As retirement looms, it’s natural to begin reflecting on the past, but it’s not a time for doom and gloom. It’s the time to put the past behind you, and look at the new opportunities these changes bring. It’s also quite often a time of downsizing – and with that comes the need to declutter. While it may be scary, it’s also surprisingly liberating.
When the house we bought became a home, each room played witness to our lives: the love, the laughter and the tears. It’s where the kids were born, nurtured, schooled and fledged; where memories were made and photographs hung; where treasured books line shelves and where our belongings live. For many, our homes reflect the places we’ve been and the friends we’ve made along the way.
‘And you’re asking me to give this all up?’ I hear you say …
As overwhelming as this thought might be, with the right mind-set and appropriate ‘tools’ at our disposal it may be easier than we think. And it may lead to the best years of our lives.
‘We all have two lives. The second one starts when we realise that we have only one.’
– Tom Hiddleston, aka ‘Loki’ from Marvel Movies.
Cluttered spaces lead to cluttered minds and cluttered lives
South African speaker and coach, Kate Emmerson, author of the book Clear your Clutter, defines clutter as ‘anything that no longer empowers you’. She suggests we look at not just our physical stuff, but at ourselves holistically – our minds and emotions as well as our bodies. Our bodies are perhaps the easiest to deal with – ‘just’ get rid of the ‘bad’ stuff we put into them, the stuff that saps our energy, steals our health and depletes our ‘va-va-voom’, as she likes to call it, and drink more water, get more sleep, more exercise and more fresh food. Our minds and emotions are a little more complex. Here we need to address the stuff that steals our power and our joy. This entails some tough ‘heart’ stuff – getting rid of negative emotions,
like unforgivingness, resentment, guilt, anger and the like.
Sound a bit airy-fairy for you?
Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago who studies the causes of clutter and its impact on emotional wellbeing, says that ‘clutter is an overabundance of possessions (read “stuff”) that collectively creates chaotic and disorderly living spaces.’ A cluttered space is bad enough, but a cluttered mind, body and soul are detrimental to our health and longevity – which, clearly, we want loads of for all those exciting post-retirement opportunities.
‘Okay, I’m convinced’, you say … so how do we achieve this?
Make it happen
We can go hard-core, and follow the advice of Japanese minimalist Marie Kondo, whose book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up has taught millions of people all over the world how to declutter their homes. She suggests that instead of tackling our homes room by room, we should tackle them according to subject, starting with what is easiest to part with – this way we don’t just relocate clutter from one room to another. Start with all the clothes, then all the books, then all the documents, other bits and bobs, and finally, the most difficult, the photos and mementos. She suggests our focus should not be on what to get rid of but should rather be on what to keep – the things that ‘spark sufficient joy,’ or are truly necessary.
But if this is too daunting, take the gentler approach that professional organiser Debbie Bower suggests by getting rid of anything broken, things that aren’t being loved or used (think the back of cupboards, the storeroom and the garage) and things that bring back bad memories, or have an association with negative emotions.
And if all this sounds like too much effort, just take what you want to keep and leave the rest for your kids to deal with. My in-laws did this when they left for Canada and it took us months to get rid of all their stuff – grrr!! So this is not recommended unless discussed in advance and all agreed upon.
Jokes aside, here are some things to keep in mind:
• Keep your eye on the prize – your new lifestyle and all the wonderful things you’re going to do and achieve. Like that hobby you’ve been dreaming of starting for years, the camping trip with your grandkids, spending more time with family and friends, the holiday of a lifetime with your significant other … or perhaps that ‘gap year’ to travel around South Africa in a campervan. The possibilities are endless – so keep your eye on them.
• Know what your new space can accommodate. What are the measurements of the rooms? Will your current furniture fit? How much space is there for books, art and any special items?
• Start with a plan in mind – decide where to start, and have a plan on how long you hope the task will take.
• Ask for help – family members and friends will usually be happy to assist. Failing that, there are professionals that offer decluttering as a service.
So, what do we do with all this excess stuff?
Items that are broken or damaged beyond repair should be discarded – remember that old electronics should go to an e-waste facility for appropriate disposal. Sort out which items can be recycled. Have bins labelled for glass, plastic and paper – old magazines can either be recycled or donated to a charity, a preschool (kids love being creative with paper) or even to your local library, which will probably sell them to raise funds. Consider sending old newspapers to your local SPCA as they are used in looking after the animals in their care.
Most homes have a variety of items that can be sold. Consider sites like Gumtree, local Facebook groups, and, if you’re brave enough, consider having a garage sale – but please keep security in mind. Consider an auction house for your valuable furniture and art – give your kids the option first though. My husband was exceptionally disappointed when his parents sold a family heirloom at a low price when he wasn’t even given the option to purchase it. Even if they decline the offer, it’s the thought that counts.
Gently worn clothes and kitchen items can be boxed and donated to local charity shops – like the SPCA and Hospice. The sale of these items brings much-needed funds to these organisations and enables others to purchase items that would never have been affordable new. Some NGOs collect clothes to sell bagged at a nominal rate to women in disadvantaged communities to enable them to start a business reselling these items – this is often what puts food on the table and sends their kids to school.
And, as financial guru Suze Orman says, ‘the more time-efficient option, with the biggest emotional payoff, is to donate your unwanted items to a local non-profit. Giving back, while giving away, is a powerful way to spark joy for you and the recipients of your giving.’ Don’t think of it as losing stuff – think of it as gaining space, clarity and freedom.