“I figured it was much easier to clean out two rooms of my stuff than it would be to clean out the entire house. That’s what I’d have to do if I downsized. It was good work. I had kept every single love letter written to me since I was a teenager. I sat down and read them all. I reviewed my life. Then I threw them out. Doing the work of cleaning out those rooms was important. It was liberating.”
Those are the words of a senior about preparing to share her house with two friends.
It’s so easy to let our stuff accumulate. It’s worse for older people, who have a lifetime of stuff. From souvenirs bought on vacations, to children’s drawings, to presents received, to furniture beloved, to items inherited from other people, these articles are part of who we are. The very idea of sorting through them is daunting and emotionally conflicting.
Why am I writing about stuff? Because stuff is often the barrier for people who claim that they want a home-mate but get stopped by their sense of overwhelm when they consider the task of clearing out a room (or two).
It’s a necessary step. If you want your home-mate to be at home, she needs her stuff too! It is a rare person who doesn’t have at least a room’s worth of personal possessions.
The good news is that the work of clearing out space is also a spiritual and emotional piece of work. As you physically clear out the room(s) you are mentally and spiritually clearing space allowing you to live differently in your home.
Here are some practical ideas for how to work on the task.
First, you need to plan the project to fit how you like to work. Do you like to dive into projects and focus on them until complete? Or do you prefer working in regular short increments?
If the former, choose a time period to do the task. If the latter, decide how long you are going to work on the project and how often. Once a day for an hour would get lots done over two weeks!
Could you use help? Telling someone else what a particular item means to you can provide perspective on whether or not you should keep it. Another person can also help you set times for when you are doing the project. Your helper comes at a specific time and you go to work!
You can ask a friend, ask a relative, or hire an organizer. You could hire a grandchild! You could barter and help a friend in exchange for her helping you.
When you clear out a room you have to decide what to do with the items in it. Keep only what gives you a “spark of joy.” This idea is the central insight of Marie Kondo’s wonderful book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Hold an item and sense how you feel about it. Does it spark joy? If not, then you should send it elsewhere.
Three Categories of Stuff
Have three categories for things going elsewhere: give to relatives/friends, donate to a charity, or send to the landfill. Selling is an option but only for items of real value. It’s a lot of work and one rarely gains enough compensation to make it worth the effort. Charities will often help you out by picking up furniture and other larger items.
Start in one corner and work your way around the room. When you pick up an item, make a decision. Don’t put it down until you have decided whether you are keeping it or sending it away and which of the three piles it belongs in.
Necessary Work that Makes Room on Every Level
I can’t promise that this work is fun. It might be interesting, it might be exhausting. But it is necessary.
It’s necessary on the literal, physical level. Your new home-mate needs her own space. Equally important, doing the physical work has a related emotional and spiritual dimension.
You are making room in your heart for sharing housing with your new home-mate.
Have you had this experience? Have you felt the ease of clearing out space? How did it work for you?
When you are ready to welcome a home-mate, you should follow a clear process for screening people. That process is described in Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates. The book and the workbook together can help you. And if you’ve ever wondered how you can ask nosy questions such as “How clean are you?” or “When you do you take showers?” the Compatibility Questions gives you an easy way to explore these touchy areas. Check out the full description.