Perhaps you have a loved one like Albert. Albert’s son is renovating part of his home so that Albert can move in and be close to his grandchildren. Albert is downsizing from a good-sized 1-bedroom apartment that is quite full of books, papers, magazines, newspapers, and mementos from Albert’s career and marriage. I’ve had many clients like Albert. He’s incredibly intelligent, has been a lifelong learner, and still has many passions and interests.
Part of my job with Albert is helping him to let go of some of his things and embrace the reality of his new lifestyle. Many times, when I work with clients like Albert, their family members want to know how long it will take to organize and downsize their things. The truth is that it is entirely dependent on the person and their decision-making ability. Some clients I’ve had are quick decision-makers and are ready to embrace change.
Some are more like Albert, who is having a more difficult time with this transition and is reluctant to let go of his beloved books and information. In either case, downsizing can be a tedious process that requires patience from all parties involved.
If your loved one is reluctant to downsize like Albert, here are some organizing strategies that might help:
• Give it time: Some people need to take more than one pass through their items before they are ready to let go. If your loved one is having difficulty deciding about an item, it’s okay to set it aside and let it “marinate” for awhile.
• Tell stories: I find it sometimes helps my clients to spend a few minutes telling me about an item before they make a decision. Simply sharing their story with me is sometimes enough to help them say goodbye.
• Take photographs: Having a photograph of an item, particularly a piece of memorabilia, is sometimes a good substitute (and less space consuming!) for the item itself.
• Sort into categories: Giving a person one category of items (I.e.: WWII books) to look through at once will help them stay focused and make better-informed decisions about what they’re keeping.
• Set boundaries: Especially when it comes to paper, working with the person to establish boundaries around what stays and what goes can help speed the process along. For instance, simply establishing that any expired coupons or utility bills older than a year can go will help them make quicker decisions and also allow you to help sort and discard.
• Containerize: Setting a container limit can sometimes help people prioritize. For instance, determining they will have space for 2 bookcases might help them limit their book choices.
• Work in small increments of time: Decision-making can be exhausting, especially for seniors. If time allows, looking through items for a just few hours a day is ideal.
It also may be helpful to bring in outside help, like a Professional Organizer. Downsizing is an emotional process for everyone! Sometimes having an outside party involved will help mediate tension and reduce frustration. You can find a professional organizer near you by searching the National Association of Professional Organizers’ directory.