Eight Tips for Decluttering by Bob Lowry

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Eight Tips for Decluttering by Bob Lowry

A blog you will find listed on the right sidebar is Sightings Over Sixty. Tom Sightings writes well and often has a take on a subject that makes me think or chuckle. He also writes regularly for US News & World Report’s web site

While on my 7 week RV trip, I asked Tom if he would write a guest post about decluttering, a perennially popular topic. Here are his thoughts.

Like many retirees, our household is downsizing. This summer we sold our house in the suburbs, and at the end of July we moved into a one-bedroom condominium.

Six months ago we had a basement full of old boxes and an attic full of memorabilia. We had overflowing kitchen cabinets, closets bulging with old clothes, bookcases bursting with books and tabletops littered with little trinkets and tchotchkes. But now everything has been packed away and hauled out the door. We moved one truckload of boxes and furniture into our condo, and another truckload was sent to storage — to await the time when we settle down into a house or condo that is bigger than what we have now, but smaller than what we had before.

How did we do it? Honestly, last spring as we stood amidst our piles of possessions – not to mention a few piles belonging to our kids — it seemed like an impossible task. But it happened. So here are eight tips from personal experience on how to declutter and prepare for downsizing in retirement.

1. Call the kids. The first thing we did was put our four kids on notice that we were moving, and we expected them to come and sort through their things, take what they wanted and dispose of the rest. One son had already moved 800 miles away and had taken most of what he wanted. We sent him photos of the rest. He told us what items to bring along when we met up with him in June for a family gathering. The rest we got rid of. We were lucky that another son had recently bought his own house. He came with a U-Haul and not only took all of his own stuff, but loaded up a couple of extra pieces of furniture into the back of the truck.

2. Donate to a rummage sale. Our church has a big rummage sale every April, and other groups hold fund-raising rummage sales as well. We donated two carloads of clothes and kitchen equipment. Plus, church volunteers came with a pickup and took away several bookcases, a TV case, a dining room sideboard and a few other pieces of furniture. Of course, you can hold your own tag sale and make a little money. But remember, it’s a lot of extra work when you may not have a lot of extra time.

3. Make trips to recycling. Our town recycling center accepts old electronics (so do electronics stores such as Best Buy), both paperback and hard back books, scrap metal, and paper of all kinds. I made at least a dozen trips to our recycling center. One other tip: Recycle with family and friends. Send out an email with a list of free stuff up for grabs – just make sure to keep track of who wants what, and when they can come and pick it up.

4. Shuttle to Goodwill. We have a Goodwill store near us; others have the Salvation Army, a shelter or community shop. They accept free donations of clothes, books, CDs, and small household items. My Goodwill does not accept rugs. We had three rugs that I had to cut up into strips and throw away.

5. Find your pickers store. There’s a second-hand store in the next town over from us. There’s probably one near you, too. I called the owner and made an appointment. Then I loaded up the back of our small SUV with tools, framed prints and a few knickknacks, drove over to the store, and the woman picked through my pieces, took what she wanted and gave me $140. I made a second trip a few weeks later, and she gave me another $60 for the lot.

6. Trash, trash and more trash. Some towns offer bulk pickup a few times a year. Our town does not. We have a limit of two full garbage cans, twice a week. So we didn’t miss a trick. We filled two garbage cans to the brim, twice a week, for six months straight. Plus, we snuck in a few extra items when we thought we could get away with it.

7. Call the junkman. There are people who will come and haul the last of your stuff away, for a fee. They advertise on community bulletin boards, or leave their business cards in local shops. I found a card at the second-hand store. Fortunately, using all the other methods, we never had to call the junkman. But it’s good to know he’s there, if and when you need him.

8. Have a heart-to-heart with your partner. None of this works if you are furiously disposing of things while your partner is agonizing about whether or not to throw away a Christmas card from 1985. Most relationships, it seems, consist of one hoarder who has piles of possessions and one simplifier who owns one coat, one book and one photo. To avoid working at cross purposes, you need to sit down and talk things out. The hoarder must realize that many things (old electronics, old sports equipment, and most old paper records) are either outdated and useless, or they can easily be replaced. The simplifier has to appreciate that some things have sentimental value and can’t be replaced, and if you get too enthusiastic about downsizing you might end up regretting what you’ve lost. So don’t be like our dysfunctional politicians. Respect your partner’s point of view; realize there are deep emotional issues imbedded in this whole process. And be ready to compromise.


Thanks, Tom. Betty and I occasionally struggle with point #8. She keeps most everything; I don’t keep enough. We are working on it, though. And the 250 square feet on an Rv helps us focus on what is important.

By Bob Lowry

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