Clutter on a grand scale

Recently my parents put a deposit on a property in a gated retirement community. I have to say I am very proud of them for taking this step. Mind you, it isn’t a fait accompli until the home is built and they have moved in, but being open to the idea and making the first move is a wonderful thing.

The home my parents are currently living in has become far more than people at their stage in life to should have to maintain ~ inside and out. In my opinion, the home itself has become their biggest item of clutter. Too many rooms to keep dusted, vacuumed and fresh, to much yard to mow and gardens to weed. Now they have decided to trade that in for a smaller premises, with added security and with lots of extra amenities thrown it ~ that they don’t have to maintain.

 For many people taking this step can be very difficult, sometimes only taken when fate steps in and deals them a painful blow, so to speak, which forces their hand. Often, once taken, these folks wonder why they were so reluctant because the outcome was far better than they had envisioned. Sadly I have also heard of many cases where the previous dwelling was the actual cause of that painful blow, due to its unsuitability for the persons mobility or reduced capacity to deal with the responsibilities involved.

My husband and I have already made such a move in our middle age. Better sooner than later I say, than wearing oneself out on unnecessary household duties.

I am glad that my parents have, through choice,  moved from house to  house throughout their married life making it less difficult to make this next move. but this isn’t the case for many people. Some having lived in, raised their children in and intend to die in the same home for just about their entire adult lives. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for them. And for some it is never necessary to make the move.

Like my parents, my husband and I have also been temporary dwellers in several homes. To us a home is where the heart is and the heart can be very transplantable in our case. Like Marco’s blue polo shirt in the post I linked to yesterday, the difference ii a polo shirt v the polo shirt. We are happy with a home to live in not needing it to be one particular house.

Has your home become your largest item of clutter. And if not, this question sure puts into perspective how trivial all those other smaller items of clutter are. Even if your current home is really quite suitable for you now is a good time to practise not being attached to material things by letting go of those little unimportant items.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter a something you have kept out of obligation but really wanted out of your house for some time. Perhaps an unwanted gift or a family heirloom you wish to hand on the responsibility to someone else in the family.

Eco Tip for the Day

Give consumable gifts. Preferably one from sustainable sources.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • How little we really need Every time I go on a long vacation I am reminded of how little one really needs to live a comfortable and functional lifestyle. My husband and I often stay in Airbnb places when on […]
  • Getting the stuff out of your home It has come to my attention, both through comments on my blog and through real life experience, that one of the issues people have with their clutter, once they finally decide to be rid of […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Colleen, our house has certainly become our biggest item to declutter. I love all the light from having multiple windows. Mom loves the kitchen. We have lots of space. BUT, we have lots of upkeep we can’t do. the house is getting older thus all the work we have had to have done lately. We can’t really keep up with it at all. If we do what Mom wants we will stay here and deal. Yet, it is becoming more and more stressfull for both of us. So I have made the decision we are going to move. It may take a while because of trying to find a place for us to live but it is going to happen. When it does we will be living separately. Mom is NOT happy about that but, crazily enough, it will be cheaper for us.

    • Hi Deb J, I am glad you are being adamant about this. Sometimes one just has to make a stand for the greater good. I am sure that once your mom is in a simplified environment she will realise the move was a great idea. Good luck my friend and I hope the perfect place presents itself very quickly.

      • Thanks Colleen. I would have never have thought I would feel the need to move from sharing a place with Mom. We get along really, really well for the most part. But as she gets older and so do I, it is becoming clear that living together is too much stress on me. Something has to change and living together is what it will be.

    • Deb J – the awesome thing about life is that although she might not love the kitchen at the next location, there will be something else that she will discover is an advantage. Unfortunately humans aren’t always open to change and can take a bit of time to adjust, but generally we adapt. It is sweet that she wants to live with you, so often you hear of older parents who that is the polar opposite of what they want.

      • Moni, yes it is hard to change. But when you can no longer handle it, you need to change. It is very sweet that MOm and I have lived together for 21 years with little problem. But as my diseases progress and she ages neither of us can handle stress as well as we once could. For me that means I need to separate us so that when we are together we are enjoying it.

    • Deb J.,
      Stick to your guns and keep focused on getting out of Dodge. You will make it happen 🙂

  2. Part of the great declutter programme is the desire not to become my parents. Our two youngest children will go to university in two years. We live in a large house in large grounds in the middle of nowhere. Great for a family not so great for an elderly couple We are not elderly yet but we want to have settled in to our new home long befoe we are unable to look after ourselves entirely on our own. We don’t want to move to a retirement community, but that is our choice, not everyones 🙂 So in our mid fifities we are at the stage of looking at where we want to live (somewhere with plenty of light, near the sea and not with the vile winters where we are regularly snowed in as we are here) Given the choice we would retire to Australia. Around Byron / Mullumbimby to be precise. But we would never see our children if we did so much as we would love it, could do it etc etc it’s not an option. I suspect we will not go that far from where we are now but the point is that we can move, we don’t have that much to pack. My parents planned to move 20 years ago but never quite got around to decluttering. It is too late for them now and I am terrified how they will cope in a house that is completely unsuited to an elderly couple. On the other hand they are at least surrounded by people whom they know and look out for them. So it is, I suppose, swings and roundabouts.

    • Hi Gillie, I applaud your decision. I sometimes think it is a very selfish act to insist on being in a situation to forces others to take one the responsibilities that one should have planned to avoid. I know there is the age old argument that parents raised their children and now it is the children’s turn to return the favour but the reality is the people don’t have children for the children’s sake they have them for themselves so both situations are a choice. I absolutely never plan on making choices that leave my children with unnecessary responsibilities that I should have planned to avoid. And I doubt they would let me get away with that anyway. Bless their little hearts. They would gladly take their turn at bossing me around like I am sure they felt I did to them. 😉

  3. Colleen, interesting point about the house itself potentially being the main object of clutter! (And kudos for your parents for being willing to make such a move. I don’t know about them specifically, but generally speaking, the older you get the tougher it is to choose to make significant moves like this. So Bravo to them!)

    I remember thinking way back in college that one of the keys to happiness, for me, would be never to own more than I could fit into a college dorm room. I’m no longer quite at that minimal level of possessions, but I haven’t done too badly . . . and a big part of that is because I’m a renter rather than a homeowner. (Living in the San Francisco Bay Area can do that to a person!)

    I’m also fascinated by the “tiny house” movement. I don’t think I would be comfortable in something *that* small, but the idea intrigues me no end. And I do think that minimizing the space you have to store your stuff ultimately means less stuff–but most people don’t think in those terms. Thanks for pointing it out!

    • Hi Michelle, I will be in San Fran later this year. I am very much looking forward to it as it is such a progressive city. In my opinion anyway. There are a several minimalist bloggers there too.

      The tiny house movement is a very interesting thing. Like you I double I would be happy in such a small place, but one never knows unless they try it. My two bedroom apartment however is a good size for me and my hubby.

  4. I’m so pleased to hear that your parents have found such a nice community to move into. I hope the whole building and moving process will go smoothly for them.

    I think this is a very important matter to consider and it has been percolating in the back of my mind for some time. My dad who is almost 83 is still living in the house that he and my mother bought about 40 years ago. He often talks about all his conflicting emotions concerning the house: he has a huge sentimental attachment to it with so many memories of my sister and me growing up there and all his grandchildren visiting and enjoying the large garden, but he realizes that it may become difficult for him to continue living there, with the stairs and the location of the house a good distance from shops, doctors etc. However the thought of moving clearly terrifies him, and the amount of accumulated belongings that would have to be disposed of in order to move is completely overwhelming. I don’t want to end up in a similar position and this has been a huge incentive in my decluttering efforts over the last two years. We don’t have plans to move for the time being but a downsize will certainly be something for us to consider in the next few years.

    • Hi Christine, you keep thinking about it. This is why it is ever so important to cast aside the items that become clutter over time instead of letting them accumulate to a point of it all seeming too hard to deal with them. Discovering this is better earlier in life rather than latter.

  5. I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to how phases of life come and go and within each phase are mini-phases and micro-phases, unless you’re really looking you may not notice them. Houses are to accommodate the people within but often because the cost of selling and buying again, or even just shifting if renting is quite high, it is easier to try adapt than move.

    We have see-sawed with the idea of selling and building new, and sometimes we’ve put off improvements or adaptations because at the time we think we’re getting closer to putting the house on the market and then ironically a year later we’re still there and have missed a year’s worth of benefits from the improvement. Unfortunately there is no crystal ball.

    For this year at least we will be staying put. Unless there was a really good reason I wouldn’t buy a smaller house while we still have three teenagers in the house, I’d just aim for a different configuration and better parking arrangement for the four cars. But if I wait a few years, they’ll be leaving and we won’t have that problem but then we wouldn’t need such a large house and section. In fact a town house or apartment sounds appealing, but then again, it would depend on how many pets we had.

    I guess there is a factor of the stress of selling, packing/sorting/decluttering, house shopping and the realisation that costs have gone thru the roof since the last shift put a lot of elderly people off.

    On TV the other week an older lady who’d lived in a State house (provided by the State, low rent for low income families who were unable to find housing elsewhere) who’d lived in this 4 bedroom house for 40 years. When she’d shifted in she’d had six kids but they’d left home years ago and it was just her. The State department feel it is being under utilised and why should they build/buy more 4 bedroom homes when they have a large number that are housing just one or two people. I agree. But she didn’t see it that way as it has been her home for a long time. I understand that. But it isn’t her home, she rents it and there are families who are living with other families as the waiting list of 4 bedroom homes is long. And ironically there are one and two bedroom houses/flats that sit empty because the state department can’t legally put a family of 6+ in such a small house.

    A house is like any other possession – it is here to serve a purpose and not be locked away or kept out of use – if the owner/renter can’t fully utilise it, better it be used by someone else.
    Good post Colleen.

    • Hi Moni, I can understand that you are not in a position to downsize just yet. With three teens who are likely to ricochet in and out of the house for a while it wouldn’t pay to get too hasty to not have room for them. Mine were in their twenties before they moved out so old enough to find somewhere else for themselves should things not work out for them. There is room for temporary accommodation at out apartment but not really on a permanent basis. Here’s hoping that will never happen.

      As for you second subject of the state housing, I am in agreeance with you on this. I have lived in Government Military housing all my married life and home has always just been where the heart is, not the building itself. I always, rightly, considered them temporary and counted myself lucky to be getting cheap rent. This was a privilege of my husbands job.

      • Colleen – yeah I got a bit too excited when one left earlier this year and pictured us in a 3 bedroom, 1 lounge house before the year was out. In a way I’m glad it didn’t all go to plan as some close to me became very unwell soon after and it would have been one too many stresses/pressures for me to deal with. Next time something doesn’t go my way, I will remind myself that sometimes it is for the greater good in the end. At least now I am in my very spacious ‘average’ size family home that is well under way on the redecorating/refurbishing front.

        A house can hold a lot of good memories but it is actually the people. We realised that when we visited the house my husband and I had kept as a rental, and it wasn’t the home we had loved. I read a quote that sealed the deal for us to sell it:

        Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.

  6. I especially appreciate reading this post and comments. I’ve been radically scaling down lately. I’ve heard stories of those who were left with parents’ massive belongings to sort through and deal with. I do not want for my daughter. So, I’m scaling my possession down in a big way. I have other motives for mass scale-down but not leaving a big mess when I go is part of the motivation.
    Really good post. You have thoughtful parents. I’m glad to see we are having this kind of discussion in some circles now.

    • Hi Terri, good for you. Scaling down for the sake of others is as good a reason to declutter as any. It is a win win situation. You benefit also from the lack of time and/or space wasting clutter. Keep up the good work and we look forward to hearing from you again.

  7. Yep, in my fifties and the house and yard have become my largest clutter. I am moving towards something else though that may take a few years yet but with my decluttering of smaller things I hope to be much more ready to accept the move.

    I wish my parents would think more about a move to a smaller place. I have spoken to my Mum about it once or twice but have let it go for now. My Mum still doesn’t get my need to declutter and downsize even after having to do the same for her own father years ago.

    Unsure about my future but many people are. At least I hope to be more in control of the things I do have and allow in my life.

    I finally peeked into my laundry, linen and towel closets and let another large box of items go to recycling today. Yes, the lessons I’m learning decluttering the small stuff will help when it’s time to declutter the big.

    • Hi Ron B, I know that you are getting on top of things and that you have a vision for the future even though, like myself at the beginning, you don’t know exactly what that is. Keep up the decluttering and, as you say, when the time comes you will be ready. It certainly worked for me.

  8. This issue of parent’s homes is huge for me. I don’t even know where to start. Since I was very young I have been trying to get them to get rid of things they weren’t using. Forty years later and they are in the same home with 10x the stuff as when I lived there. They take care of my disabled adult sister and all have physical issues that prevent them from lots of activities. Recently I tried to encourage them to just start getting rid of things they weren’t using just in case they were to move. That fell on deaf ears. Their house has a huge yard, driveway and very large trees. It is in a northern climate that requires snow plowing and shoveling all winter as well as grass and leaf maintenance the rest of the year. It is too much for them to manage now and in the future it is going to be so much more difficult. I live 2,000 miles away and can’t help them on a regular basis but have offered to come up and help them downsize a bit. They say they are “fine” though and it won’t take them very long to discard what they don’t need if and when they move. I know this is not true. It will be a nightmare, a nightmare that I will be very much involved in because I am the only able-bodied family member. They are so resistant to change or help though. I just don’t know how I’ll do it in the future when it is up to me…..and it will be. I guess the Lord will give me strength when I need it! Meanwhile, I am going to keep dropping suggestions for them to tackle some downsizing themselves. Even a little bit would be better than nothing.

    • Claire, it may be that your parents find just the thought of trying to do anything more as stressful. Next time you visit them, ask them if there is anything you can help them with and mention hauling away things they no longer use etc. Maybe at each visit you can make inroads into the clutter. In all probability the idea of moving is overwhelming. I know that just thinking about it and all that needs to be done is overwhelming for you too. I know this probably sounds easy to say but don’t let it stress you. The Lord will help you when the time comes. A friend of mine had this problem and lived a good ways away like you. She eventually took on the job of finding a place for her parents to move and moving them. She asked at a local church for volunteers and a host of people came and helped her move them. Before the volunteers came she went around the rooms and marked those pieces of furniture that were to be moved and into what new rooms. She made a map of the house with the places marked where the furniture was to go. The men took care of this. The ladies helped her pack up the smaller items that were to go. Once the obvious things were moved she and her mother took a few days to decide on the rest. With the basics already moved her mother decided that most of the rest could be sold of given away so the volunteers came back and helped get it all cleared out. In a week they were all moved and the house cleared out. It was stressful for a short time but turned out to be really good for all of them. I pray that you will be able to find a solution you can live with.

      • Hi Deb J! Yes indeed, I think you are right that they find the thought of doing anything to be stressful. It is so overwhelming they probably don’t know where to start. I do think I am going to need to be more proactive about encouraging them to declutter now while they still have some ability. My uncle passed away a few months ago and they know that I spent the whole week with others emptying his apartment of 30 years (he was a bachelor). It was a huge task for 5 people and one small apartment. I guess that is why I am so freaked out by my parents 4 bedroom 3 bath 2 story house. There is not one room in the whole house that you can walk into without pushing on the door/stuff to get through. I’m having an anxiety attack just describing it! The other problem with the stuff in their house is that there is a mold/mildew issue. They have lived with it so long that they are used to it and barely aware that it exists. I know that most things in their house are not suitable to even donate. My mom grew up overseas and is terribly adverse to throwing out anything that is “perfectly good” but that is what would have to be done with at least half of their things. Oh my! My family is very generous and would gladly help others by giving but I can’t encourage them to do that because most of the stuff is contaminated. On top of that, they are very sensitive and I know I would insult them by saying they could not donate things and would need to throw out things. Walking a fine line! Just working on how to maneuver in this situation. Thank you for the story about your friend’s parents place. It does make me feel hopeful that with some helpers/volunteers it might not be too bad after all.

        • Oh my Claire! The mold/mildew issue is big. With them being so sensitive it would probably have to be the thing of moving them and then getting rid of things. I just pray that you are ale to get it done with no hard feelings and with little stress for you. God bless.

          • Thank you Deb! I flip flop between trying not to worry about the future and trying to be prepared for it! Praying it won’t be as bad as I imagine. God bless you too!

        • Claire- I have been thinking about your situation and it sounds like, unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do at this stage. I too have relatives who have a very crowded home and no inclination to prepare their home for the more fragile years. I have told myself that I have the skills to dig in and get the job done when the time comes and until then I will focus on my home so I will have a self-maintaining haven to come to afterwards.

          If you think the time is getter closer to the job falling to you, perhaps you could discreetly begin researching services and resources you will need, such as dumpster services, charities which may be interested in donations, yard maintenance contractors etc. This would allow you to take control of the situation in an efficient manner, and could be organised in advance from your home.

          Look into the option of cheap labour possibilities, such as High School sports teams who hire themselves out for fund raising money to do the grunt work, leaving you to work in a co-ordinating role.

          See if there is a document destruction service available, whereby they leave you with a bin (usually lockable) that papers such as bank statements, medical etc can be placed in and they take it away and do the shredding – one less hassle for you. I have used one for my work and the price is very reasonable.

          Investigate what recycling options are in the area for you. If you think it is likely you are going to need to ship stuff home to your home (to sort, scan etc at your leisure) investigate freighting options so they are ready to roll.

          Think of ways you can make it less stressful on your parents on the day – their stress will be your stress. Think of what questions you will need answered and establish what guidelines you and your parents can agree on to give you more freedom to get the job done.

          Think of their friends and any organisations/church etc that they belong to which may assist you.

          • Hi Moni! Thank you so much for your advice! I am a “fixer” – when I see a problem I feel the need to do something about it. It pains me to sit back and do nothing……so I found your suggestions very helpful! Those are things that I can do now in order to be better prepared in the future when I do have the opportunity to help my family with their stuff. I haven’t really done that so I needed to think about those things even if they wanted help now. Thanks for taking the time to think about and reply with all the very helpful suggestions!

    • Hi Claire, you are doing all you can do for now. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink just as you can suggest to your parents that they need to declutter but unless they are willing there is nothing much you can do about it. Maybe if they hear the suggestion often enough and if you keep offering your help also, they might actually start to do something about it. But until then you just have to be patient.

      I wish I could give you a miracle cure but alas there is none. Just keep up the encouragement and keep your fingers crossed.

      • Hi Colleen, yes, I am hoping that with my occasional suggestions that at least one of them might start on some project. I’m going to keep my ears open for an opportunity to gently broach to the topic again. Fingers crossed for sure!

  9. One set of grandparents have built a house back in the 60s that consists of two-and-a-half flats. When they moved in, they had their respective parents live with them there (until they died in the 70s and 80s). Ever since then they kept these flats furnished but never really rented them out. They were always intended for family use. Unfortunately they live in a rather inconvenient place for most of their children/grandchildren, so it’s unlikely (and they know that!) that anyone will ever move in permanently. I’d like to live in that house, just not in that village.
    Unfortunately that means that my granny who is naturally a neat person has spread out clothes over thousands of drawers and closets all over the house. Also they have at least twice the furniture they need… It will be quite a task to clean that house out!

    • Sanna, maybe on the next couple of visits you can help your grandparents declutter everything. I wonder if they would be willing to move to a smaller place closer to one of the family? It would be something to suggest.

    • Hi Sanna, as Deb J suggested, encouraging them to move closer to family is be a good idea. However one can only suggest these things, they can’t be forced. I wish you good fortune with this situation though.

  10. While there are lots of things I love about my home, it is too large for me! I don’t even use my basement other than for storage of things I obviously don’t really need, or they’d be upstairs close at hand! The only other use for my basement is laundry, it houses my washer and dryer. In my 5 year plan, I am planning to pay off all my consumer debt and student loans, increase my savings by a LOT, and move into a much smaller and more affordable house, which I will be building based off of plans by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co (but with some changes to the layout and interior features). I plan to truly make this new house what I want in size, setup and style. I have a bit of de-cluttering to do to be able to fit into the house too!