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Wrest control away from the clutter

Boomers, listen up! If your parents live in the same house that you were reared in, you may be in for a rude awakening.

The day of reckoning comes when we are forced to clean out our parents' home, a situation I found myself in recently when I moved mom out of the seven-room home she'd lived in for 56 years, into a one-bedroom assisted living facility.

Don't know why we referred to it as mother's house: My father lived there, too, until his death in 1992.

Basically, mom didn't throw anything away. Not rusty safety pins, twist ties, inkless pens, buttons, stacks of church bulletins, canceled stamps.

Stuff was crammed in drawers, under beds, in cupboards, in closets, in the attic and garage.

What happened?

In conversation with other adult children, we found similarities in our parents' "Don't throw it out, you may need it someday" philosophy.

However, my mom carried it to extremes.

Some of the more bizarre finds: three sets of false teeth, second-grade report cards, broken earrings with no mates, power cords to unknown appliances, my father's records from a business dissolved 25 years earlier.

Mom seemed to have become a prisoner in her house — material things began to control her.

She had too many clothes in her closets, causing confusion and indecision. I rounded up her polyester slacks from various closets: 66 pairs.

When I stacked them in front of her, she said, "Those aren't all mine!"

Her closets and drawers were bulging with unironed clothes that no longer fit and girdles she probably hadn't worn in 30 years. The WWII-era clothes in the attic were not even suitable for use as rags.

How to cope: simplify

My philosophy is, if it doesn't bring joy, it's junk. If you don't need it, it's junk.

Junk keeps us living in the past. It resists organization, making us feel like failures, living an unmanageable lifestyle.

One trick to being clutter-free is to keep your stuff and your life on the same path headed in the same direction. Throw out old eight-track tapes, school sweaters and prom dresses.

Most importantly, simplify, simplify, simplify. I like to clip interesting articles but try to restrain myself by choosing those that are pertinent. I won't let these clippings fill three file folders.

I empty my in-box at the end of each week. When I open my closets and drawers my goal is to get dressed, not to get upset.

It's hard for me to think of books as clutter, but they can overwhelm my space if I don't weed them out.

It's futile to nag or preach to pack rats; you'll only irritate them. Like smokers, they'll transform only when they feel like it.

Plus, they've always got an excuse, and if they are close relatives it might be: "Some day all this will be yours."

We all know at least one person who has collected years of National Geographic magazines, organized by date. Who wants them?

Do we really want our father's stamp collection or Aunt Martha's silver tea set?

A surprisingly small percentage of our stuff is irreplaceable. Make a list of what you can't possibly replace; you'll be amazed at how short it is. I wish Mom had taken photos of Granny's sewing machine and gold-rimmed china and framed them, to remember her mother that way — instead of keeping but not using either.

For when we try to hold on to everything, we have control over nothing. I'm convinced this was the reason Mom resisted the move to a retirement center; she couldn't face doing something with all that stuff.

But an uncluttered life leads to greater effectiveness, productivity and spontaneity. Mom has more energy and appears more vibrant now that she is not weighted down with 56 years of accumulated stuff.

Clutter is visual noise. After a while it becomes a loud clamor. Unclutter your life, and see if you can prod your parents into doing the same.

Lil Cromer keeps the closets and in-box clean in her home in Belleair.

Wrest control away from the clutter 04/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 4:57pm]
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