Downsizing, the difficult process of letting go of long-term possessions, is hard at any age, but especially daunting for older adults.
The thought of sorting through a house full of memories to decide what to keep and what to discard can be so overwhelming, many people will simply put it off until a sudden crisis forces them to take action. Others may never take the first step, leaving a lifetime of memorabilia for family and friends to sort through after they pass.
For elders who grew up during the Depression, throwing anything away can be difficult; always retaining the feeling they may need it someday. Depression (the state of mind) can also be a contributing factor to the desire to hold onto what others might consider “useless” items. The feeling of loss as they let precious items go builds their anxiety to such an extreme, they avoid it at all costs. In extreme cases, this can lead to hoarding, an illness closely associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety. In these cases, counseling with a mental health professional should be the first step.
Local Certified Professional Organizer Colleen Ashe, of Ashe Organizing Solutions, has a number of tips for those who find the idea of downsizing daunting.
“Start the de-cluttering processes in stages by focusing on what is no longer needed or wanted, especially in the spaces you use regularly” she suggests. “Take a picture or make a scrapbook of items being held onto for the memories associated with them. I have also found it is easier for people to part with their items when they know someone else will put them to good use. It may take several passes through the items (on different days) to make real headway.”
Not-for-profit organizations such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, the Dutchess County SPCA ( which accepts items such as blankets, towels, etc.) and ReStore Habitat for Humanity will gladly accept most donations. Local libraries take used books, CDs and DVDs. It is always best to call ahead to find out about donation procedures before heading out with a carful of items.
Family can help
If you’re a family member or friend who is trying to assist an older adult to jettison junk, the key word is patience. Trying to leave a place that has been their home for decades to move into something smaller and unfamiliar is emotionally taxing, even more so if it is because of illness or financial hard times.
“I am always amazed at how much stuff in a senior’s apartment actually belongs to the adult children,” Ashe said. “Give a specific date to anyone who has items in your home but no longer lives there to come and get the items by. After the date has passed, donate the items to a charity or recycle as appropriate. Also, pass along those family treasures now to those who you think will want them. Don’t wait for someday.”
Once you’ve purged all of the unnecessary items from your home, make it a habit to go through your stuff on a regular basis, keeping only the things you need, use and love.
Golden Living is prepared by the Dutchess County Office for the Aging, 27 High St., Poughkeepsie; call 845-486-2555, email: firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.dutchessny.gov/CountyGov/Departments/Aging/AGIndex.htm