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The Unexpected Benefits of Downsizing: Clear Your Clutter and Your Outlook on Life

By Karen Venable October 07, 2022 Lifestyle

Maybe you’re still living in the house where you raised the children: Bedrooms remain unused. Closets are full of things accumulated over decades. Memories are in every corner. The garage is stuffed with who knows what.

Maybe you don’t feel quite like you thought you would when you reached this point in your life. You expected to be in control of your own time, to be making plans to travel, taking up interests you’d set aside, maybe even looking for somewhere else to live.

But maybe now the idea of doing any of these things feels daunting or even downright impossible.

Is it your mood? Your age? Your energy level? Are you just lazy? Maybe not. Maybe it’s your stuff.

Clutter Makes You Feel Bad

Having too much stuff in your home can really bog you down psychologically. Clutter can make you feel bad – about yourself, about your home, even about all of life’s possibilities.

Cindy Glovinsky, MSW, a psychotherapist and professional organizer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who wrote Making Peace with the Things in Your Life, says, “As people clean up, their energy seems to rise, and once clutter is cleaned up, some people begin to work on other issues.”

My friend Marie made a bold decision to clear her clutter, spurred by the theory that clutter in your life can wall in not just your space but your thoughts and dreams, i.e., your life.

She and her husband – it was a second marriage for both of them – had stored a lot of stuff in their garage. So much so, it was impossible to navigate through it without twisting and squeezing, moving stuff out of the way, even sometimes stepping on and over objects and bins.

The garage contained relics from their former households, from her kids’ childhoods, and samples, paperwork, equipment and signage from the long-ago businesses that each of them had owned.

“It made me feel bad every time I drove up to our house,” she said. “I would see the garage and I would know what was inside and I would have this ‘ugh’ feeling.”

She and her husband knew they had to get rid of much of this accumulation, yet it seemed so monumental a task that it sat there for over a decade.

Finally, it dawned on Marie that whenever she brought up possible future plans – exploring Portugal, renting out their house part of the year to live near her daughters, or even building a wall of modular bookshelves for their living room – every discussion seemed heavy, impossible, and it petered out.

They decided they had to clear out the garage.

“Digging through the stuff in the garage was the last thing I wanted to do,” said Marie. “It was old and dusty. There were spiders, memories and regrets. The self-loathing for keeping so many useless things was just something I didn’t want to face. But I knew all of it was walling us in, and we had to take care of it.”

If Your Partner Doesn’t’ Want to Clear the Clutter

Last July, Marie rented a storage pod for their driveway and announced to her husband that she was going to clean out that garage, with or without him.

He didn’t like the idea of doing the job, but he joined forces with her nevertheless. Together, they faced many an unpleasant, dirty, exhausting Saturday and Sunday, working together on all the items in the garage.

Over that time, they sold, threw away and donated furniture and fixtures, dishes and glassware, sports equipment, tools, paperwork, and more. They delivered carloads of stuff to the hazardous waste facility.

And now they’re done.

Is This Your Year to Clear the Clutter?

Looks like clearing clutter is the next great cure in the world of mental health. For those of us over 60, that’s especially good to know, since at this stage of our lives, most of us do indeed have many belongings stored away in rooms and garages.

The biggest challenge is getting started. One of my favorite ideas to motivate you to clear your clutter is selling your items on eBay.

It’s kind of fun to sell your unneeded items one by one and put a little cash in your pocket. It’s somewhat easier to part with belongings when you know someone else wants them. Maybe this is your year to clear out your clutter and feel better about your life.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you have a backlog of ‘things’ in your home that you’ve been planning to clear out for years? What do you think is holding you back? Have you done a major cleanout of your clutter? How did you motivate yourself to get started and keep going? Please join the conversation below!

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It’s a constant process, but rewarding, when you can let go of items you don’t need. The house seems to have expanded and the open spaces are invigorating. By selling or donating hundreds of items this year, we have freed up space and reduced our stress. We enjoy our “new” home. As time goes on, as we age, making tough choices about what to keep will only become harder. We want to move the stuff out while we are younger rather than wait until we need to get rid of it. It can be overwhelming if you think of doing everything at once. But taking it step by step when you have energy to tackle it can produce good results. I am a reformed pack rat. More to do, it’s a work in progress. I have new perspectives. The good memories will be there even if the items are gone. If you really need something you sold or gave away, you can usually get it again. For those sentimental items, I take pictures of them and let the items go, unless they are precious to me.

The Author

Karen Venable is a huge supporter of shared housing. She is working with the Village to Village Network on prototyping the concept of shared housing. She has also worked with and the National Council on Aging on issues of shared housing.

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