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.

It’s Time To Declutter: Free Your Home Of Unnecessary Junk

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  • Old appliances and electronics that have been replaced by something new and improved (It’s a good back-up.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.

Related: Leave an inheritance before the will is read

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.

Final thoughts

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.

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12 Comments

  1. Jon on April 7, 2017 at 4:14 am

    Books are my addiction. After living at a dozen addresses in 15 years (reality of a getting an education and searching for stable employment) plus merging apartments with my girlfriend (now wife), I highly recommend using an ereader (or eread app) and a library card.

    • robyn on April 19, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Some people really like the feel of books. But I’m with you – I can store a
      thousand books on my ereader. Great de-cluttering device!

  2. Kathy from CT on April 7, 2017 at 5:05 am

    To rephrase an old saying, one man’s treasure is another man’s junk.

  3. john on April 7, 2017 at 5:43 am

    I had to smile not just because the article is so true but because the page had the article in between two Ads from a well known home “stuff/junk” store.

  4. Rol on April 7, 2017 at 6:49 am

    Hey,
    Do you still have that typewriter? I took mine to the dump last year after going to Staples looking for a typewriter ribbon and they didn’t know what I was talking about. I have a use for one now lol
    Great article

    • Echo on April 7, 2017 at 7:53 am

      Hi Rol, sorry – it’s a stock photo.

  5. Kirsten on April 7, 2017 at 7:35 am

    You may want to keep that blender though- they don’t make them like that anymore. When my mom passed, I got her old 1970’s Sunbeam model and it has outlived my current one. Just needed to replace the blade assembly!

  6. Amanda on April 7, 2017 at 8:41 am

    This is all so true. We’re working through the process of “purging” – we had almost 20 Rubbermaid tubs of baby/toddler clothes that our kids had grown out of and were keeping just in case we wanted to have more children. We decided 2 is enough and so the decluttering begins! A lot of work but have gained some $$ back from selling the really good quality clothes to a used children’s clothing store and the rest to goodwill. It feels so good! My parents and grandparents are purging too and it is difficult to say in a polite and diplomatic way that you don’t want some of the things they treasure and feel should be kept but it’s important not to just lie, take it home, and eventually throw it out anyway!

  7. Judy on April 7, 2017 at 9:53 am

    When I moved from a big house to a small condo a few years ago, I donated 5 garbage bags of my own clothes – I had retired, and had no need for dress-for-success clothes any more. And because I’m retired, my current lifestyle is such that I have only one sort-of-dressy outfit – I tossed out all my skirts and dresses – I usually wear pants and a sweatshirt. As part of the big downsizing, for three weekends, I also advertised on http://www.freecycle.org that I was having a “garage non-sale” – I put piles of stuff on the driveway with a big FREE sign – got rid of so much of what I once valued! I am currently in the process of reading and purging my vast library, donating the books to a book drive and sale. And on a related note, I was impressed and grateful that my parents did their own purging when they had to move into an assisted living place – I had very little “stuff” to deal with when they eventually passed away.

  8. Matt on April 7, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    We are in full declutter mode in my house. We’re focused on the garage right now and we’re finding all sorts of stuff that we haven’t used in forever. I’m not a minimalist at all, but I do find it very therapeutic to get rid of all the extra clutter around the house.

  9. LM on April 19, 2017 at 8:24 am

    When hubby & I were slowly downsizing from big house to being-constructed mid-town condo, we went through the home purging pure-junk & making a list of EVERYTHING else. This list was divided into 3 columns: TAKING / Definitely NOT taking / MAYBE taking. We sent the 2nd & 3rd column lists (with pictures if needed) to our adult children just starting in their own homes & stated a time limited period to reply that they wanted/didn’t want any of these things. After this time period, we felt totally free to sell / donate our “stuff” and slowly the “Maybe” list was worked through one way or the other. Fortunately, there was only one item they both wanted: the huge glass jar with marbles collection (LOL)

  10. john on April 22, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    This article make us chuckle. We are had our kitchen redone, so all the cabinets had to be emptied. We were amazed at how much was in them that we had not used or didn’t know we had. The Thrift Store received everything we didn’t want and our adult children did not want. We were too lazy to have a garage sale. Items from the 50’s and 60’s lurking in the back of corner cabinet. They are so totally organized now. In fact, they look a bit empty. Now to start in the rest of the rooms and the basement. This is great fun. Loved your article and so timely.

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