I was recently speaking with a friend about her parents, just after she’d spent Father’s Day weekend with them. While this retired couple does not need my help at this time (unless I help them with their next downsizing move), as a Professional Organizer, I commend – and highly recommend – their healthy, practical and selfless approach to aging, accepting the inevitability of death and dealing with their lifetime of possessions.
While they are both busy and healthy seniors, neither are in denial that they’ve reached the age where their friends, neighbours and siblings are dying with increased frequency. What they don’t want to do is what they are seeing so many seniors doing: leave behind a ton of stuff for their spouse and/or children to have to sort through, bicker over and most often toss out. What they want to do is disperse and dispose of their own things – on their own terms and while they are physically able to do it themselves.
Don't wait for death
What do my friend’s parents do when someone close to them dies? They buzz around their own house getting rid of their things! My friend’s mom literally deals with death and grief by getting rid of stuff. When her best friend died just before Christmas, her reaction was to get rid of any Christmas decorations that she hadn’t put out. She did the same for the decor she didn’t want to put back out after the holidays were over. The bonus? She’s quickly realized that decluttering and deleting home décor means having less things to dust or vacuum around.
Both retired, they’re slowly downsizing; eliminating things they will never use, do not need or have too many of, while also getting rid of anything that will not be going with them when they eventually downsize to a condo.
"The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter" by Margareta Magnusson is an excellent book on this topic. Order it here.
Like scheduling a date night, they set aside time when they both are feeling up to it to go through things together – a hutch in the dining room, the bookcase in the den, a few boxes in the basement, etc. Doing a little at a time is a healthy approach, especially for seniors; it’s much less emotionally draining and physically exhausting. The process of carrying boxes through the house and to the car can be quite a workout. In fact, it’s one of the common reasons seniors rely on professional organizers for assistance.
Delete, donate, disburse with dignity and purpose
Like my friend’s parents, I encourage my clients to get rid of collectables, entertaining essentials, clothing, memorabilia and other things on your own, even if you require assistance. With each item, take a trip down memory lane, remembering who gave it to you, the party you bought it for, when you last used it, etc. Then either pass it on to a loved one (only if they will appreciate it, use it or ideally both), sell it online or at a garage sale or put it in a box to donate to a worthy charity.
Consider the unfortunate truth about anyone going through your stuff after you’ve die. They may not know the significance of any of your possessions. For example, the white fringed scarf my friend’s mom recently gave her turns out to be one her father wore with the tuxedo he had on when he picked up her mom for their first (blind) date. It is something she will treasure forever – and eventually give to one of her own sons. That cherished scarf would have otherwise held no meaning had she come across it in a dresser drawer after her parents’ passing (and likely tossed it into a donation box).
As a professional organizer, I often find myself having difficult candid conversations with clients, helping them come to terms with the unavoidable fact that someday they will die and that when they do that they can't take any of their stuff with them. Fortunately, it’s never too late to begin eliminating the stuff cluttering your home and dealing with the items you intend for loved ones to inherit. Wouldn’t you rather give your cherished treasures to them in person, see the smile it puts on their face and hear their expressions of gratitude than leave it for them to receive once you’re gone?
As a Toronto professional organizer, I can come up with an action plan and schedule for downsizing and dealing with your lifetime of stuff – one that is both realistic and affordable. Call me at 416-892-5919 and we can have a chat.