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The Joy Of Decluttering

Don’t let these common but misguided notions derail your goal to declutter and lighten up.

Patricia Mertz Esswein

We spend the first half of our lives accumulating stuff and the latter half trying to get rid of it, says Barry Izsak, a professional organizer in Austin, Texas. If you’re in the second phase, we’ll help you make the tough decisions about what to toss and offer suggestions on where to sell your stuff. Still too daunting? We also tell you when it’s time to call in the pros. But first, you need to get over these often-untrue truisms.

I just need to get organized.

That’s probably a good bet, but first you need to figure out what to toss. And many baby boomers face a special dilemma: After decades of accumulating their own possessions, they want to simplify their lives even as their parents are dying and leaving behind a tidal wave of stuff, says Julie Hall, director of the American Society of Estate Liquidators. At the same time, their millennial kids are leaving home and leaving behind many of their possessions. The solution? Dispose of as much as you can, then organize what’s left.

Think of the disposal process as “right-sizing” your stuff, meaning you should have the right amount of stuff at the right time in your life, says Izsak. He advises clients to keep only what they find useful or beautiful and to sell, donate or toss the rest.

The kids may need it someday.

“News flash! Your kids grew up with too much stuff and don’t want any of yours,” says Bonnie Kallenberg, owner of Finders Keepers Consignments, in suburban Atlanta. Millennials value mobility and experiences, not stuff. Tastes have changed from formal to informal, from traditional to contemporary and from cluttered to clean.

Mid-Century Modern furnishings and decor are hot, and “brown furniture” (traditional styles in dark stains or woods) and big, heavy pieces (china hutches and entertainment centers) are not. Many twenty- and thirtysomethings don’t like furniture upholstered in floral, plaid or paisley fabric. They don’t want to clutter their space with Hummel figurines or other tchotchkes. They tend to live and entertain informally and don’t want anything they can’t wash in the dishwasher, so they’ll probably take a pass on the crystal, china and silver.

Ask your children what they would like to have, accept their answers, and don’t pressure them into taking more than they want. As for another issue faced by many empty nesters—serving as Mom-and-Pop Storage Inc.—if you like, agree to store your adult children’s belongings until they get settled, but give them a deadline for pickup.

My cookie jar collection must be worth a fortune!

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