When the nest is empty and retirement is on the horizon, every homeowner eventually will face the dilemma of downsizing to a smaller abode.
That’s the time when decluttering that old house seems like a job bigger than building the Great Wall of China.
Now that the kids have grown up and moved out, a 4,000-square-foot single-family home with 4 bedrooms, 3.5-baths, a family room, media room, game room with wet bar, wine cellar, two fireplaces and attached garage, seemed too big for this writer and his Realtor wife.
We’ve already held the garage sale, and made a list of the cherished pieces of furniture and family heirlooms that must be given away, shipped to our new tiny house, or stored in preparation for the move.
The home’s exterior has been power washed. The façade of cedar siding has been professionally painted with four earth-tone colors. Next spring, the home’s interior will be professionally painted, staged like a builder’s model, and listed for sale at a champagne twilight broker’s open house enhanced with live music.
The problem is there still is a massive amount of decluttering to do before the open house. What to do with the huge armoire, the grand piano, hundreds of books, 10 file cabinets full of home rehab files, old photo albums, research materials and 50 years of newspaper clips.
Then, there are the signed 16-inch softballs from more than 50 championships, bats, Hall-of-Fame memorabilia, bags of game-worn softball jerseys and jackets.
Luckily my daughter, Aimee, introduced us to a college friend—Diane Krojanker, president of Let’s Organize, a professional home and office organizer.
“Let’s Organize was created out of my passion to help others live all aspects of their lives with intention,” Krojanker said. The company’s mission statement says: “You will receive guidance as we work together to see beyond the clutter and create a more peaceful and efficient environment.”
Krojanker’s first mission was to help us declutter a storage room we have at a nearby property. The storage space was stacked with file cabinets and boxes filled with old business, banking and tax records, public relations files and awards, and outdated computer equipment.
Krojanker, Aimee and this writer set up folding tables and chairs in the nearby laundry room and spent 10 hours over two days decluttering and shredding these materials, which were mostly worthless junk. We also decluttered and organized the building’s tool room.
Krojanker, a strong and athletic woman, did most of the heavy lifting and carrying. The debris we tossed filled six city garbage cans.
During our decluttering experience, Krojanker kept repeating her motto: “When in doubt recycle, repurpose or throw it out.” She says owning fewer things means you’ll have less to clean, and less to maintain. “You’ll be able to spend your precious time on what you love.”
Now we have six empty file cabinets where we can move and store the files we are decluttering from our house. We plan to hire Let’s Organize again in early spring to do the final decluttering at the property prior to listing it for sale.
“If you don’t love it, lose it. If you don’t use it, lose it.” That’s the motto of Margareta Magnusson, a Stockholm artist, decluttering specialist and author of “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” The book’s grim title deals with an issue we all must face. How to put our lives in order before we pass on so our loved ones won’t have to.
Magnusson says there’s a word for it in Swedish: döstädning, which means, “death cleaning.” The idea behind döstädning is to gradually remove unnecessary things and get your home in order as you age.
It is likely that your family may only cherish a few sentimental items, photographs, and letters, perhaps some nice pieces of furniture, Magnusson reasons. Family and friends don’t need to inherit everything, just a few important things.
One of the questions Magnusson often asks herself is: “Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?” If, after a moment of reflection, she can honestly answer no, then it is discarded. In her book, Magnusson outlines some simple techniques to put the art of death cleaning into practice.
• A final conversation. Talk about the final cleaning with your close friends and family. Not many of us find it easy to talk about death. This gives you a reason for a conversation, and lessen any fears. “We are dealing with the odd situation of cleaning up before we die,” Magnusson said.
• Start with the big stuff. Don’t start with photographs–or letters and personal papers for that matter. Start with larger items like furniture, and finish with the small things. From clothes to books and photo albums, it takes time to sort through a lifetime of objects.
• A life-long process. People should declutter at any age or stage of life. Decluttering is a lifelong process. Magnusson says, you won’t be taking any of it with you, so why hold onto it now? Keep only what you love and what makes you happy now.
• A trip down memory lane. Reading old letters and journals, and viewing family photographs can awaken old memories. “Death cleaning is certainly not just about things,” Magnusson said. “If it was, it would not be so difficult.”
• Keep a throw-away box. After you declutter, there may still a few sentimental things that you want to keep but family will not. Place these items into what Magnusson calls the “throw-away box”—things that are “just for me—a dried flower, a stone with a funny shape, or a little, beautiful shell.”
• Your discards may live on. Giving away unwanted gifts, passing things down to your children, or donating to charity are all ways to declutter. “To know that something will be well-used and have a new home is a joy,” Magnusson said.
• Mindful decluttering. Downsizing, letting go of possessions and decluttering gives you space to breathe. “This crazy consumption we are all part of will eventually destroy our planet–but it doesn’t have to destroy the relationship you have with whomever you leave behind,” Magnusson said.
• Take your time. Death cleaning is not something that needs to happen all at once. Take your time—weeks or months—to go through your things with care, to keep what you need and let go of what no longer serves you.
“Decluttering is about clearing the nonessential and being surrounded by what you love,” Krojanker believes. “It’s not only about living with less, but it is a journey into clearing anything that does not benefit our well-being. The memories created and time spent with loved ones will hold more value than any amount of stuff.”
To contact professional organizer Diane Krojanker visit: www.letsorganizeactnow.com, via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/letsorganizeactnow/, or via Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/letsorganizeactnow/
For more housing news, visit www.dondebat.biz. Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit www.escapingcondojail.com.