Coffee heat rising

Use It Up or (Dammit) THROW IT OUT

So I’ve spent the past few days helping some dear friends move out of their home of 40 years. They sold it, successfully, and now they’re moving into a very attractive and comfortable life-care community. I’d call it the Queen Mary on a Concrete Foundation…it’s quite the luxury liner.

These are folks who live a normal life in a normal home: they’re not what you’d call, by any stretch of the imagination, “hoarders.” They buy what they need. Over time they use it up and go back to Costco to buy some more of what they need. They have a lifetime of tschotskes of the sort that come to rest in the homes of ordinary people: pieces of cherished artwork (some of it valuable); several exceptionally handsome (and exceptionally expensive) lamps, the usual collections of dishes and pots and pans and glasses and whatnot; a computer and a desk and a filing cabinet and a TV and a couple of easy chairs and all those good things. If you were invited into their home, you would find it pleasantly middle class and comfortable.

But…my friend Ms. J has lived there 40 years. She and her late husband built the house all that many years ago. Mr. L, her present husband, married her and moved in heaven only knows how long ago — I do not, but can say they’ve been married as long as I’ve known them, which is some 18 years.

It’s a two-bedroom house, explicitly and attractively designed for an aging couple to spend the rest of their lives in. The late husband passed; she remarried, and now the two incumbents are in their 90s. They decided the wisest thing to do, at this point, would be to follow their friends into the environs of the upscale old-folkerie, where they will be cared for like passengers on some grand luxury liner until they shuffle off this mortal coil.

Sensibly enough, they signed up for a two-bedroom apartment, which they got. It’s a very, very nice place. And it appears, at a glance, to be about the same size as their long-time manse. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms. A separate dining room, a nice living room.  A full-size kitchen. A washer and dryer. A truly spectacular view off the sixth floor. Three restaurants for you to dine in with your monthly chow allowance. Cleaning help included. A library on-campus. Clubs, activities, transportation…the certifiable Life of Riley.


A two-bedroom house with 40 years of seniority does not easily fit into a brand-new two-bedroom apartment.

The apartment doesn’t have a garage: the garage that has sheltered a lifelong accrual of collected valuables. And most to the point, the garage that housed a large upright freezer, the home of innumerable Costco Lifetime Supplies of various food items. Nor does an apartment have the kind of closet space and kitchen space offered up by a house, even a modestly sized house.

Much of the stuff that couldn’t be moved or that is now simply redundant will be offered up in an estate sale, getting it out of their hair, out of their adult children’s hair, and out of the movers’ hair.

What a job! Moving is always a challenge…but when you’ve been in a place for 40 years, it’s more than a mere challenge. “Ordeal” might be le mot juste.

I was reminded by this adventure of the many (many!) times I’ve held forth on the subject of decluttering, dating way back to 2007. And…then was reminded that I need to put my money where my mouth (or keyboard) is. It has been quite a while since I’ve shoveled out the Funny Farm. So this week, I think, I’ll go through the closets and toss out anything I haven’t worn (or wish I hadn’t worn…) in the past year. Also need to go through the garage cabinets, kitchen cabinets, and office closet to get rid of things I’m just not using.

This is a good thing to do whether you live in your shack until the end of your life or are forced to move to some place that’s easier or cheaper to care for.

Moving is difficult under the best of circumstances. But when you’re in your 90s and you’ve been accumulating stuff in the same place for the past 40 years, it’s quite the nightmare. Whether you move or whether you shuffle off  this mortal coil in place, leaving your worldly goods to your unlucky offspring, you need NOT to accumulate junk.

That was something my father the sea captain knew by habit, since most of the time he lived in a first mate’s or captain’s cabin on a tanker: i.e., one room. My mother also knew not to stash too much junk — and he wouldn’t allow her to — because they moved so often. But y’know…I’ve been in this house for almost 15 years and hope to live here until I die. Whether I get shanghaied into an old-folkerie or just leave this place to my son, it would be a good idea to clean out the unused junk now, while I still have the strength to do so, and then to make it a habit to throw out anything I haven’t used in the prior year. I sure don’t want my son to have to deal with shoveling out all the junk you can collect over a lifetime.

This month being January, a thought occurs: Why not designate January as THE annual decluttering month? Then you would be reminded to shovel out the redundant junk on a regular basis, instead of getting around to the job only when forced to it. January is a perfect time: right after Christmas, when you’ve presumably acquired some new junk to find a home for.

8 thoughts on “Use It Up or (Dammit) THROW IT OUT”

  1. Preach it! I lived in the same place for 21 years and was forced to move in 2014 so the building could be gentrified. YIKES! I’ve never been a hoarder, but the stuff I’d accumulated over the years! That apartment had a lot of closet space, so I really didn’t understand how much I had until I had to go through it all. I sold/gave away half a dozen furniture pieces alone.

  2. And how! It’s weird how stuff accumulates without your even noticing, sorta like tartar on the teeth. Don’t think of myself as a hoarder, either, but this morning I was looking around, preparatory to the proposed de-accessioning project, and thinking YIKES! There is a ton of stuff in here that has quietly taken up residence without even being noticed. It really is gonna be a PROJECT to eject this junk.

  3. It’s never ending. Clutter, I’m convinced, is just like weeds. You get rid of one bit of clutter, and two more batches pop up somewhere else in the house.

    40 years of stuff, I can’t imagine.

    • Yes. And the crazy thing is, these people are NOT hoarders. They have a strong grip on their common sense. But the longer you live, I guess, the more gems you collect that you feel are worth keeping.

  4. I’ve been in the same place since 2014 only and I have recently been feeling totally buried by all the *stuff* I have lying around. I’ve been able to weed out stuff I haven’t used in 2+ years fairly easily, but stuff like wall-art, gifts, and (especially) books are really hard to part with.

    I’ve had some success in forming the habit that I give something to a friend (or to goodwill) for every new thing I take in. I got 5 new books for Christmas, so I have to pull 5 books off my shelf and donate them (I’ve found 3 so far that I’m ok parting with). But stuff with sentimental value, like gifts from dead relatives, or even mom and dad…much harder. I can only imagine what my collection will look like in 2054.

    • Yes, one popular way to keep the clutter under control is the one-thing-out-for-every-new-thing-in rule. For me, that works best with clothing. Mostly when I buy something, it’s because I need it, so it’s not replacing anything unless I had to buy it because something broke. Gift-giving is a big problem: people give you things that you don’t especially need…you don’t mind having it but you can’t really get rid of it without appearing ungracious. This is why food makes such a great gift: it gets consumed!

  5. My sister and I got off to a good start, because Dad was in the military. We got used to weeding out and paring down every few years, though it’s been a while since I’ve done it now.

    When they moved into my grandparents’ old house and had to clear out probably fifty years’ worth of accumulated stuff, Mom promised herself anew that she wasn’t going to do that to her kids. Much appreciated!

    When my husband’s aunt passed away in her eighties, I was the lucky person who got to go through the accumulated tools, kitchen stuff, art, and everything else. She wasn’t a hoarder, and all the stuff was tidily put away, but my word, there was a lot of it. The process was complicated by a relative who wanted to keep every d*mn thing and an executor who wanted it all out of the house by a fairly tight deadline, even if that meant into the dumpster. I earnestly hope never to inflict the same stress on my kiddos.

    • This is how my friends were: definitely not hoarders, and definitely very clean, neat, and tidy. But I think when you live in one place for very long, you just accumulate stuff that you feel like you shouldn’t throw away because…

      * Surely you can find a use for it one day
      * You use things like this frequently and so hate to throw out a new (empty jar, washrag, old rug that can be used to soak up mud & rainwater inside the kitchen door, out-of-date cell phone that still has some life in it…)
      * It cost a ton of money and you loathe throwing it out
      * Your (mother) (Aunt Tillie) (kid) (late husband) (current husband) (coworker three jobs ago) (whoEVER) gave it to you
      * It’s financial or legal paper and you’re afraid to throw it out lest the IRS come after you someday
      * It’s your grandfather’s gun and no one is prying it out of your cold, dead fingers…

      Even when there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place, stuff just accrues. And when you’re in your 90s and you’ve lived in one place almost half your life, a LOT of stuff has accrued!

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