Our Memories Are Within Us, Not Within Our Things
As a retired geriatrician, I have seen firsthand the challenges that older adults face with decluttering and parting with keepsakes. This becomes a pressing issue when deciding to downsize, move in with children, or to move to another city or state.
For many, these items are not just physical objects, but tangible memories of their lives. They may be sentimental items from childhood, gifts from loved ones, or even simply things that have been around for so long that they feel like a part of the person’s identity.
The Bernsteins Declutter
Although my wife Melissa and I are not planning to move and we enjoy good health, we have taken on a new project. Based on our knowledge of the subject and our observations of others, we have established a self-imposed declutter project. We looked around and were concerned about all the stuff we accumulated that we no longer need or use, cluttering our home. (Think about your junk drawer in the kitchen or your bathroom where you might have accumulated a few bars of soap or shampoo from your travels.)
Melissa and I agreed to take a stab at disengaging from items we have accumulated over the years. I jokingly say that I am counting the cubic feet of items discarded. Over the years it has become clear that our children have no desire for any of our possessions and as such our process is now unabated.
The Massive CD Collection
While there are many categories of belongings, our first enormous source of clutter was CDs. Think about this, in my lifetime we started listening to records. Before our time, our parents listened to 78s, and we listened to 45s and 33s. Then came eight tracks, cassettes, CDs/DVDs, and now no one even wants any of them because any music you could ever want is available online. Melissa and I blended our collection long ago and added to it when her brother (a real music buff) died. We never even listened to any of his CDs, they just collected dust and took up space in our garage.
So what did we do? Searching the internet we found The Clearwater Record Shop, owned by Casey Brown. We hauled at least 1,000 CDs into the back of our SUV and visited with Casey. We got to know Casey and the valuable service he offers those of us who want to declutter or families forced to do so because of the infirmity or death of a loved one.
Curiosity got the best of me and I asked him, “What are some of the craziest stories you have encountered?” He responded, “I have been to the homes of lots of people who threw nothing out and one most memorable person bought hundreds of records or CDs in mint condition from eBay and never even took them out of their envelopes!”
It delighted Melissa and me when Casey chose 93 of our CDs and pulled out a crisp $100 bill. The unfortunate news was we had to load the rest of the 900 CDs back into our car. We promptly donated the remaining CDs to our local hospice resale store; everybody is a winner!
It can be very difficult for older adults to let go of these items, even if they know that they no longer need them or that they are taking up too much space. They may feel like they are throwing away a part of themselves, or that they are disrespecting the memories of loved ones who are no longer with them.
If you are an older adult who is struggling to declutter, I understand. It is not a simple task. However, I also believe that it is important to let go of things that no longer serve you.
One of my friends (I love her dearly) has an attachment to white plastic stackable outdoor chairs. She has not used them in over ten years. Also, not a single person would choose to sit on those chairs, yet she refuses her husband’s and my suggestion to throw them out. That voice inside my head giggles when we discuss the topic.
Dr. B’s Helpful Tips to Declutter
Here are some tips that may help:
- Start by decluttering one area at a time. This will make the task seem less daunting.
- Set a timer for 30 minutes and see how much you can declutter in that time.
- If you become overwhelmed, take a break. Come back to it later when you are feeling refreshed.
- Ask for help from family or friends. They may offer support and encouragement.
- Remember that it is okay to let go of things. You are not throwing away your memories; you are simply making room for new ones.
If you are still struggling, there are many resources available to help you declutter. There are books, websites, and even professional organizers who can help you get started.
The most important thing is to remember that you are not alone. Many older adults go through this same process. With a little time and effort, you can declutter your home and your life.
To a long and healthy life,
David Bernstein, MD