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Downsizing and Decluttering: A Guide for Seniors and Family Members

Letting go of possessions is hard—whether you’re relocating, downsizing to move into a senior living community, going through a family member’s belongings, or just looking to declutter your home. Luckily, we went straight to Matt Paxton—a leading downsizing expert—to get some tips.

We all have a lot of “stuff.” And most of us are guilty of holding onto it for far too long, which can become a problem—especially when it comes time to relocate, downsize, or move into a senior living community.

But letting go of our things is hard. We figure: They have sentimental meaning. We might need them later. They were expensive. They could be worth money one day. Our kids and grandkids will want them.

So how do we decide what stays and what goes? Enter Matt Paxton.

Matt Paxton’s Approach to Downsizing

Sunrise hosted a webinar with Matt Paxton, a leading downsizing and decluttering expert. You may know him from the PBS series, “Legacy List with Matt Paxton,” or from his 15 seasons on the show “Hoarders.”

In our webinar, which you can watch on demand, Matt shared insights from his 20 years of experience helping families declutter and downsize.

Matt doesn’t just help people get rid of their stuff. He takes it one very important step further: He helps them tell stories and preserve memories. Because the real reason we can’t let go of certain belongings is the meaning behind them—the people and emotions they remind us of.

So if we can somehow make sure our stories—our legacies—remain, we can begin to let go.

5 Steps to Declutter and Let Go

1. Know your finish line. Why are you decluttering? Perhaps you’re moving into a senior living community. Or maybe you’re relocating to be closer to family. No matter the reason, focus on your “why” and let it motivate you throughout the process.

2. Start small. A lot of people quit decluttering because they take on too much at once. So take baby steps: Spend 10 minutes each day doing a super quick clean-up. Choose one small area—one drawer, cabinet, or stack of papers—and get rid of what you no longer need. It’s all about accomplishing something, no matter how small.

3. Focus on your legacy. This is a big one. Matt suggests making a list of the top five most important things in your home and then writing down a story about each. This will help you realize that
it’s not the item that’s the legacy, it’s the story.

4. Tell the stories. Once you’ve identified the meaning behind your special belongings, you should start documenting the stories associated with them. You could do this by recording a video of yourself telling the story, writing it down somewhere safe, or even using a special app (Matt uses Artifcts).

5. Donate. It’s so tempting to want to sell your things. But what if you gave it to someone who really needs the item now—someone who would truly appreciate it? You could find a charity to donate to or use an online solution, such as Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle, or the Buy Nothing groups on Facebook.

For more tips and resources on decluttering and preserving memories, you can visit the Legacy List website.

If you’re interested in more on-demand webinars on topics such as Alzheimer’s, financial planning for senior living, mental health in seniors, ethical wills, and more, visit the Sunrise Webinars page.

Article By: Sunrise Senior Living

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We would love to help guide you on your senior living journey. Fill out the form and one of our senior living experts will be in touch within 24 hours to discuss any questions you have.

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