Hints to help you clean out and be ready to downsize your home

By Betsy Van Loon

Betsy is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers.  She has specialized for three years in helping seniors clean out their homes and make a downsizing move to a condo, senior housing apartment or assisted living facility.

The thought of moving out of a beloved home of many years can be absolutely overwhelming.  Even if you are not planning on making a downsizing move, the challenge of cleaning out the treasures and memories collected over the years can stop a senior before they start the project.

The following practical hints are a guide to getting started on a clean-out project.  You can use these hints on your own or with the help of family members.  The hints are helpful whether you are planning a move or just want to clean out

The tools you will need

Experience with numerous moves by seniors has taught me that fancy organizing systems are not needed when you are ready to clean out.  The tools you will need are very basic:

Empty paper towel tube
Plastic garbage bags: heavy duty black and boxes of clear or white bags
Magic Marker
Brightly colored post-it notes
Sturdy liquor store boxes

Getting Ready

Start your clean out-project by looking through your paper towel tube. The purpose of the tube is to focus your attention on just one small area of your home.  If you worry about the whole house, it is much harder to start working.  By focusing on one area at a time, the task will seem less overwhelming.  I recommend that my clients start in the closet in the least used room of the house.  This is probably in the guest bedroom.

Remember the three “Ts”

When I work with senior citizens, I try to teach my clients that there are only three possible decisions regarding every object in your home:

Treasures are those things that you use regularly or those items which are very important to you.  A treasure can be your favorite pair of shoes, your easy chair, the best set kitchen knives, the family Bible or your photo albums.  Each is either very useful, important to your comfort or a family treasure.  These are things you want to keep as you prepare to move or if you are staying in your current home.

If you are preparing for a move in the near future, you can pack your treasures in the liquor store boxes as you go along. Remember to use your marker to write the contents on the top and side of each box.  Please note that if you use a professional moving company, boxes you pack will not be insured by the mover.  If you are taking your good china or other fragile items, have the movers pack them for you.  It will be more expensive but there will be insurance coverage in the event that anything is broken.

Trash includes those things that really need to be thrown out.  This could be small items like that collection of plastic butter tubs, twist ties and bread bags in the kitchen cabinets.  Or it can include larger items such as the rusted beach chairs in the corner of the garage.  For the small items, get them into the black plastic bags into the garbage can.

Transition is usually a large category of things during any clean-out project.  It can include items which you no longer need but can be donated, treasures that you are ready to give to another family member or items that could be sold at a tag sale.

I suggest that items to go to a charity such as Goodwill be put into the clear or white trash bags.  Then you will remember that this is not garbage for disposal.  Donation items can also go into the liquor boxes and can be labeled with the name of the recipient organization.  If you have the time, make an inventory list of everything you are donating.  These donations can be tax deductible.  It is up to you to determine the value of each item.

Tag sales are a great way to transition household goods and earn a little money too.  Be sure to have the support of family or friends as a sale will take a lot of work.

Pace yourself

Sorting and cleaning out is hard work.  Depending on your schedule, work for only an hour or two per day.  Plan on one trip to a donation site each week or an extra trip to the local dump.  To save your energy, you can sort in-place in a closet or room.  For the treasures, mark an area with green post-it notes because these items will go with you.  Mark the pile of trash with a red note because it is stopping and going no further.  Items in the transition category can be marked in blue because they are going into the wild blue yonder.