Maybe you need to do it out of necessity – you’re moving to a smaller home or a retirement community and your lifetime of accumulation simply isn’t going to fit. Maybe you just have a sense that it’s time – your trove of “stuff” has grown unwieldy and it’s starting to stress you (or your kids).
Either way, if your 2019 to-do list includes “getting organized” or "downsizing" the simplifying process doesn’t have to add to your stress. The end result – more ordered and peaceful surroundings – can actually have the opposite effect.
“For a lot of people, having to deal with 50 years of accumulation in their house – all that stuff – is stressful. Once they let go of some of those things, it alleviates some of that stress," says organization expert Pearl Studer.
"For some people, it can be a safety issue. They have a lot of clutter around the house that needs to be organized,” say Studer, owner of Caring Transitions, which specializes in helping older adults organize and downsize their material lives, often because they’re relocating to smaller spaces.
“We can go into the home and help people come up with a plan or strategy to help them get rid of some things,” Studer says. “If they’re in the process of moving, we can help them figure out what needs to go to donation, maybe we put some stuff online for sale.”
Along with decreased stress levels and reduced risks of injury, organization experts say lessening our loads can lead to greater mental clarity.
If you’re ready to launch your own simplifying process, Studer and her team share five tips to help you get going – as you prepare to let some of it go.
1. Come up with a plan and schedule time to sort and organize. Take an hour each day to focus on a particular task or area of the house, including attic, basement or kitchen cabinets. Knock out some easy tasks to build your momentum: trash expired canned goods and outdated spices; clear the counter of obsolete appliances; recycle old newspapers, catalogs and greeting cards.
2. Be honest and open-minded. Focus on keeping only those items you really need and really cherish. “A lot of times, when we do estate sales, we’ll go into somebody’s basement and they’ll have moving boxes that have never been unpacked since the last time they moved 10 or 20 years ago,” Studer says.
3. Ask for help sorting and packing – whether that means enlisting a professional service or your children. Studer says a lot of clients choose to get organized as a favor to those very same family members: “Maybe they had to do it for their parents, and that’s an eye-opening experience for people. It’s like, ‘I just did my mom’s estate; I need to clean out my own house so I don’t leave that for my kids.”
4. Get a professional opinion before you donate or sell items. “Sometimes we find that people give things away that could have been very valuable to sell,” Studer says.
5. Designate a securely locked space for important documents. Keeping relevant information, paperwork and records organized and readily available is a key to simplifying, the Caring Transitions team says. Additionally, be sure to designate well-labeled baskets or bins for mail.