10 Decluttering Tips for Baby Boomers and Home Sellers

A common household complaint from baby boomers is that they just have too much stuff. Stuff that their kids left behind when they moved out: The clothes, toys, school memorabilia, baseball cards that their children couldn’t quite part with, but didn’t have room for in their starter apartments. Stuff that their parents left them: The furniture, the dishes, the family heirlooms that are crammed into spare rooms and taking up valuable space in living rooms

Why you need to declutter

There are plenty of reasons to declutter your home. Perhaps you’re planning on downsizing. Maybe you’d like to create a place for a grandchild to sleep over, or want a room in which you can start a business. Maybe you don’t want to leave a huge mess for your own kids to deal with some day. Or maybe you just want to see the surface of your kitchen table again.

It can be time consuming and will require some difficult decisions about what was worth keeping and what has to go. But it’s not going to get any easier.

While your at it, you can simplify your space, too. Consider the following 10 valuable decluttering tips.

Get some sleep

Before lifting a single old album or tube TV, do yourself a favor and get a good night’s sleep. Decluttering is physically and emotionally demanding, and most people are unprepared for how rigorous this work really is.

Eat well and sleep well before taking on this project. Also, start mentally preparing for the large and small changes that take place when you organize your home. And get ready for the long haul. Large decluttering projects can take years to complete.

Tackle the biggest mess first

What are your most frustrating issues? A mess of papers? A cluttered room so stuffed with things that it resembles a storage locker? Start in the No. 1 stress area as there’s a stress factor that goes along with having all of this stuff. Start letting go of things in the area that causes you the most stress, and you’ll begin to feel better about the project overall.

Better yet, tie that first task to something important to your life. For example, if bill paying is your biggest problem, organizing the area where you work on them will have an immediate impact on your life. That success will give you momentum to keep decluttering.

Break it up into baby steps

Set a goal for an area that you can start and finish in a reasonable amount of time, say three hours. Then, stop and rethink your next step. You won’t be quite as overwhelmed. By setting attainable goals, you’ll be less likely to freeze up during the project. Deadlines also help you stay on track. For example, set a weekly pick-up time for donations to the Boys and Girls Club or make a standing appointment with a consignment store.

Decide what stays and what goes

This is the hardest part - actually letting go of stuff. To help determine what to keep, ask yourself how the item serves you in the next chapter of your life. If you plan on baby sitting your grandchildren, do you really want that collection of 40 china elephants? If you were to move, would you want to pay for shipping five bookshelves of books? Reduce collections and keep only a few pieces. Take photos of items to help you let them go.

To get rid of their unwanted items, many people start by asking family and friends if they could use them. Then, some will try to sell their things through garage or estate sales. From there, they turn to charities - and that can really help people with the emotional side of decluttering. A lot of people that hold on to a lot of stuff tend to be more sentimental, so try to find a “sentimental solution” by donating your things to a cause that means something to you, whether it’s the local women’s shelter, church, YMCA, etc.

Get rid of Junior’s junk

It’s a tougher call when the items you’re sorting aren’t yours. Many boomers have inherited items from their parents and still have bedrooms full of things from their kids. A lot of this can be sentimental. They don’t want to let go of their kids, and they acquired all these things from a parent. In addition to feeling an obligated to hang on to their parent’s things to pass it to their children - who in reality, don’t really want it. When you’re paring down items after a person’s death, keep things that capture the “essence” of that person. Just look for a handful of items or a whole box, which represent his or her essence. Memories and objects, at some stage can hold us back from dealing with grief.

Meanwhile, give your adult children a deadline for cleaning their things out. Chances are, they’ll only want to keep a very small percentage of what’s there. If they leave it up to you, take a cautious moment and if something looks like it could be of value, set it aside. That way you can ask them one final time if the item should be tossed.

Decide what to keep…temporarily

Maybe your daughter wants a family heirloom but doesn’t have the room for it right now in her small apartment. There’s nothing wrong with designating things to be kept for the short term. There’s value to things. Not every unwanted item needs to find a home immediately.

Just make sure there is not an overwhelming pile of things that fall into this category.

There is always next time

Sometimes it takes two or three times of sorting through your things before you’re satisfied with the reduction in clutter. If you go through your things once…what will probably happen is your tolerance of how much stuff you have will decline and you’ll lose more items the next time.

At the start, however, decide what “simple enough” would look like in your home. That will help prevent you from becoming too overwhelmed by the process at the outset.

Keeping your eyes on the prize

Remembering why you’re taking on this project will help you stay motivated to complete it. Are you clearing clutter to make a designated place for your grandkids to play? Maybe displaying pictures of them in the future playroom would help you keep working to clean out that space.

Keep in mind the financial costs of clutter, too. For one, if you’re just using rooms to store stuff, you’re treating part of your home like a storage locker - and making mortgage payments to store stuff you haven’t looked at in years. There’s also a cost that comes with losing things in unorganized rooms.

Stop buying stuff

Sound advice for anyone currently in the middle of a decluttering project: Don’t buy any more stuff. Before buying anything, ask yourself whether you already have one of them at home and decide if you will have a place for it, or whether it’s just an impulse buy. Hold off on buying it for a couple of days to determine if it’s really needed.

For some people, it helps to set limits. If they only want five magazine subscriptions, they need to drop one before adding another. Others live with a policy of getting rid of one thing for every new thing that enters; if you buy a pair of new shoes, an old pair must go out the door.

Sometimes you can’t do it on your own

Often, people benefit from having a second set of eyes when going through their things. That could be a family member or friend. And if you’re really overwhelmed, or if you haven’t been able to make any progress on your own, hire a professional organizer. It’s like getting the help of your best friend when you’re cleaning out your closet. Otherwise, you can get in your own way.