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BellaOnline's Geriatrics Editor

Ways to "Lighten Up"

One of the chores many of us have to face as we age is getting rid of the “stuff” that we have collected during our lifetime. When we were younger, our belongings were signs of our successes and gave us a level of comfort, familiarity and appreciation. As we age, however, some of these same items may be collecting dust, weighing us down, and making us feel guilty because we don’t need them anymore.

In many instances, our family members don’t want our collectables, and that makes it even more evident that we should let them go. Intellectually, we know that lightening-up will make us feel good, provide a sense of satisfaction, and make our homes more user-friendly. It’s the emotional piece that is so difficult. It will help if we acknowledge that tackling this process will enhance our quality of life by making our environment cleaner, safer, and more appealing.

The task of organizing and then letting go can seem overwhelming, so we should allot some time each day, perhaps one hour, to chip away at it. Have on hand: boxes, labels, wrapping paper, packing tape, large garbage bags, a camera and a scrapbook. We then will be ready to take action one room at a time, including our garages, basements, and attics. Start by throwing away anything broken or unusable to begin the process.

Working with others is not recommended, unless you need them for carrying boxes or moving furniture, as this approach involves very personal decision-making; helpers may not recognize our emotional attachments and inadvertently agitate us by pushing us instead of encouraging us.

Here’s what the pros suggest to make letting go easier:

1. Acknowledge that others would appreciate and utilize some of our items and locate a thrift store or a community-based organization, e.g., a homeless shelter, that we deem worthy and make a donation. We’ll receive a tax write-off and much satisfaction as payback.

2. If we own some objects that have real monetary value, consignment shops in the area will sell them for us. Internet sites such as Craigslist and eBay are also possibilities, but selling online takes more time and effort. We won’t get the full value, but can make some extra money for saving or spending. Garage sales are also possible but are a lot of work. I do have friends who sponsor a garage sale once a year in their neighborhood and do really well making some extra spending money.

3. If we have unused items of sentimental value, we can take pictures, write about them, scrapbook the information, and then let them go. We are not forgetting them -- just moving ahead to enhance our environment.

4. We need to be honest with ourselves. If we know it would be too painful to let go of an item, we should wrap it carefully, label and date the box, and store it somewhere safe. We will know where to find it again later.

I am planning a move in about a year and have loads of “stuff” in my basement. I have already lined up a few helpers that can move items AFTER I sort out what’s there to carry out the junk that needs to go to the dump (e.g., a large fake Christmas tree whose lights don’t work and base is missing) and other items that are going to a thrift shop.

I refuse to move everything I own this time and promised myself that I would let go of the things that did not have particular sentimental value and especially items I hadn’t used or even seen in years that are packed in boxes. In looking at my luggage, I realized I had 6 smaller carry-on bags. Some were from 45 years ago and still in good shape! I think I can safely donate 4 of them or give four away and still have one too many!

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Content copyright © 2013 by Patricia Villani, MPA, PhD. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Patricia Villani, MPA, PhD. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Patricia Villani, MPA, PhD for details.

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