Declutter and Downsize as a Senior Adult

Everyone has clutter, and everyone talks about removing it. And yet, most people procrastinate in tackling this potentially overwhelming task rather than starting early and allowing enough time to do it. Getting rid of ‘stuff’ …

Everyone has clutter, and everyone talks about removing it. And yet, most people procrastinate in tackling this potentially overwhelming task rather than starting early and allowing enough time to do it. Getting rid of ‘stuff’ is not the top priority for anyone unless it simply has to be done. As Barrett Bowlin recently tweeted, “Nothing in this world will turn you into a minimalist faster than cleaning out your parent’s home.” Is there a way of looking at this to motivate you to roll up your sleeves and begin decluttering now? Consider the following perks of decluttering.

Perks of decluttering

First, decluttering and downsizing family home and office spaces can alleviate stress. If you have lived a life of abundance, you don’t realize how that abundance can become a burden. The lack of order or organization can cause anxiety. How many times could you not find something? You’re not necessarily losing your mind. You’re losing your stuff because you have too much of it. A simpler life can free your mind so that you can live and enjoy more open space in your home. It will allow you to breathe.

A clearer living or working space will also save you time. You are no longer searching for items that are now easier to find. Everything is in its place.

More open space will enhance safety since you no longer have to navigate piles of stuff. You might exercise more with a clearer floor area where you can do those sit-ups. The job of cleaning will be easier with fewer items to move.

Consider as well the money you will save. Knowing what you have means you won’t duplicate items, and you might remove that storage rental fee from your monthly budget. Also, in the process of selling or donating items, you could earn some cash or get some tax write-offs as well.

Challenges for seniors

If you are helping your parents to declutter, remember that downsizing for seniors can be even more challenging. Why? They may have lived in the same family home for many years with more time to accumulate possessions, and change can be difficult for them. For someone living alone, it may be hard to part with mementos kept due to loneliness. Loyalty may also be a reason to hesitate to discard a gift from a friend or loved one.

In addition, giving away something that still works can be challenging for anyone living on a fixed income or having struggled in the past. Those items might be of use someday, or maybe it was just too good a deal to let go.

Seniors may also have more motivation challenges or not know what to do with unwanted items.

You Need a Plan

The task for seniors decluttering does not have to be overwhelming; you just need a plan. With a positive attitude and some practical tips, this can be done without dread. Also, with every box of items you remove, you will feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

Here are some senior downsizing tips to consider to get started.

Start with a positive mindset.

Keep in mind the reason you are managing the clutter. Consider this a gift whether you are decluttering and downsizing for senior parents or yourself. A gift for you to live a less stressful life with fewer possessions to manage. Or a gift for your family who need your help now or who will in the future when you may not be around.

Before you begin, close your eyes and imagine what the space will look like without all the clutter. Reflect on this image as you go through the process, and soon you’ll see the free space emerging from the chaos.

Ask for help from family or friends.

Don’t do this alone if you have family or friends who can help you. If you have family members who live with you who have contributed to the clutter, delegate tasks. Have the grandkids downsize the toys and games to make room for new ones. Have the adults go through their stash of hobby or reading materials to donate or discard.

But be careful whom you ask for help. Don’t invite anyone who might impede your progress. Remember that you have a goal and want to work towards that goal without much distraction. It would be helpful to have someone who is not emotionally involved with your possessions and can help you make those difficult decisions about what to discard.

You may also need help with the larger or hard-to-reach objects. With careful planning, you can work in those areas when support is available.

If you don’t have family or friends nearby, consider using Senior Move Managers. Contact the National Organization of Specialty and Senior Move Managers at Since 2003, NASMM has been vetting senior move managers to assist seniors in clearing out their current homes or helping to downsize in anticipation of moving to a different location.

Start small

You didn’t accumulate all of this in a day, and you won’t get rid of it in a day. It is essential to see that you are progressing, even if only by clearing out a drawer. It is still progress.

Start small and set aside time or days to get it done. Increase your time and goals as you move along. Move at your own pace. Remember, this is a marathon, not a race, and don’t do so much at one time that you are exhausted. Focus on one area and work only on that area to begin. Looking at the whole picture will be discouraging and feel overwhelming.

Set up three boxes or piles, one each for keeping, discarding, or donating/gifting/recycling. As you progress, you’ll be surprised how quickly these boxes fill up.

Discard easy items first

It’s a good idea to start in the kitchen or bathroom first since trash, outdated food or medications, and broken items are easy to recognize. Do you need duplicate utensils or cookware? How about all those extra linens or towels?

Remove hazardous items such as rugs, electronics, furniture, or appliances. Things like that blender that need to be turned on and off a few times before doing the job. Or what about that frayed rug in the hallway that is so easy to trip over?   

Websites for general recycling include US Environmental Protection Agency and The Recycling Center. Contact the following for hazardous waste, Earth 911, rechargeable batteries Call2 recycle, computers and tech gadgets Cristina Foundation.

Cities and counties often have annual or biannual hazardous waste days where you can drop off different items in one place.


Once you get into the rhythm of discarding objects, you can move into those areas which may require more time and decision-making. But you are off to a good start and will be ready to tackle those clothes and mementos. Ask yourself if you have outgrown the item or if you would miss it. Do you really need all those shoes, hats, or shirts of the same color? You may be surprised that you still have some things stashed away. Do you even remember why you kept them?

Most importantly, do they bring you joy? Whether these are your items or those of your parents, approach this process respecting the lives lived through these items. You had these items for a reason. Perhaps they were clothes for a job or a special occasion. Those mementos may be from a fun time in your past. But do you need them to remember?

Use technology instead. Consider taking pictures of those mementos. Frames that use a flash drive to display photos will allow you to keep those memories alive. Rather than saving an entire collection, such as a china set, save one piece.

As you organize, keep similar things together using boxes, baskets, or file folders. Use square, see-through, or labeled containers while putting small pieces in Ziploc bags. If you’re not sure you’ll need something, pack up things for a few months, and if not needed, donate them.

Make it fun

Ridding yourself of items from your past is not always an easy thing to do. So you may want to play the music you love to energize or calm you while going through this process.

As you discard older clothes, have a fashion show, and relate the memories lived during those times. Share stories of mementos describing why they are so important to you. You can even audio or video record these moments, telling tales your family never heard. These items represent a part of your life. But remember that you still have adventures ahead of you as well.

Returning or Gifting to others

If you have been saving items for others, ask them if they want them. If so, give them a deadline to pick them up. But also be prepared that your children may not want articles you thought they’d cherish. There are generational differences in what is valuable. They may not have room, or it just doesn’t fit their lifestyle. By discarding those items now, your children will have less to clean up without you, and they will be grateful for that.

If not your children, many others would benefit from your generosity in donating items to those in need. Those who are just starting. Knowing that you are helping someone else makes getting rid of sentimental objects easier.

Consider donating items to churches, domestic violence shelters, local shelters, and thrift stores. Animal shelters will take pet supplies and blankets. Don’t forget historical societies and museums for vintage items.

Specific organizations for clothing donations include Vietnam Veterans of America, Charity Navigator, Dress For Success (women’s dress clothes), Soles 4 Souls (gently worn shoes), Catholic Charities USA,  and Salvation Army.

AmVetsPickups operates in select states for donations of multiple items, and Habitat for Humanity is also an option for more oversized items and home goods.

There is also the Freecycle Network, a local network for various items to reduce waste in landfills.  

Maintain de-clutter upkeep

Rather than procrastinate, try to make your de-clutter upkeep a routine. Make it a habit to take a few minutes a day to put things away. If you keep everything in its place, you will be one step ahead of creating more clutter. Promise to get rid of something else if you buy something new. Be honest with yourself and consider if you keep something, will you be looking at it again next year to throw it away?

You can have recycling or donation containers ready to add to throughout the year. Set a schedule to go through your things routinely, including mail, newspapers, and books, and try to keep to it. Keep your mail in one place to make it easier to chuck that junk mail in the recycling bin.

You can reduce the amount of Junk mail by contacting the Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service, Catalog Choice, Federal Trade Commission for pre-approved credit card offers 1-888-5-OPT-OUT and Deceased Do Not Contact List

Donate books and magazines to your local library, school, nursing home, or hospital.

Getting rid of the clutter is the first step in downsizing.

Whether or not you are planning on moving to a smaller living space, organizing and decluttering is a good place to start. Downsizing family home or office space can give you a feeling of accomplishment, more room to enjoy, and new uses for those open spaces.

Decluttering can be a big task, so don’t forget to give yourself credit for small wins and celebrate your progress. Enjoy your new freedom. It will definitely be worth your time.

The more you have, the more occupied you are.

The less you have, the freer you are; Mother Teresa

Additional reading

For more downsizing tips for seniors, you might want to check out an AARP book Downsizing The Family Home by Marni Jameson, or The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. They are both anecdotal while offering practical advice with humor.

Places to Sell Items

Finally, if you want to sell items, these are a few options.,, For books, reach out to or  For cell phones:


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