So many of us make promises during the short, dark days of winter to get organized in the new year. Whether we promise to lose weight, exercise more, eat better, get enough sleep or unclutter our lives, by the end of January for most of us, those promises are all but forgotten.
However, a declutter craze seems to be sweeping the country. Ever since the release of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō, published in 2014, the momentum has increased. That book spawned the creation of a NetFlix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondō. Her second book, Spark Joy, ignited more interest in the topic of organizing our homes.
However, not everyone is buying into her hardline, hardnosed notion of simplicity. In fact, a backlash is responsible for the satirical response to her ideas, including Jennifer McCartney’s The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place.
Where ever you land on this topic, we might all agree that perhaps, the underlying reason is that so many of us Americans have so much stuff that we are renting storage space for the overflow.
Here is something to ponder from the national Self-Storage Association:
- America has approximately seven square feet of self-storage for every man, woman and child living in the United States;
- For four decades running, the self-storage industry has been the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real estate industry;
- 1 out of every 11 American families rents self-storage space.
In fact, one more brand-new facility, Central San Rafael Storage at 3105 Kerner Boulevard, just opened in Marin County. We found nine more facilities in Marin with a Google search.
Two trends, two directions.
These two trends appear to be at odds. The desire to hold onto our “stuff” and the desire to unclutter our lives creates tension.
No where do we see these two trends more at odds than within families.
The conflict is often generational, as Marni Jameson revealed in her column, Lessons learned, often the hard way, in 2018 (12/22/18), ‘a chorus of elders gently put me in my place.’ That was over a comment she’d made about what she perceived as clutter in a home. The lesson she learned? “Listen to your elders and when dealing with their belongings, tread softly.”
That is a motto we live by. Over the years, we’ve learned that what someone holds dear may appear to be an ordinary, perhaps useless object.
Like the Big Boy ashtray that your grandmother won’t throw away, even though she hasn’t smoked in decades. What she knows and you don’t is that the ashtray is from her very first date with your grandfather, when they were teenagers. She lost your grandfather five years ago but is reminded of his rakish smile and sparking eyes, whenever she spies that ashtray.
So, while the millennials and seniors may not see their treasures through the same lens, one thing is certain. We can’t make assumptions about other people’s possessions.
Going slowly and with compassion can make all the difference when a senior is faced with a huge life change. That could be downsizing from the family home to an apartment, or moving in with a relative, or perhaps entering an assisted living facility.
Remember too, that after years of accumulation, sorting through even one closet or spare room can be an emotional journey. Simply pointing out that an item of clothing hasn’t been worn for years, or a knickknack is only gathering dust won’t make it any easier to give away.
Sometimes, just giving your parent or grandparent an opportunity to talk about the memories an item holds for them, can help sort through what is most important to keep. That extra time can also give them a chance to imagine that item recycled to a new home. Downsizing does not have to mean giving up all the treasures that provide us with joy or that hold within them precious memories. It can mean letting go and simplifying at a pace that we can manage.