My Granddad used to joke around and tell me...'when something happens to your grandmother and me, you need to just toss a match on this house!'
I always laughed and never thought much about it until after my granddad passed away. I started helping my grandmother with cleaning, paying her bills, buying groceries etc.
No matter how hard I worked in her home day in and day out, it always stayed the same. I moved one pile here and there until it all circled back around again. I always felt very heavy when I left her. So, I asked my grandmother if I could help her to start to downsize. She didn’t want to have any part of it in the beginning! But I stayed focused - and with a little guidance and a lot of love, she began the difficult process of elimination.
A little at a time, we started to tackle 60 years of 'stuff.’ Magazine clippings, baby clothes, fabric, pictures, documents - you name it - she had it! She had more piles of 'one day I'm going to use this' than I could count. She was purging a bit at a time, donating items here and there, and she sweetly gave me several things she wanted me to have (which I still cherish). We were on the right track! Then “it” happened.
Grandma had a stroke - and never returned to her sweet little home again. She went straight to a nursing home, where she lived the remainder of her precious life, and we were given one month to get her things out. Everything had to go – and go fast!
The process was hard and slow. It was physically and mentally exhausting and it was heartbreaking. Our heart hurts because my grandmother was now sick. We were sorting through her things that in some way meant the world to her. I watched each family member hurt in a different way. My dad wanted to keep and hang on to more items than my mom did. This was his mother. He was trying to hold her memories close and respect her wishes.
My mom on the other hand, had always worked very hard to keep an organized, clean home. Her home was now potentially being taken over with someone else's things!
I was in the middle, the granddaughter, and all I really wanted was one more meal around the table with my grandmother.
As I sat back and watched all this unfold, a light bulb went off. I thought: I must help others never get into this situation. After 6 years now, helping families downsize, organize, and get their affairs in order, I know this is what I’m meant to do. It's not an easy task some days - but the reward is always the same! You can make this happen. You can be organized and prepared for the future. Don't wait. Today is a great day to get started and below are some tips to help you.
Tackle one thing at a time.
For example, your office. Dive into those paper piles and organize your important documents.
Start sorting them so you can decide what you need, what a family member might need if something (anything!) happened to you, and what can be tossed (shredded).
Getting started is the hardest part – but you can do this!
Put like items together. Use file folders, rubber bands, paper clips, anything that keeps your papers and documents separated and organized.
Make each day count – and have fun!
Set a timer and tackle that first project for 15 minutes a day, then move on to the next area. Turn on some music. Ask for help if you are overwhelmed. A loved one, your best friend, or neighbor you trust can make the experience more effective, efficient, and fun!
Amelia Love Hatcher is a professional organizer and volunteer for AARP. She's been serving families for more than 5 years. Visit her website for more clutter-busting tips, before and after pictures, and more!