Decluttering in old age: devastating or delicious?

We discovered a few months ago that decluttering and downsizing were twin necessities if we wanted to move from an ordinary suburban house to an apartment half the size without too much fuss, inconvenience or discomfort.

Disclaimer: this is not a blog about how to declutter

Although neither of us could be described as serious hoarders, we’d accumulated an assortment of ‘things’, separately and together, over our long lives. The thought of discarding what seemed important, sometimes even precious, felt daunting at first, but once we started I could see that living with less could be wonderful.

I can imagine how, for some older folk, less fortunate than us, decluttering could be devastating. Without good health and energy, it could be very hard work. If we hadn’t been looking forward to moving to a new, exciting apartment, I think the process and the results could have been very different.

For us, fortunately, there was plenty of choice and enough time to do what we wanted.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of writers and life coaches have contributed to the literature about decluttering in books, articles and blogs. You can find an assortment of them here. They cover many aspects of the subject, from why people should declutter to how to go about it. There are a number about decluttering as a spiritual practice and a few about how to help older people prepare for life in a simple room in an aged care facility.

We skipped reading about the process. Instead, we visited a lovely couple, much, much younger than us, who have embraced a simple, if not minimalist, lifestyle. They generously opened their cupboards and drawers. They showed us their possessions, and gave us tips about how to live abundantly, with fewer material possessions.

Theirs was the lifestyle I aspired to in the late 1970s and early 1980s, soon after Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If  People Mattered by the German born British economist E.F. Schumaker was published. At the same time, Ghandi’s exhortation to ‘Live simply that others might simply live,’ became the catch-cry for many Christians and others interested in alleviating poverty and using the earth’s resources frugally. It has been good to revisit that philosophy so many years later.

Reasons why decluttering was delicious

  • Instead of ‘throwing away’ or ‘discarding’ we thought, instead, of gently ‘letting go’ those things we no longer used, which did not delight us, we had too many of, or which would not fit into our apartment. The result was a feeling of gratitude. Those possessions had given us  pleasure, even though we no longer needed them.
  • We shared memories that we might otherwise not have thought about.
  • We chose who to give our treasures to. Things from our own parents and even grandparents found homes with children and grandchildren whom we know will treasure them. This was a lovely process, to give joyfully ourselves, rather than to have one’s belongings distributed after we die. It is good to see things displayed. Some  gardens appear richer for our contribution of plants
  • I loved donating furniture, tools, wool and fabric collections and other bits and pieces that no one wanted to strangers through the local Facebook group, Buy Nothing, and through charities.
  • Putting real rubbish into skips was a liberating exercise.
  • At this end of our lives, it is good to know that our children will have less to sort through and perhaps put into skips to go to the tip before they can sell our home,.
The overall result of decluttering
  • An amazing sense of freedom from caring for ‘things’.
  • There are fewer time-consuming choices. For example, the only clothes I own fit into half the space and everything fits me well and looks good. No more worry about what to wear or what shoes go with what. With fewer cooking implements, less searching for the right one. With less household linen, less anxiety about which sheets fit best.
  • The things we own fit neatly into their allocated spaces, wonderful for a person who values neatness.
  • We can boast of empty drawers and shelves in our apartment.
  • Our spaces looks calm and uncluttered.

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10 replies on “ Decluttering in old age: devastating or delicious?”

  1. I’ve started – needed to make room for our house sitters so they won’t feel like they’re camping in our house for three months.
    I know there’s lots of things in our kitchen we don’t use. I need to stop thinking ‘What if I did need it…….. “ and just let go of stuff gently! You are so brave Maureen! Xx

    1. I must admit it did feel brave when we first started to tackle the accumulation of years, Elizabeth. But then it became most enjoyable and even thrilling. I guess I think that if I really need something I no longer own, I can borrow it or even replace it. But now I’m starting to think there are still things I could let go and benefit from letting them go. For example, I was looking for a tin to make a cake in a couple of days ago and there were far too many that had escaped the cull. The cupboard needs to be relieved of about half of them and I won’t even miss them.

      Good luck with your project of reorganising your house. It will be wonderful to come home to a simpler life after your long holiday. xx

  2. Oh this sounds wonderful! I down-sized to my current smaller place about 18 months ago and I also love the feeling of only having what I need – and no more.
    But what was most interesting was to think about the ideas of minimalism being so present back in the 70s – and now for them to be so “on trend” again quite some time later! We are all slow learners perhaps!

    1. Thanks for your positive comments, Amanda. It’s good to know that you understand what I’m trying to say about the joys of simplifying one’s possessions as a way of living a more positive and abundant life. I’m sometimes a bit sad that I didn’t keep up my plans to live simply. Somehow, I’m glad I’m back in that frame of mind now and can enjoy it. Our small apartment, lack of clutter, everything we need at our fingertips, even a change in diet to eat more simply are all wonderfully exciting. I am also glad that Small is Beautiful is still available, because I want to re-read it in the next few weeks.

  3. What a great post! As you say, there’s heaps blogs on decluttering so to read your perspective refreshing.
    I still have a house full despite constantly selling, removing, binning, giving away and so on. I’m hopeful that in a few months I’ll have culled a lot more.
    It’s encouraging to hear your ideas and sense of satisfaction.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I wanted to write something more than a how-to blog, mostly because the experience was so positive for both of us. Interestingly, we don’t feel at all deprived or as if our lives are any less rich after our re-organisation. I’m glad you feel encouraged to continue in your own house.

  4. You have really inspired me Maureen. I often wonder why I keep things unnesessarily, then remember the times I would chastise my own mother for doing the same thing.

    Now I must “practice what I preached”.

    1. Hello Elizabeth F. Glad you feel inspired I can’t wait to show off our apartment to you and David. It would be even better if you could stay with us.

  5. I so agree with the concept of ‘less is more’ Maureen. Have to say that we were never happier than during the 9 months we lived out of our caravan on our trip round Oz … basic essentials for cooking …and only 2 of everything ….a drawer full of shorts and T shirts and one posh frock for special occasions! Simplicity gives a certain calmness of mind and spirit that you are unaware of until you actually practice it. It feels like shedding a load that has weighed you down. Hope you and John continue to enjoy your lighter life!

    1. Thanks, Rachel. Your trip around Australia sounds magic. I Don’t think John and I realised we had too much ‘stuff’ until we began to lighten our load ready for the move. Now we wonder what we were doing! Love this way of living.

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