Freeing Yourself from Stuff

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with many older adults who feel burdened by all their stuff. They want to ‘rightsize’ their lives but aren’t sure where to begin. Just the thought of sorting, deciding what to do with items, reliving memories, and the hours of work creates a barrier to getting where they want to be.

A number of years ago, my husband and I came to the realization that our big family house and yard no longer matched the lifestyle we wanted. We no longer wanted to be tied down by the hours needed to maintain it, and by the stuff that filled every nook and cranny. What we wanted was time to focus on our family, friends, and the pursuits that brought us joy.

Getting started was overwhelming. We’d lived in the house for 15 years, raising two kids, and had the stuff to show for it. Knowing that lists work for me, I picked up a notebook and began numbering. My goal was to get rid of 1,000 things and I gave myself permission to count things as simple as one pencil as one item. I made three columns: Throw Away, Give Away, Sell. I gave myself a year.

I don’t know what it was about this notebook, but my goal was accomplished in just one month. There was something so freeing about not letting my stuff rule me and instead me ruling my stuff. And once the stuff was ruled, we were able to begin the process of creating lives focused on what was most important to us.

As I’m typing out these words, I’m reminded of a conversation I once overheard between two women in their 70s. One was overwhelmed and struggling to sort through her stuff so she could make a move. The other had left a beautiful home on the water, and now had a lovely life in a small apartment with many friends nearby. The contrast was startling; the overwhelmed woman was seemingly frozen in the midst of her stuff while the woman with the new life was energized by the possibilities for her future. When ‘Overwhelmed’ asked ‘New Life’ how she had made the move, ‘New Life’ responded, “I realized the stuff was taking the place in my heart where people should be.”

A truth for many of us, I believe.