When my mother-in-law passed away I had to sift through all of her possessions and dispose of them so we could sell her house. A couple of years later, I went through the same process when my own parents moved into a retirement home.
Then I was at it again when my husband and I downsized from our five-bedroom home into a tiny apartment. The house sold a lot more quickly than I expected and I had less than three weeks to empty out our place.
The task of disposing of all those things was exhausting, and also frustrating. I don’t want my kids to have that chore.
The Museum of Our Stuff
What’s hiding in the recesses of your closets and cupboards? In the basement and garage?
We tend to think that all empty space needs to be filled. If you’re like most people your home contains:
- Old appliances and electronics that have been replaced by something new and improved (It’s a good back-up. I might need it again.)
- Forgotten kitchen utensils gathering dust in the back of drawers
- Gifts still in their packaging
- Vases from every floral delivery
- 16 photo albums and 30 boxes of loose photos. You know, the pics from the 70’s where your family looks like part of the Brady Bunch (or maybe the Monkees). What about the colour slides of that 1969 trip to Europe?
- Things we need to fix. I once found a laundry basket tucked away in the closet with a pile of mending to be done. The items were my children’s clothing from when they were toddlers – and discovered when they were teenagers.
And, speaking of your kids, have you kept the half-completed projects they abandoned years ago, boxes of baby clothes, old school books, or 12 years of report cards? How about all their old toys that you’re saving for your grandchildren?
I get that a lot of toys are making a comeback, but do you really think your grandchild will be interested in that old Mr. Potato Head with pieces missing?
Find the perfect home for everything
Pick out your most important possessions. Only keep what’s useful, sentimental, or you absolutely love – the rest is just stuff.
You have to use it now – not keep it in case your other one breaks down, or your child may need it when he or she moves into a new home.
The items must go into a living area of your home. Unless it’s seasonal (e.g. Christmas or other holiday items), if you are sticking it in a box in the basement or garage you don’t need or love it. You are not obligated to keep anything you don’t want and doesn’t fit your lifestyle.
Let go of:
- Things you never really liked even if you paid a lot of money for them
- Outdated, wrong size or colour, clothing
- Broken appliances
- Gifts or inherited items. Don’t hold onto things out of a sense of obligation or misplaced family responsibility.
- Things that belong to someone else
- Things you’ve been saving for your kids. You could take photos of the items that are the most memory-laden. Then make a fun photo book for your kids (and grandkids) to look at when they visit.
Be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. It’s hard to have the energy and focus for several hours at a time. Pace yourself. It’s okay to get caught up reminiscing, but know that it’ll slow you down.
1. Offer worthwhile items for sale
You could place good furniture and antiques on consignment. Post with on-line sellers such as e-Bay, your local Facebook Swap & Buy, and Kijiji. Have a garage or yard sale.
Don’t have high expectations. You may find your valuables are, well, not so valuable. Just because it’s old, doesn’t make it valuable. They made junk 50 years ago, too.
The value of your household contents, honestly, in most cases, is almost zero. Nobody wants to buy fancy cut crystal or silverware and china you can’t put in the dishwasher. Styles and tastes change over time. And, as I found out when trying to sell my own stuff, people are always looking for a great bargain and want to pay next to nothing.
Once upon a time when people my age first moved out on their own, we took all the used, duplicate and slightly chipped items to furnish our own digs – but young people these days don’t want all that old stuff.
2. Donate items that are in good condition
What you can’t sell you can donate to charity shops such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army Thrift shops. Make sure they are in good condition. They don’t have the resources to get rid of your trash.
3. Return to owner
Have friends and relatives (such as your adult children) stored items in your basement and “forgot” to pick them up again? Call them up and ask what to do. If they don’t get them right away, you can dispose of the items as you see fit. And don’t feel guilty about it. You have no obligation to keep things that belong to someone else.
4. Dispose of trash
Take hazardous items (old cans of paint, car batteries) to approved drop-off sites. Unwanted electronic devices go to the recycling centre. Bag the rest for the garbage collector.
5. Give it away now
If you have valued possessions that are stored away, consider giving them to your children now instead of making the bequests in your will. Distribute some items in advance.
Don’t wait until later to dispose of your stuff. Put the bags and boxes in your car immediately to drop off when you’re out and about.
There’s something incredibly liberating about purging ourselves of unnecessary accumulation. It’s like a great big sigh of relief to walk through that emptied garage or cleared-out basement. We shake our heads and wonder what in the world we were holding onto that stuff for anyway and ask ourselves why we waited so long to get rid of it all in the first place.
It makes no sense to ship huge piles of stuff across country, or pay for long-term storage units. You don’t want to leave your family a houseful of meaningless clutter. Chances are, your kids will probably wind up throwing out most things.
Never waste an opportunity to do some advanced downsizing of your own.