Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterSpring 2011

Clear Your Clutter and Breathe a Little Easier

When Laila Adams, 75, moved from her 3,400-square-foot home to a 1,300-square-foot condo, she had to pare down substantially.

Go to: Vitality newsletter index

"It was tough," she says. "My basement was so full that it was nearly unusable."

Susan Casey, 75, scaled back after two friends died, leaving houses filled with a lifetime of possessions. "I didn't want to do that to my daughters," she says. "But it was hard to part with sentimental things."

Whether you're downsizing to prepare for a move, simplifying possessions for your children, or simply need a fresh beginning, the first step is often the most difficult.

Casey emptied out one room at a time, carting everything to the living room, and putting back only what she absolutely wanted. "It took two months, and was exhausting psychologically and emotionally," she says. "I had to keep asking myself: Do I really need it?"

Dane Long, 75, says he's merciless. "If you haven't used it in two years, get rid of it," he advises. Living part-time with his wife on a houseboat with a 260-square-foot cabin has taught him to live skinny. One tip is to ditch single-use items.

"How often do you use a Panini pan?" he asks. "You can do a lot with a good skillet."

If you find it hard to part with your belongings, consider the words of 19th century textile artist William Morris. "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." And remember: There's always someone who needs what you aren't using.

"It feels good to donate things to those in need," says Ruth Sinton, 86, who gives items to people in her friend's retirement home. She also gave family records to her son, and historical files to interested parties.

"I don't know how much longer I'll be around. I want to pass these along to people who will care for them, while I still can."

Adams recommends downsizing to all her friends. "Life is much simpler now," she says. "And honestly, I don't miss any of that stuff."

Sandee Fahlen, a professional organizer who owns Priorities First in Kirkland, helps her clients downsize to a smaller place, or make their home or workplace more efficient. She offers this tip: To begin, create a staging area in the garage or a spare bedroom. Set up boxes labeled "children," "donations," "used bookstore," "recycle," "trash," etc.

Start with one drawer, cupboard, desktop, or closet. Pick up an item and put it in a box. Don't handle an item more than once. When the box is full, take it to the designated place. If you find it hard to release a sentimental item, take a picture of it and create an album to enjoy and share with others later.

Other sites: Providers | Producers | Employers