A few years ago I helped my mom de-clutter. organize her home and downsize, keeping only those items she needed, wanted, liked and used on a regular basis. While in the throes of figuring out what to keep and what not to keep, we also rearranged her accessories, knick-knacks, lamps and artwork, giving her condo a fresh and updated look. Rearranging after decluttering and downsizing made the process so much easier.

When we were done, my mother turned to me and said; “My home is in order. Now I can die.”

At the time I thought this was a bit morose, but my mom, who is one smart cookie, is realistic and understands none of her children wants to be burdened with disposing of all her “stuff” when she’s gone.

To make the task of downsizing a little less daunting; I’d like to share some ideas:

Don’t let your “stuff” own you: The simple act of paring down and taking control of the stuff in your life before it takes control of you will make the task so much easier.

Why should I downsize? Too many people have the attitude that when they’re gone their kids can deal with it, just like they had to deal with their parents’ stuff when they died. Thoughts to downsize by:

  • If you’re moving into a smaller home, you will have less space; less space equals less stuff. Period. End of conversation.
  • Trying to move out of a 5-bedroom house into a 2-bedroom house without purging before you move is akin to trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
  • Death and grieving are emotional enough. Why burden your loved ones with more stuff to deal with than is absolutely necessary?

Take emotion out of the equation: Many people hold onto stuff for sentimental reasons, even though they’d be the first to admit to not liking, needing or wanting something. It’s important not to burden your loved ones with the same guilt you’ve been saddled with all your life.

My kids will figure it out: Your kids, especially if they work for someone other than themselves, will probably have three, maybe four days max of bereavement leave to plan the funeral; clear out the contents of your over-stuffed house; sort through and organize the paperwork and put the house on the market. And they probably live thousands of miles away, right?

Trust me when I say, if you don’t purge & pitch, the only thing your loved ones will be feeling is anger and resentment as they face the job on their own, which will probably result in one of the following scenarios:

  • Your kids will call a professional organizer to sort through everything.
  • Your kids will call a junk collector to haul everything away.
  • Your kids might call a charity to help unload some of the stuff.
  • Your kids will put everything in storage and leave it for their kids.
  • Your kids will leave everything “as is” in the house for months (or years), oftentimes missing out on the opportunity to sell the house.

How do you let go?

Choosing what stays and what goes is like picking your friends. The goal is to surround yourself with only those things that make you happy. It doesn’t matter what you paid for something or what you think it’s worth; when it comes to letting go, ask yourself:

  • Do you love it?
  • Do you need it?
  • Have you used it in the past year?
  • Will it physically fit in your new home?
  • Will it “fit” your new lifestyle?
  • Is the cost of keeping something worth the expense?

I’m saving it for my kids:

  • Your children, who are probably Baby Boomers themselves, don’t want or need anything, as they’re trying to get rid of what they have so as not to burden their kids.
  • Understand, what’s important to you probably isn’t important to your kids.

My collections: Remember, you’re not alone in your quest to consolidate, declutter and downsize. And just because you enjoyed collecting frogs (or mice or glass paperweights) doesn’t mean your kids want your treasures.

Postcards, maps and more stuff: With the advent of the Internet, who needs maps, hotel brochures, menus and ticket stubs to the Paris catacombs? I cannot begin to tell you how many bins, boxes and piles of travel memorabilia I’ve seen children throw away, all the while wondering why their parents held onto these things for so long.

Photos, slides, undeveloped film, video recordings and 8mm movies: If it’s really that important, convert and/or scan the images to a flash drive for prosperity. If a photo has a special place in your heart, why not tell your kids why and then move on?

Storage is not the solution. Aside from the expense of renting an off-site storage unit, need I tell you how many storage units I clear out each year, which many of my clients have been paying rent on for 20 plus years?

Getting rid of things you don’t use and don’t need is the greatest gift you can give your loved ones.