By Peter G. Tamburro, Boomerang staff writer
Americans have been supersizing their homes and contents over the last 40 years. Now, as homeowners are growing older, they are reprioritizing their lifestyles and reducing some of the burden of owning "too much house." After raising a family and living a busy life, many baby boomers and older adults are using only a fraction of their total space and paying for space they don't need.
Reducing your clutter can reduce your overall space needs, which can leave you more money in retirement. Sorting through a lifetime of accumulations can be challenging, but can be made easier with a solid plan and goal to make life simpler.
Tips for reducing clutter:
Involve the family and make it fun. Contact your kids, siblings and friends and make a party of sorting through photos, games, clothes, furniture, etc. If you're separated by geography, post pictures and lists of items on social media for family members to browse online and lay claim to.
Start on the fringes and work inward. We tend to keep items we cherish in the kitchen, living room and family room. Objects that have grown less important tend to get moved further away into bedrooms, garages, sheds, basements and attics. Start sorting through the outlying areas first, where you have less emotional attachment.
Designate a "last chance" temporary storage area. Have an area set aside to store things that you're just not sure about whether to keep or let go. After six months, if it is still in this "last chance" storage, get rid of it.
Pack visually. To help you know what you have stored without having to unstack and unpack, use see-through plastic containers. If using cardboard boxes, take pictures of the contents with a digital camera, print them and affix them to the box front for easy identification.
Trade single-purpose for multi-purpose. TV food expert Alton Brown frequently advises viewers to never purchase a kitchen tool that only serves one purpose. The same can be said for electronics, personal fitness equipment and other items we accumulate, but don't use frequently. Replace things that have only limited use with things that are more flexible and take up less space overall.
Snap, scan and transfer. Precious memories like photographs and home videos can occupy a great deal of space are particularly subject to damage from sun, heat and water. Transferring home videos and film onto DVDs will save space and help preserve the memories. Photos and letters can be scanned or digitally photographed, then organized and stored electronically on disks or online using a cloud storage service. Keep hard copies of particularly meaningful photos in albums, but discard those boxes of duplicates and unflattering or indistinguishable shots.
Be responsible. Properly dispose of environmentally toxic and hazardous items, such as computers, batteries, paints and medications to appropriate collection sites. If you are not sure about how to dispose of these, check out your city's website or call them for more information.
You may find good things that you just don't need or can't keep. Instead of trashing them, be creative:
- Have family and friends select and take what they would like.
- Set aside one heirloom piece for each child, grandchild or great grandchild as a gift.
- Donate to charity shops, second chance organizations, churches and senior housing.
- Send designer clothes to the consignment shops and make a few dollars.
- Post to online sites that let you give away free stuff or auction them off.
- Sell books and media in resale shops.
- Have a yard sale or several.
- Utilize a professional auction or estate sale for the antiques, jewelry or collectibles.
- Consider selling some of your home furnishings, like couches, rugs and end tables with the house.
- Get to know Ebay for selling collectibles online.
Even if you are content with your present living arrangements, decluttering can help you improve your overall quality of life and provide you with greater clarity to think about your future needs and preferences.
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