A few tips for decluttering the family homestead
Each time I visit my dad, I've noticed more things stored in one of his spare bedrooms.
The closets, too, have filled up with some of the things my dad did not want to get rid of after my mom died. As his health has required more equipment and supplies, the two spare bedrooms had begun to look more like garage storage. In the room not used for sleepover guests, extra portable tanks of oxygen littered the floor, an extra walker and packs of bulk paper goods filled the middle of the room. Two massive recliners no one sits in, a treadmill, and a couple of freestanding display shelves full of brick-a-brack took up the rest of the room space making access beyond the doorway difficult, if not risky. The closet was full.
It did not take me long to rearrange and consolidate these things to create more space. I merely asked him if he needed certain things like old towels and sheets he hadn't used since my mother passed away six years ago. He had forgotten all about them, and they were not things to which he attached sentimental value. Problem solved.
Unfortunately, storage tubs, boxes of old electronics, and the odd piece of furniture little by little have found their way into other areas of his home to add to the clutter. My dad's large house, it turned out, has become an alternative place to store things that my sibling's homes can no longer accommodate.
This obsession with finding storage for the growing burden of accumulated belongings is by no means limited to my family; it has become a fact of American life. Our possessions have exceeded the foot print of our homes, and instead of getting rid of what we don't need, we are looking for more places to squirrel away things we boomers don't even remember we have at a time when a lot of us should be downsizing.
(Case in point: I found a box of my brother's old Lionel trains at the top of the closet and he didn't know they weren't at his house. A box of laminate flooring that no one recognized turned out to be left over from his home renovation of many years past. My sister discovered a large framed portrait of my nephew stored at the back of my dad's closet. It had never found its way onto a wall in his house.)
Clearly, some organizing was needed.
Can you get your family to declutter?
Asking people, especially family members you love, to get rid of things you think they don't need is tricky business, whether you live in the same house or not. The code of ethics of professional home organizers decrees that they "cause no harm." If their clients don't want to get rid of something yet, you cannot throw it out or argue with them. We all have our reasons why we hold on to certain things. In the case of older parents, certain objects may help them remember things they are afraid of forgetting. Hanging on to "stuff" can also be, quite simply, a way to retain control over some small aspect of their lives as they find so much of their independence being stripped away by physical and mental limitations.
As for dealing with clutter from other family members, it's not necessary to fight over a few boxes in your garage or closet. Making decluttering an ongoing project over a reasonable period of time can alleviate some if not all of the problem clutter.
If that fails or you need a triage solution, suggest a family garage sale at one of your homes with the proceeds going to pay for a big feast afterwards. There is nothing like the prospect of food and drink to get everyone on board to quickly find and rid the house of stuff they didn't really need anyway.