of newspapers they’re a fire hazard to you and your neighbors.
"If you can display everything you have and people can come over and see it and it brings you happiness," no problem, he said. "If you’re paying for storage, that’s hoarding."
Paxton, 53, is a big fan of decluttering.
"Give it away now," he said, but not necessarily to the grandchildren. "For grandparents, focus on time, not stuff. Grandkids want time with their grandparents."
You can also sell stuff you don’t want "and get the money. You don’t have to feel bad for selling your stuff," Paxton said. "And enjoy the money."
Contact Fred W. Wright Jr. at [email protected]