12 Decluttering Tips for Seniors (Quick, Simple, and Easy!)
Decluttering used to be a lot easier. It can be frustrating as we get older that more effort and energy is required for things that used to take little to none. When it comes to decluttering, clearing rooms or our entire homes of things that don’t belong where they are, there can be challenges that make the process difficult in ways that younger people don’t really understand.
Our goal in this article is to suggest 12 decluttering tips that can make this necessary process quicker, simpler, and/or easier.
We’re going to start with some tips that are helpful with getting started the right way. After that, the tips will be more on the practical side.
Before jumping in we want to make one thing very clear: decluttering is not really a one-time project. Clutter is like grass. Whether you want it to or not, it’s going to grow, and it needs to be dealt with regularly. The tips in this article will absolutely help with a one-time job of decluttering, but we want to strongly encourage you to instead think of yourself as starting to build a lifelong habit.
In fact, we would like to suggest that you integrate the tips in this article with our 30 Day Declutter Challenge! The 30 days are not intended to be consecutive, though they can be if you’d like them to be (or need them to be because you have a deadline). You can use the free printable calendar list that we provide there to help you work your way through what are typically the most problematic parts of homes.
However you decide to engage with decluttering, we want to encourage you to stay positive and not let yourself feel overwhelmed. While it might take some time and will definitely take some effort, there is no question that you can do it!
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1. Know What You're Trying to Accomplish
You need to be clear about what your goal is since that will determine how you need to proceed with your decluttering project. You might be trying to simply have your place look and feel cleaner and more organized. You might be trying to dispose of old items that you don’t want or need. You might be preparing for a move to a new home. You might be trying to distribute items you care about to people you care about. Most likely it’s some combination of these things!
Whatever the reason(s), you need to make sure that you know where you’re trying to go so that you can decide how best to get there. The tips below will apply no matter what your goal is, but the emphasis you put on each of them will vary.
We suggest that, as a first step, you read our article about How to Define Declutter. There we talk about what ‘clutter’ and ‘decluttering’ actually are, what the words mean. We have found that when you have a good understanding of what clutter is, it’s a lot easier to know what you’re looking for when you’re trying to declutter.
Cleaning and Organizing
If you are simply, straightforwardly trying to reduce the amount of clutter in your home, to leave surfaces clear of items and have your place looking picture-perfect, you should put your emphasis on actually reducing the number of things that you have in your home. That’s challenging for a variety of reasons.
Generally speaking, for this goal you either need more storage, like shelves and closet organizers, or fewer things. And “more storage” means bringing even more things into your place, which might defeat your purpose!
If you do decide to go with more storage, check out our Top Lists for some suggestions that might help. Even if you don’t see anything in those lists that are appropriate for your situation, you might find inspiration for something else that will be.
Disposing of Items
If you are specifically trying to have fewer items in your home then your focus should be, unsurprisingly, on sorting the things you need from the things you don’t. The emphasis should be on need, not want. Both sentimentality and the problem of “I might need this someday!” are big hindrances to progress with this. It will be challenging, but can also be extremely freeing.
We have an article called How to Get Rid of Clothing (For Money) that you can look through for some suggestions on where to donate or sell some of your items. While it focuses on clothing, furniture and other goods can be disposed of similarly.
We will repeat this caution below because it’s important: make sure that, as you dispose of things, you are not taken advantage of. If you have already decided to donate or sell something, without outside influence to do so, then that is wonderful! But if someone has convinced you to part with something and you feel uncomfortable about it, make sure that you speak with someone else that you trust first.
Preparing For a Move
As with the two goals above, when you are moving we suggest a primary focus on reducing the number of things that you have. It’s a bit easier in this case, though! When you’re moving, especially if you are moving to a smaller space as many people do in retirement, then you can think about where in your new space each item will fit.
As you are packing, consider whether you need the item at all. If you believe you do need it, add a second more practical question: is there a specific location in the new home that is appropriate for this item. If there isn’t, if you plan to hide it away in storage, then you should consider parting with the item.
Distributing to Loves Ones
If your primary goal is to get certain items into the homes of your loved ones, then we recommend keeping things very simple. Consider the tips below, but there’s no need for any focus on anything that you aren’t likely already aware of. If you have way too many things for the amount of storage in your home, consider disposing of some of it. If clutter is due to an organizational problem, put your focus there.
2. Look at Decluttering as an Opportunity, Not a Chore
We have written a short article, called 4 Ways Clutter Can Negatively Impact Your Life (According to Science), where we outline some of the most significant ways that clutter can be a real problem. Decluttering is important, more than most people realize.
Given that you’ve decided to undertake a decluttering project, look at it not as a chore, but as an opportunity to improve your home and your life in a significant way.
It is also a wonderful opportunity to reflect. As you go through the items in your home, ask yourself questions like these:
- What sorts of things have you chosen to keep?
- Why did you choose to keep them rather than disposing of them? (This is especially important for items you’ve hidden away in boxes, ones you rarely if ever interact with)!
- Do you tend to hold on to items for practical reasons or sentimental reasons?
- If you tend to hold on to many things for sentimental reasons, are they good memories or bad?
3. Start Right Away
Decluttering can be daunting. We don’t want to diminish how big of a project this will be for some of us. However many rooms you have to go through, and however much stuff you have to sort, it’s important to get started with decluttering as soon as possible. Because decluttering is an ongoing project, one that doesn’t really end, there is never an advantage to delaying its start.
If you’re going to go through the days in our 30 Day Declutter Challenge then you already have small, manageable goals set out for you.
If you’re opting to start in on the project without that calendar, take a look at our article on The Best 12 Places to Start Decluttering Your Home. There we give suggestions for places to begin when you’re not sure what you need to do to get the project moving.
Wherever you choose to start, start right away. When it comes to decluttering you really can’t begin soon enough.
4. Ask for Help
This writer is guilty of trying to do this sort of thing without asking for help–more than once. So let me urge you to learn from my mistakes: if you are feeling at all daunted by your decluttering tasks, then it is important to ask for help.
If you have loved ones, family and friends, that you can ask, then that is the place to start.
Not all of us have family or friends to ask. That challenge is a deep one and beyond the scope of this article. However, we can assure you that there is still help! There are a variety of resources that seniors have access to. Below are two suggestions. However, we want to emphasize that before you pay a company for help, you should try to look for local, free help through any resources that you have at your disposal.
We’ve decided to include only a government resource and the AARP resource, as we want to be careful to only endorse reliable resources. You will very likely be able to find other resources in your area, just be careful to only work with reputable companies.
- The US government has programs to help seniors, even with home cleaning and decluttering tasks. Before paying for a service, as in the next suggestion, please connect with your local government services through acl.gov.
- The AARP provides members with a free consultation. (Though actual physical help comes with a fee.) You can also contact them to find out about other resources.
Whether you are getting help from family, friends, or an outside service, make sure that at all times your wishes and goals are being respected. Communication is important. Make sure to let them know the purpose of your decluttering project.
5. Be Methodical
One of the easiest, most significant ways to minimize the stress and challenge of a big decluttering project is to proceed through your home methodically.
In our article Where Do I Start Decluttering My House When I Feel Overwhelmed? we suggest starting in the top or bottom corner room of your house (or if you have one floor, any corner). After finishing that room, simply move to the one beside or across from it. And then the one beside that. Until you’ve moved step by step through your whole home.
Imagine you’re sweeping a dirty floor. Now imagine that you were to sweep a section on one side, skip the middle and move to another side, and skip the middle and move to a corner, etc.. You would be left with little piles to deal with all over the floor, and having to manage moving between the spots to deal with those piles and to then clean between them.
It would be much simpler, of course, to simply start sweeping at some corner, and proceed methodically, thoroughly, across the floor. Think of full-home decluttering like sweeping. Proceed through your home, and leave each room you do in a state such that you don’t need to return to it later.
6. Lots of Small Jobs are Easier Than One Big Job
This tip is an extension of the previous one. In addition to proceeding methodically, you should think about the jobs you’re doing as several small ones, rather than one big one.
When you enter a room to declutter it, that room is the only room that matters.
As you proceed through your home you should make sure to keep your focus on the room that you’re dealing with at that time. You should also have the goal of thoroughly finishing that room so that when you leave it, you do not need to return to it for decluttering before completing the rest of your home.
That will mean removing anything from that room that you don’t intend to keep there. If the item is going to remain in your home, put it in its correct place immediately. This might seem slower than making piles of things to do later, but that’s okay. We aren’t looking for speed, we’re looking for simplicity and progress.
If you are disposing of any items completely–donating, selling, or bequeathing them–you should set aside a location in your home for those things. If you have a dry (and warm, if it’s winter) garage, that would make a good temporary place for them. (Don’t delay donating/selling these items! If you can deal with them at the end of the same day you decluttered them, do. You don’t want to create a brand new decluttering job where there wasn’t one before!)
7. Make Use of Labels
When you have some items that you don’t want to dispose of, but which won’t be out in the open and useful in your home–old pictures, clothes with sentimental value, or whatever else–then make sure you store them in boxes. Don’t simply make piles of things, even if they’re out of the way in an attic or basement.
Not properly storing items will mean that they’ll deteriorate more quickly over time than they would had you stored them in decent containers. A normal moving box is the cheapest option and is better than nothing. But they don’t keep out moisture, and they sometimes become homes for bugs and/or rodents. So if those are all you have, that’s okay! But if you can afford something like these clear plastic boxes on Amazon, you won’t have to worry so much about those problems.
We strongly suggest clear boxes because they make future decluttering (and moving) projects much simpler. Rather than having to guess the contents of boxes, you can simply look into the closed box!
This tip, however, isn’t actually about boxes. It’s about labeling. This is a small act that we think helps a disproportional amount with decluttering and organizing more generally. Labeling your boxes, even certain drawers and cupboards, helps in two important ways.
How Labeling Helps With Decluttering and Organizing
Labeling helps with decluttering and organizing by both helping you to focus on having dedicated places to store items and to find items later.
After you have labeled a box (or drawer, or cupboard) you will find that you won’t put just anything in there. You’ll put in only items of the correct type. Having dedicated places in your home for each item is a critical part of long-term decluttering! We will say more about it in Tip 9, below.
Having labels also makes finding items a lot easier. That is important. At some point, many of us start having trouble remember what things are where, and this is a small way to help combat that.
Recommended Label Makers
Here are some options for gadgets that will allow you to create easily readable labels. The links will take you to the listings on Amazon.
For an inexpensive option, we recommend the DYMO LabelManager 160. You’ll need AA batteries handy if you use it a lot, but it’s simple to use and will get the job done.
If you want a bigger keyboard then take a look at the DYMO LabelManager 360D. It has a rechargeable battery so you don’t need to worry about buying piles of AA batteries. You can just plug it in to charge it.
If you love using fancy new technology, and you have an iPhone or Android, then you should check out the Phomemo M110. It uses an app on your iPhone or Android to design and print larger labels than the other two label makers that we suggested.
8. Don't Ignore Closets, Cupboards, and Drawers
There might be things in your home that are obviously clutter, such as things laying on the floor, or sitting out on tables and counters. That is, of course, important to deal with. But almost inevitably homes have hidden clutter.
Closets, cupboards, and drawers often lack focus in their contents. They are often filled will a variety of items, some of which will count as clutter. This hidden, out-of-sight clutter is also important to deal with.
When you have hidden clutter it will lead to several consequences. First of all, it will make decluttering visible items, the things on the floors and tables, more difficult to declutter because there may not be space in closets, cupboards, or drawers for them. Second, everything will be difficult to find!
The simplest way to deal with decluttering a hidden space like a closet, cupboard, or drawer is to start by completely emptying it. Then replace each item into the space only if it is the appropriate place to store that item. If it isn’t the right place, put it immediately wherever it should go. If you have no place for that item, you need to either decide on a permanent dedicated place or consider disposing of it.
The overlap between “decluttering” and “organizing” can sometimes be significant, and this is one of those times. Our previous tip, labeling, can also help with decluttering these hidden spaces. Even temporarily labeling closets, cupboards, and drawers with their appropriate contents can help you to focus on putting items where they are supposed to be. After you have decluttered you can simply remove the labels if they are no longer useful.
9. Have Dedicated Places for Everything
Having dedicated places in your home for each sort of item, and making sure to store the relevant items there, will make a significant difference with your clutter. Rather than just stuffing things into the nearest closet or drawer, or even leaving it on a table or counter, you will know exactly where it should be placed.
Having the dedicated place isn’t enough in itself, of course. You also have to make sure that you use them! That, I’m afraid, is simply up to you. That is where the habit-building that we always advocate comes into play. Once you have made a decision like this–once you have decided that item A is best stored in location B–stick to it. Even if it’s slower to go put something back where it should be, even if it will take some extra time, it is worth it in the long run.
In case you skipped over Tip 7, Make Use of Labels, we want to point you back there. A very easy way to trick your mind into using dedicated spaces for things is to label all of your storage–boxes, closets, cupboards, and drawers. We think all boxes should always be labeled. Other storage areas might only need to be temporarily labeled until you develop the habits you need to put everything where they ought to go.
10. Let Go of Things You Don't Need
The most challenging tip on this list is to let go of things that you don’t need. If you decided in the past to keep something, it’s because you attributed some value to that thing. The value might be financial, but more likely it’s either practical or even sentimental.
Whether you’ve held on to a thing for financial, practical, or sentimental reasons, you need to consider whether you need that item.
Distinguishing want from need is challenging, we don’t mean to diminish that. There are some things you can do to tackle the question for each item you’re considering.
First of all, especially when you have never once used an item, we suggest completely eliminating “I might use this in the future” as a reason to keep something. You probably won’t use it. And if you ever do need something like it to complete a task in the future, you can buy something at that time. For many people, this covers a good deal of the problem of holding on to actually-useless things.
Next, for financially valuable items, consider whether it might be a good idea to either sell the item for your benefit now or give it to whomever you were planning to bequeath it to now. An item hidden away in a box or cupboard does nobody any good. Life is about experiences and relationships–consider whether you can turn the item into something special by making use of its value. (Please see the note below on being careful!)
Sentimental items are the most difficult. Holding on to these is very personal, and very powerful. The best tip we can give is to consider for each item the sort of memory you’re holding on to: is it making you happy and lifting your spirits, or making you sad and bringing you down? As tough as it may be, you may need to let go of those things that are bringing you down. Consider: why keep things near you that make you feel bad? Even knowing that they are lurking somewhere in your basement or attic can be enough to make your day a bit worse.
A Very Important Note On Being Careful When Disposing of Items
When you decide to dispose of something, no matter what it is or how you’re disposing of it, we strongly suggest double-checking with someone whom you trust completely. Ideally, someone who won’t be benefitting from your disposing of the item. We know that feeling you can always trust everyone is a nice thing, but the sad truth is that you simply can’t.
If you have any concerns at all about someone taking advantage of you then we suggest you contact the AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. We are sorry to say that as we get older, our risk of being taken advantage of increases, and their mission is to help you to avoid that happening.
11. Understand Why You Have the Clutter You Have
Because we care about your decluttering being a long-term project, one that involves you building appropriate habits and keeping your home decluttered at all time, we think it’s important to take the time to consider why you have the clutter that you have.
When you understand why you’ve accumulated things in places where they shouldn’t be, it will be easier for you to avoid doing the same thing in the future.
This is especially useful to think about if you have particular places in your home that tend to accumulate clutter or particular items that tend to become clutter.
What is it about that place in your home that attracts clutter? Is it that it’s simply in a convenient location for dumping things? Is it that it’s in a location that inconvenient for moving the things that you use there to their dedicated places? The likely problem is that it isn’t easy to properly store things you use in that space in their proper dedicated place.
A simple way to help with such location problems is to make sure that the dedicated place to store something is very close to where you actually use it. Rather than storing scissors in a home office when you usually use them in your kitchen, move them to your kitchen or get a second pair for the kitchen. Rather than your keys and wallet always landing on a different surface (or ending up hidden in a pocket) and constantly getting lost and contributing to clutter, have a dedicated place where they go immediately when you get home, ideally near your entryway.
What is it about a particular sort of thing that has it frequently contributing to clutter? Do you have magazines or newspapers that are always on a table? Puzzles or games that are piled in a corner? A sort of kitchen utensil that is always on a counter? Once again, the first thing to do is to make sure you have a dedicated place in your home where each item is always stored. To extend that: you might actually need new, appropriate places to store certain things. Consider looking through our Top Lists for suggestions for storage that might help. You can even just use those lists for inspiration.
12. Make Decluttering a Habit
In every one of our articles that addresses decluttering, we emphasize the importance of making decluttering a habit. Clutter simply isn’t the sort of thing that can be dealt with only once–it will just keep accumulating, somehow! The only way to truly deal with clutter is to incorporate decluttering into your routine.
Remember: decluttering is an opportunity. Don’t see it as daunting, don’t see it as a chore. Each time you declutter you have an opportunity to reflect on your home, the space you live in, and the things you choose to keep near you. Using the tips we’ve outlined you can begin to make a real, noticeable difference in your life.
When decluttering becomes a habit, when it is incorporated into your routines, it ceases to be a big, overwhelming job. Instead, it is just a series of little things that are a normal part of your day. That’s the point you want to reach. That’s when decluttering is truly a success.
Our goal here was to give you tips, suggestions, and strategies that are intended to be simple, easy-to-implement for anyone who wants to declutter. We put an emphasis on seniors, as those of us who are older will have a variety of special challenges.
However, these tips should really be useful for anyone. If you found these helpful then we really hope that you share this article with others.
Most of all, we hope that you have found some use in your own life! Decluttering can truly have a positive impact not just on your physical home, but on the way you feel in your home and life. It can be profound. And we hope that it will be for you.
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