De-Clutter: It’s De-Lovely!

There’s a proverbial elephant in the living room that may be preventing many of us from living our fullest Third Chapter. That elephant is clutter. So this week, I’m going to address clutter in order to help move that elephant out of the house!

So I Have Stuff. What’s the Big Deal?

Looking around the family home that you’ve lived in for 30 years can seem overwhelming at best. As we live, we accumulate. But as older adults, we want to thrive, find joy, try new things — and all that stuff can get in the way. This isn’t just a “Gee, I want my house to look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens” moment. The physical sorting is important if you want to downsize or if you want to age in place and modify your current home to enable that choice.

But there’s more to it than that. Clutter can cause stress, depression, and subsequently, health issues — and the science proves it. A study done in 2017 by DePaul University in Chicago and published in Current Psychology looked at clutter and life satisfaction in three age groups, including older adults. It found a substantial link between procrastination and clutter, which makes sense since sorting and tossing is a task many people find unpleasant and avoid. But it also found that among older adults, clutter problems were also associated with life dissatisfaction.

The findings were just the latest in a series of scientific evidence showing that clutter can negatively impact mental well-being, particularly among women. It also can induce a physiological response, including increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. A 2010 study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that women who described their home as being cluttered began each day already stressed, and it never dropped — even in the evening, when most people “wind down” from the day.

Darby Saxbe, assistant psychology professor at USC, was the study’s lead author. She noted that since the 1950s, there has been a standard view of how homes of middle-income families “should look.” “A home is a place to come home and unwind. But not if the home is filled with a to-do list …” she told the New York Times in 2019.  

Not living up to these largely fabricated social mores is a foundational basis for stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Figuring out where to begin to declutter can seem impossible.

Start Simple and Make a Plan

Decluttering is a great starting point for aging in place preparation. As I’ve mentioned many times (), start simple and make a plan. There are many, many books and websites out there — and an equal number of ideas — on how to get started and what order to use in decluttering. One I particularly recommend is “Declutter Fast — How to get Your Home in Order” by Mimi Tanner. She really makes the process of decluttering manageable.

4 Easy Ways to Get Started

As you tackle your own decluttering project, here are four things to keep in mind that might make the job easier:

  1. Start simple and small, and build momentum based on the success you have. This can mean starting with just 5 minutes at a time, or starting with the kitchen junk drawer. It can even be something as simple as committing to remove one or two items a day for a year. Think of it: after a year, you would have downsized by between 365 and 730 items!
  2. Where will the stuff go? Before you begin, determine where you will take the items as you declutter. Many people recommend having four bins or large bags as you go, labeled “keep,” “give away,” “throw away,” and “put away.” Every item in the space you’re decluttering needs to go into one of those receptacles. Then follow through with each bin’s contents quickly before moving on to the next space.
  3. Get help. Sometimes it’s easier to sort through items with another family member or friend, or even with a professional organizer. Not only can they help you decide, they also are looking at your items with fresh eyes, and can bring a dispassionate perspective to your decluttering process.
  4. Only keep useful or meaningful items. Ask yourself, “Do I wear it or use it?” “Does it work?” “Does it bring me joy?” “Does it have sentimental value?” “Could someone else use it?” Be honest with yourself as you answer.

Remember, nobody’s house is perfect, and yours won’t be either. Just get started. Realize, too, that decluttering is a gift you give yourself. Remember: you can keep whatever you want! The goal is not to deny yourself the meaningful things you love, but to ready your house for aging in place, and for all the joy, adventure, and new experiences that come with Third Chapter Living!

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work. Our Facebook Group is a resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating those issues. Share experiences with others who are looking for Housing Downsizing Tools that allow them to successfully age-in-place.


  1. Love it! Right on... on November 21, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    Love it! Right on….

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