Getting back to basics is the simplest way to find calm in the chaos.
My family has lived in the same house for 23 years. For 3 years after immigrating to the United States, my parents, myself and my sister lived in a 1 bedroom apartment. I don't remember it to be small since it fit all of us nicely. After much saving, my parents purchased a 3 bedroom home just in time for my youngest sister's birth. In this home is where we spent many holidays together. My parents can put up Christmas decor in a heartbeat. This is the house that I returned to post college for two years. This is the house that I returned to when my husband and I were making a life transition. This the place that I've always called HOME despite living on-campus in college and apartment dwelling to be closer to New York City. As of yesterday, my parents just accepted an offer for this house. Before we got to this point, it took months to declutter 23 years of stuff and I want to share with you what I've learned throughout this process.
Not sure if this was a function of being an immigrant family, coming from a place like the Philippines where the standard of living is fairly low, but we had a lot of stuff. The average American family is mired in stuff. Garages can't fit a car. Attics and basements are full of items that have not been used in many years.
When I was doing my personal decluttering and tried to push a semblance of minimalism on my parents. This did not go well. Partly because I was pushing my own ideals on them and partly because I did not fully explain why this would be good. In all honesty too, some people don't realize how much stuff they have and don't want to acknowledge what it takes to maintain and discard said stuff. We all have to come into our own conclusions about our own stuff, but after personally decluttering and helping my parents do this, I wish we had done this sooner.
Remember that at some point, all of that stuff used to be money. That money used to be time. Who's time was sacrificed for that clutter? While time can't be regained, new habits can be formed.
It's important to note that decluttering can be done anytime. It doesn't have to be when a house sale is imminent or when a move is on the horizon. Decluttering can be a cathartic way to accept a life transition. Let me be the first to tell you that decluttering takes time. It takes lots of time especially if we are dealing with years of stuff with lots of emotions and memories tied to them.
Decluttering is a good way to change the status quo. When we've lived the way we've for years, we may not realize that things can be better or improved. Decluttering allows us to see empty rooms and empty spaces that may not be needed. It may lead to space downsizing which saves money in the long run. Decluttering allows us to gain money through the sale of stuff which can be used to pay off debt or invest.
It's rare for our parents to think about downsizing once the kids are out of house, partly because there's hope that it will be filled with grandchildren and it will be a space for gathering, but we have to face the reality that some of our childhood homes are maybe too big for two adults.
What can be gained from having less stuff and less house to maintain? A whole lot.
Start the decluttering process today. Going back to my point, it takes time. So here's the reality, you can either declutter today with your parents help or declutter without their help. Eventually our parents will die, there is no sugar coating that fact. We can help them today to get rid of items while also share and reminisce in the memories. This is probably the ideal scenario. This takes more time, but at least you can relive moments with each other one more time.
It's sad to witness our friends go through a parents death and consequently the discarding of said parents possessions. It's heartbreaking to watch years of stuff being thrown out into a garbage bin without preamble, without the explanations of why it was kept. Don't let that be you.
Go in with a plan of action. Start with one room at a time. Perhaps, you spend one weekend tackling a room together. Get a plan in place with your parents to tackle one room at a time. This may mean involving siblings, but do it together and have a goal in mind of where things should go. Setup garbage bins, donation bins and keep piles. The goal here is to reduce the amount of stuff and relive some memories.
Decluttering today also means you, hopefully, won't be in a rush to discard things. So this means less items will be trashed and end up in the landfill. Slowly let go and find new homes for the items. Let them go into the universe and let someone else enjoy them. Personally, I had a hard time seeing my parents Christmas decorations being bought by strangers, but you know what I hope they make new memories out of that.
I want to share a particular story with a large dark skinned Santa Clause that my dad always put up during Christmas. A little girl went up to it and was so overjoyed at seeing it. It seemed liked she was so happy to see a Santa with her skin color and so large. Seeing that made it easier to part with because someone else got to enjoy that object.
OK, so there's also going to be part where emotions take over. Remember that we are all adults here. Talk through them, walk through them. While this time is not a therapy session, it can become one. Trust that all of us, whether we are the child or the parent did the best we could given what we knew at the time. There is no blame or shame, just move forward.
It's Your Stuff
I thought I was a minimalist, but I have to admit that part of the reason why I didn't have a lot of stuff was because they were at my parents home. Some things I had forgotten about like old mementos from high school or college and others that I purposely kept because I knew it would be safe there. Don't beat yourself up for having these items still, but take action and figure out what to do with them.
There's a burden to keeping these things out of mind. Someone, somewhere knows these exist and by continuing to have them in your home, you bear the partial burden of protecting them. Let them go. If you are not willing to take them on, then don't burden someone else with keeping them. Understandably, some of these things we may have forgotten, but now that we see them, it's time to review and discard what is no longer necessary.
Another point too is that our parents may be holding on to these things in the hopes that we will want them. It's heavy weight to carry. Let's understand the why behind the reasons for keeping items and find an alternative.
It's OK to Say No
As you declutter, it is also tempting to save things "just in case." Face reality and face the facts about accepting and keeping stuff. Things will have memories, but those memories don't live in things, they live in our hearts and minds. Let's be careful with being attached to things.
It's OK to say no to keeping things being handed down to you if you find no true value in them, but be honest and fair with how you message this. All that stuff around you, our parents sacrificed their time and money to get us that stuff. Let's be gentle in the way we treat the process of discarding.
Prepare for Deductions
Decluttering will also mean donations and deductions. Be prepared for this by ensuring that your donation piles are cataloged properly. When dropping off items, make sure to get receipts so that your parents can properly submit deductions for donations.
Some Practical Advice
- Let everyone know what is happening and encourage involvement from parents and siblings.
- Setup a Donate, Discard and Keep pile.
- Have everyone review their personal items first and sort through them.
- Figure out what can be sold, but don't get hung up on the pricing.
- Setup a garage sale if there's enough stuff. Setup another one if there's more stuff.
- Advertise your garage sales on Craigslist, Facebook and NextDoor to get more people at your sale.
- Sell large, unused furniture on Craigslist, Facebook and NextDoor.
- Figure out what to do with the proceeds from the sales. This can be as simple as buying dinner for everyone or putting it to pay off a debt or add to savings.
- It's stuff. It can' be taken with you when you die. The memories live in your, not in the stuff.
- Learn these truths about minimizing and decluttering.
Whether your childhood home is being sold or space needs to be made, decluttering is an important process. It's not the most easy process, but it is a necessary one. It will be emotional at times. It will be frustrating at times. It will be an eye-opening experience. While we probably don't want to involve ourselves in this process, I believe it is our responsibility as children to help our parents through this process, after all, it's not just them that accumulated these things, we contributed whether as a recipient or a giver of said things.
Decluttering also means seriously looking at a lifestyle change for your parents. Decluttering may lead to downsizing which means facing the fact that the house they've known, loved and worked hard for needs to go. There may also be a realization that decluttering means losing independence and so be open and aware of how decluttering affects aging parents and have patience in the process.
While we're also on this subject, have you sat down with your parents to discuss their finances? I also encourage you to do a financial checkup with them. Find tips on how to do this here.