We know we need to get rid of our stuff. Where do we start? OppShop asked expert, Mary Clark, Founder and Co-Owner of Transition Connections, Inc., a Senior Move Management company located in Berks County, to share some tips on decluttering, downsizing, and donating. Many people want to declutter or downsize but it’s overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The same goes for decluttering and downsizing. Breaking a large project like this into smaller pieces is the best way to ensure success. We recommend to our clients start in a room that you don’t use. It could be your dining room, or a spare bedroom, or even a large closet. We suggest selecting a spot in the room to start and go around the room clockwise, until you have touched and made a decision on all of the contents. Then move to the next room. By the time you get to the rooms you use often, you will have momentum and experience to make the process easier.
Bonus tip: An exercise to do early on: Take all the utensils out of the drawers and crocks in the kitchen. Put them on a table and group them together (spatulas, wooden spoons, wire whisks, etc). It will be obvious how many duplicates you have. Pull out the items you don’t use or are damaged. You will find that you can eliminate about half of the items. Donate the items in good condition, throw out the rest. Set a timer and try to do this in 20 minutes. It’s a great way to get started and keep a brisk pace. You will feel the reward when you finish!
What about donating sentimental items? First of all, don’t think you have to get rid of everything. It’s ok to keep a few sentimental things. Ask your children, family and friends if there are things they would like and give those items to them. We suggest you consider gifting back. In some cases, it may be appropriate to give an item back to the person who gave it to you. Then they can decide what to do with it. Going through sentimental items is definitely a process. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find it difficult. Just keep moving forward. How do you approach moving from a 4 bedroom home to a 2 bedroom apartment? Visualize the new space. In this example, you know you’ll have 2 fewer bedrooms. It’s easy to see that you need to downsize at least 2 bedrooms of furniture. If there is no attic or basement, you know those items need to be downsized. Chances are, the living room may be smaller, so you will need to select the furniture you like and use the most and eliminate the extras. Think about the kitchen and how many drawers and cabinets you will have in the new space. Again, select the items you love and use, and get rid of the rest. If you will no longer have a dining room, it’s easy to visualize what needs to go. Consider a square foot comparison. If you’re moving from a 3,000 square foot house to a 1,000 square foot apartment, a good estimate is to expect that you’ll need to reduce by around ⅔. At what age, should you start downsizing. Many people start when their children go to college or move out on their own. As people get in to their 50s and 60s they begin to address all the “stuff” they have accumulated. Ask your children to take their school books or childhood items. If they don’t want them (and often they won’t), it’s ok to donate them. Donate clothing you don’t wear, things you don’t use and items you no longer want. Some people want to stay in their family home as long as possible, so they never address the accumulated “stuff”. But, often we see them get to a point where they can’t live independently and the downsizing falls on family members and friends. Then they have little or no input on where everything will go. For the people who decide to move to a smaller home, apartment or retirement community, the move is much easier when you start decluttering well before you consider a move. Should people consider a yard sale to generate cash instead of donating? I encourage people to think about all that is involved in a yard sale and how much money you can generate from it. Some people enjoy the process. Others find it too much work for too little return. The goal of the yard sale is to get rid of the items you no longer want. Check out local yard sales to get an idea of what is selling and at what prices. Then you can decide if it’s the right choice for you. Also, consider what you will do with items that remain after the sale. A simple rule for donating is only donate things that you would use. What is your advice on donating items? I agree. If it’s stained, worn, torn, missing parts or pieces, don’t donate it. Condition is the number one thing to consider if you plan to donate or have a yard sale. Items that are in good condition are desirable. As you know, people don’t want items that are in poor condition, even if they are inexpensive. Why do people hire a professional to help them declutter? As senior move management professionals, unlike family members, we have no attachment to your items. Our team provides practical solutions and we use an established process to help you manage your project. Some people just need help getting started, others need help all along the way. Our team is very compassionate and understanding of the whole process, and can help you deal with the sentimental items that can be challenging for many people. You’ve been doing this for 11 years, what advice you can share? 1) Start downsizing as early as possible. It gives you time, which relieves pressure to get it finished in a hurry. 2) Develop a plan/schedule you can use to keep you on track and making progress. 3) Work with a “buddy”. You will make more progress when someone is there to make you accountable. 4) Identify items into 5 categories: Keep, Give Away to Family and Friends, Donate, Sell and Trash. 5) Don’t save your nice things for later, use them now! 6) Remember: Condition matters for sale and donation 7) Ask your family and friends if they want items. Don’t assume that they do or they don’t want certain items. 8) Hire a professional to help you get started or to deal with the sentimental items.