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Downsize Your Belongings and Live Better

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Discovering less is more

In Elizabeth Dodson’s home, a large, unused pool table and all its accoutrements – balls, pool sticks, cues and cleaning equipment – took up a whole room. “I really wanted to create a healthy living space,” says Dodson, co-founder of HomeZada. “Once we removed the pool table, we suddenly had a blank canvas.” Dodson transformed the room into a wellness area, including yoga mats. “Now, my husband and I schedule a weekly healthy date night and do yoga, meditation or dance moves,” she says. “Evaluating each item in your home based on whether you use it or not makes it easy to determine what you really want – and need – in your home. This helps you make it easier to change your lifestyle.”

With the popularity of expert organizers like Marie Kondo, who promote tidying and simplifying space to enjoy a better quality of life, decluttering is having a moment. And there actually are tons of benefits retirees can experience when they declutter their space: stress reduction, boosting their productivity and creativity, and getting active in the process.

“Retirees can also get an energy boost from being in ‘task mode,’ and they often find lost treasures as they organize their spaces,” says Daniel Loya, founder of New York City-based Spaces Transformed. “Decluttering promotes a healthier environment because it reduces allergens when living spaces are cleaned up, along with the risk of tripping over things that don’t have a proper home. Having an organized home empowers you to function in an inspirational, joyful home.”

Reset Your Mindset

We get it. The idea of decluttering brings its own stressors. The good news, though, is it doesn’t mean parting with everything you own. “The definition of ‘clutter’ to professional organizers is ‘delayed decisions,’” Loya says. “Piled-up paperwork and overstuffed drawers and closets translates to lots of spaces filled with stuff that you choose to organize, give away or toss.”

Before you throw even one item away, though, get mentally prepared for the process. Remember, decluttering your space en masse isn’t going to happen overnight, and you shouldn’t put that kind of pressure on yourself, anyway. Ultimately, you want to transform your home – and your quality of life – for the better.

First, visualize how you want your home – or even one room or one cabinet – to look, and how that will impact your daily routine and overall vibe in the house. 




First, visualize how you want your home – or even one room or one cabinet – to look, and how that will impact your daily routine and overall vibe in the house.


“How do you really want to feel when you’re in the space?” says Nonnahs Driskill, founding organizer at GetOrganizedAlready.com. “Write down the words or phrases that come to mind. Then, tape your list temporarily on the wall of the room to keep you on track as you declutter.”

There’s a real emphasis lately on the value of acquiring experiences instead of things. “The point is to have the money to be able to travel or attend events, go back to school or play more sports,” says Marty Basher, home organization expert for Modular Closets. “Remember, the more we collect stuff, the more space we need to store the stuff and the more attention it takes away from the important things, whether that’s family, friends or a hobby.” Consider also that true downsizing might include moving from your big family home into a retirement community or a condo. You could even challenge yourself to take a year to explore the country's 15 best RV destinations. “That also means getting rid of years of stuff, like your kids’ old art and schoolwork, sentimental items, and all kinds of stuff acquired from many years of living in the same space,” Basher says.

If you are thinking about money matters, downsizing can bring lots of cost and time savings: insurance, utilities, maintenance, taxes and a lower mortgage. “Now you have additional funds for life experiences, whether that’s travel, enjoying fine dining at local restaurants, wine events, investing in your hobbies and sports and so on,” Basher says. “Downsizing might even allow you to fully pay off your mortgage, which often is a big dent in your monthly budget. You can reallocate the funds to a retirement plan, debt reduction or other goals.” When you decide to downsize your space or declutter your existing home, you’ll just naturally shift to a more experiential lifestyle, Basher says. “You’ll enjoy a lifestyle that doesn’t come from spending all your hard-earned money on possessions,” he says.

Similarly, having a tidy home makes it that much easier to extend an invitation to friends. “Hosting friends in your home encourages a deeper connection,” Driskill says.

Get Ready to Tidy Up

While there are lots of methods to decluttering a home, Loya recommends these four low-pressure steps to cleaning up a room or a whole house.

1. List the areas or rooms to organize.

Your list can be from highest to lowest priority. Conversely, you can make a list based on the easiest areas to hardest to tackle. “You can also start with the area that bothers you the most or causes you the most stress in your daily life,” Loya says. Break the spaces into manageable areas. Give yourself a couple of hours to work on each space, and then stop when time’s up so you don’t burn yourself out to the process.

2. Start decluttering.

“Start by clearing the floor, then move to the surfaces, and finish by decluttering inside storage spaces like drawers and cabinets,” Loya says. You might want to try the four boxes method: garbage, donate, keep or relocate. You can use this mantra when you’re evaluating items: “Use it, love it or lose it.” Before you call it done with a space or a cabinet, for example, place every item in one of the four boxes.

Or, when you ascribe to Kondo’s KonMari Method, she encourages sorting by category (not necessarily by location), starting with clothes, then books, then miscellaneous items and then sentimental objects.

3. Contend with your emotions.

This part is where the going might get tough. Basher says you’ll hear a contrarian voice in your head saying, “I might need it someday! It was a gift! It was expensive! It has sentimental value! It might be worth something someday!” When it comes to more sentimental objects, Kondo recommends keeping only those items that speak to your heart, “discarding items that no longer spark joy.” Tip: Some experts recommend taking pictures of more sentimental objects and putting them in an album with their stories so family members can share in your history.

4. Create homes for items you want to keep – and put them away.

“In your storage areas, create zones for thing of like categories so they’re easy to find later,” Loya says. Store the items you use most often at eye level and hip level, Driskill recommends. Use small and medium-size boxes or plastic containers to group small items in drawers or cabinets.

5. Don’t forget to focus on the big stuff, too.

Like Dodson, who removed an entire pool table, take a look at the big items – sofas, tables or shelves – that either crowd a space or could be relocated for a better flow. “Once you’ve decluttered the spaces on your list, all you have to do after this process to maintain the order is repeat this process about once a month,” Loya says. If you’re just getting used to the idea of decluttering and want to dip your toe in, try these quick expert hacks:

  • Give away or discard just one item a day.

  • Declutter for just five minutes a day.

  • Fill one trash bag with items to drop off at Goodwill.

  • Take the 12-12-12 challenge – that’s 12 items to throw away, 12 to donate and 12 to put in their correct spots.

And, try to make it a rule to not bring new items into your space until you’ve finished decluttering and reorganizing. In addition, consider donating clothing and other household items that are in good condition to national organizations like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, or to your local library or house of worship, if they take and redistribute these gently used items.

Remember, you may have a lot of older technology, such as outdated televisions or radios. As technology trends change, it might be a good time to upgrade.

Build Your Healthy Space

Home Gym

If you plan to add a wellness space to your home but need to declutter to make it happen, motivate yourself throughout the process by reminding yourself of this intention. “Having a goal to practice yoga and meditation in an open, relaxing space, for instance, will inspire you during the times you get stuck on a decision or tired from the hard work,” Loya says.

Start small with any home gym or wellness area – you can build on it if you use the space. Here’s a quick-hit list of items that require a low dollar investment, especially if you buy used:

  • Full-length mirror so you can watch your form and technique to lower your chances of injury

  • A set of dumbbells, a kettlebell, a jump rope and resistance bands

  • A stability ball to do core-strengthening exercises like crunches, squats and hamstring curls

  • A yoga mat for stretching and meditation

  • A simple bench to step up on, or for chest presses or pushups or dips

  • A wall-mounted shelving unit for storage

If space is at a premium, you can get creative about where you plan to add a wellness space in your home. You can find a nook in a corner of a room, or a room that might not seem an obvious area to exercise in. For example, have you heard of a corner gym? Dedicate a corner of any room to your cardio workout by mounting a pegboard on one wall to hang your towel, earbuds, resistance bands and more. Add a clipboard grid for workout sheets and progress photos.

“In any case, make the space comfortable and place things there that comfort you like calming artwork, a meditation pillow or a scented candle,” Loya says.

If you’re still working on creating a dedicated wellness space, try a “hidden gym” in the meantime. For example, if you work out in your den, use an ottoman that doubles as a trunk to stash your gear. Bonus points if it has wheels, so you can make room for your aerobic activities. While decluttering brings a breath of fresh air into anyone’s lifestyle, it can offer retirees a whole new outlook: a social, active, experiential life that sustains them for years to come.

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4 Ways to Get Organized Now

Nonnahs Driscoll, founding organizer at GetOrganizedAlready.com, recommends following these four easy tips to kick clutter to the curb:

1. Be generous. Don’t store items you plan to leave to your family – gift them the items now.

2. Save your back. Use a table or desk when you sort, rather than spreading everything on the floor.

3. Say good-bye to guilt. Only keep items you use regularly or you find to be beautiful.

4. Ask for help. Don’t feel bad about asking a friend or even hiring a professional organizer to help you cut through the clutter.