Clean Out – A New Year’s Resolution

New Year’s Resolutions have a way of repeating themselves.  There are the healthy ones like the promise to exercise.  The recent Peloton commercials with one fit woman, and now, women and men furiously riding their exercise bikes fit that category.

Then there are resolutions to be kinder or to spend less and earn more and to keep track of your finances – this closely followed by the resolution to plan for retirement.

Finally, there is the resolution to improve the house and toss years of unused items and clutter – the resolution to clean out.

I speak with some experience.  Living in a 119 year old house can inspire one to want to repair or replace almost everything.  Then, at work, after more than 22 years of practice in elder law, certain themes repeat themselves.  One resolution I hear over and over  is that, after a parent has moved to assisted living or to a nursing home or after a parent or relative has passed away, the adult child or children will in his or her “spare time” clean out Mother’s house.  Several months later this project remains a work on process. 

Elders also experience the dilemma in their own homes.  Expressions like “why did I ever buy this?” might shortly be replaced with “how can I ever give this up?”  In this case it does not help to be sentimental.

Procrastination and sheer tiredness take over and then there is the question where to take the loot even once you have decided to toss it.  If you have been told from birth not to simply throw things away, the tension is obvious.

What is the lesson?  First, almost all of us accumulate more “stuff” than we like to admit.  Second, sentiment and indecision cause us to hold on to more belongings than we might reasonably handle.

A few years back I represented a middle aged woman severely crippled by osteoporosis.  She and her husband, now deceased, had lived together at home and then actually went to the same nursing home together.  There were no children or close relatives or friends but a young neighbor volunteered to clean out.  This caused deep concern that items of sentimental value might be discarded.  She finally relented but there was no way she could keep these excess things in a nursing home.  He was sensitive and it worked out. 

At some point we realize we accumulate “stuff” throughout our lives and we are encouraged to do so.  Television and radio and Facebook along with Amazon and online ads sell the next model in electronics which soon becomes outdated and clothes, furniture, toys, magazines and books.  The list is endless.

Unless we have a strategy how to move things out while we are moving  things in, we could begin to lose track of how much is in our homes.  It is not surprising I think, that the cable television program “Hoarders” became popular.  Some viewers could see it and say “See.  I am not that bad.”

Here are some alternatives.

  • Give It.   You can donate clothes and some household items to organizations such as the Salvation Army and other charities.  Check out your local thrift shops.
  • Consign It.  Some of your better clothes and jewelry might be able to be consigned for resale.
  • Share It.  You can survey the area for local used book stores or charitable sales in connection with fundraisers or check out whether your local library is accepting donations.
  • Sell It.  E-bay, Amazon and other on-line services could provide a forum for some of your excess goods. 
  • Auction It.  For estates, estate auctions can provide a forum for reselling better jewelry, furniture and collectibles. 
  • Cleanout and Staging Companies and Professional Organizers.  If the house needs to sell and you do not have time, it can be worth your investment to use a company with  experience in cleaning out homes.  If you need help clearing the basement, a professional organizer might come in.  Services can range everywhere from basic cleanout and painting to full staging of a property for sale.  Almost all companies will be sensitive to your need to save sentimental items and often they find belongings among the clutter you thought were lost.
  • Toss It.  When all else fails, remember that there are dumpsters.  Your children will thank you.

About the Author Janet Colliton

Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.

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