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‘You Can’t Take It with You’: AARP Volunteer Suba Saty Offers Common Sense Tips on Decluttering

“You can’t take it with you.”

That was AARP Volunteer Suba Saty’s takeaway message in his presentation on “Downsizing and Decluttering,” held on December 11, 2019, at Kingstowne Library in Alexandria, Virginia.

Another key message?

“No one wants your stuff.”

The AARP presentation is designed to help people understand why “stuff” is important to us and to provide practical, easy-to-use tips on decluttering and downsizing.

Around 56 million people in the United States are at least 65 years old and another 10,000 turn 65 every day. Both the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers are faced with decisions about their possessions as they try to downsize for lifestyle or health reasons. According to AARP, the number one factor that impedes people in leaving their homes or obtaining health care services within their homes is “the stuff.”

So, why is our stuff important? Your stuff is important to you because it represents a lifetime of memories, Suba pointed out. It’s not as important to someone else, including the family members you want to give it to.

“The cold hard reality is that our kids don’t want it,” Suba said. Unless your child comes to you and asks for first dibs on the table, don’t try to offload your possessions on others.
Suba offered 10 common sense tips for decluttering and downsizing. For example, make a daily habit of doing a 10-minute sweep in one room. Start small, with a two-foot by two-foot area. “Stay consistent every day and see how your home looks after several weeks.”

Another decluttering principle is that every item has a home. Decluttering happens automatically all over the house if everything is put back where it belongs. In addition, periodically do a “four-pile sort” – keep, sell, donate, or trash. Suba and his wife go from room to room and do this twice a year.

Distribute legacy items such as antiques and valuable jewelry long before you have to downsize, so you can see the recipients enjoying and using the items. But don’t “punt” – guilt-trip the next generation into taking an item they probably don’t want. “We all have furniture we took from our parents out of a sense of obligation,” Suba said.

Donating is an important part of decluttering, because someone can make good use of your stuff. Research different organizations and decide where to direct your contributions.

Paring down paper and photos may be the hardest part of decluttering, since so many of these items have emotional value. Many of us have old photo albums from the days before digital cameras. Take the time to identify the people in those pictures. If you don’t know them, “the pictures probably aren’t important enough to keep,” Suba said.

Audience members offered their own tips for dealing with paper and photos. Use an old photograph of a child or other family member to make a birthday card for that person. If relatives are visiting over the holidays, look at photos together and give them the ones they want.

“What about our grown children’s stuff that they left in our house?” an audience member asked, triggering nods and laughter from others. Suba advised telling the kids that you’ll donate their stuff if they don’t pick it up. “We love you, but we need to move on.”

Suba is a member of the AARP Speakers Bureau in Northern Virginia, which offers workshops on topics such as decluttering and downsizing, brain health, avoiding frauds and scams, Medicare, Social Security and more. Click here to request a group presentation by a member of the AARP Virginia Speakers Bureau, email aarpva@aarp.org or call 866-542-8164.

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