Life changes are just that -- changes that occur all through your life. Some are natural and gradual -- like going from being a baby to being a child to being a grownup. Some happen with intent like going from being single to married. Some happen suddenly like when ageing physically changes your ability to function and, of course, the ultimate change which is death. I won't be talking about death today because while there are preparations to be made for that eventuality, those are well documented. I am talking about taking care of business for everybody in every stage of adult life - everyday sorts of things.
Recently we had reason to seek out assisted living accommodations for my mother in law. Fortunately they had just opened an assisted living unit at the retirement community that she was already in so it was just a matter of a whole load of paper work to secure a new apartment and then the moving of her belongings. The new apartment is half the size of the old apartment so it goes without saying that there was a lot of paring down to be done. I learned a lot along the way so I thought I would share some tips.
My MIL and I were never close -- we were too different to ever forge a tight friendship -- she would never be my "other mother". So, I was very surprised to find myself becoming emotional over going through her stuff. So, if you are in the position to be dealing with another person or if you are thinking ahead to your own family dealing with your stuff, take steps to make it as easy as possible because it will make your life easier in the here and now as well.
Store your things logically. Have things where you can find them -- important papers should go in a file cabinet, drawer, or safe deposit box where you can get your hands on them. Photos should be put in albums, photo boxes, or stored electronically where they can be located. Clothing should be stored with like things together. I never want my children to have that quizzical look on their face when they fish through my underwear drawer and find a lone, glittery, fish Christmas ornament.
3. Reasonable Wardrobe
Keep your clothing current, well tended to and stored logically. If something is too small just toss it -- if it ever does fit again most likely it will be out of style or have lost its shape from hanging. If something needs repair then repair it or get rid of it. Have what you need to appeal to your sensibilities so you don't feel TOO minimal but seriously folks, if you have twelve pair of white slacks -- unless it is a uniform of some sort that you wear daily -- that is too much. Reading some articles on minimal wardrobes would be helpful. You can have too much of a good thing.
4. Household Goods
Assess your needs and look at your household. Do you really need 40 towels? Some families might and that is fine but if it is a small family be logical about your needs and your space. Recently (like just as we started doing this with my MIL) I looked in my linen closets. I chose two sets of sheets for each bed, appropriate blankets and quilts and two or three towel sets for each person. That is what fits in my linen closet. Even if all of it were dirty it would still be a reasonable laundry load. Don't fill your linen closet to overflowing and then start stuffing the excess in dresser drawers or the top of the closet just to keep it. Have what you need an no more.
The kitchen seems to be a dreadful place for excess. We all have that one kitchen junk drawer and yes, I do too. My husband seems to love to collect twist ties. Remember, my husband is the first born child of the MIL who likes LOTS of stuff and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Again, assess your needs. If you bake lots of muffins you are going to want tins. However, if you rarely bake muffins then maybe six tins of various sizes is just a wee bit too many. Have what you need, keep the best and get rid of the rest.
5. Cleaning Products
Cleaning products seem to multiply on their own in the dark. Lots of people seem to think they need duplicates in each bathroom and the kitchen. You don't. While it is convenient, I suppose, it takes up valuable real estate under cabinets and just creates excess. Buy a plastic caddy of some sort and keep your products to a minimum. Tote it around the house and then store it away in the designated place. It is a well known fact that I don't like chemicals and keep them to a minimum so my caddy would probably have baking soda, vinegar, and some microfiber cloths in it. You don't need a lot of stuff but if you are going to have a lot of stuff in each area of the house be sure to discard the empty bottles and don't buy more until something is truly empty.
I have a problem with cosmetics -- I love to look at it and buy it but I don't wear much of it. So, a few days ago I purged my makeup drawer, bought some new organizers so I could actually find what I do use and I won't buy more until it is gone. Here is the thing, people, cosmetics spoil. You can't stockpile. By the time you get done with one item the three or four that you have squirreled away might be on the edge of spoiling and you can't mistake it when it does -- the stench is terrible. The thought of actually using something like that is just gross. So, buy what you need and use it up. You don't save money by buying ahead -- in fact, in most cases you lose money because you have to throw so much away.
Also, don't keep empty bottles and jars. What are you going to do with them. Toss, toss, toss. Cabinet space and counter space is prime real estate -- use it wisely.
Ok, now this is a touchy subject. Most of us don't go to the grocery store daily like our great-grandmothers did. We like to keep food at hand. I like that too. I have even done some reading on "prepping", like for disasters. The truth of the matter is that shopping to "prep" is totally different. Storing up a lot of food "just in case" doesn't work because it isn't packaged for that sort of storage. My mother used to grocery shop every two weeks except for milk which she would buy at the corner store when needed. She had a freezer for meat and vegetables and a small pantry. When she planned her meals, loosely, we used the food and we were ready to replenish at the next two week interval. I remember her method -- we had our "rich meals" at the beginning of the two weeks -- roasts, chickens, etc, and our "poor meals" - beans and cornbread, stew, stuff like that, a day or two before grocery shopping. When we had our poor meals she always had a pie or cake so those beans didn't seem TOO poor! I still love those bean and cornbread meals and have them often myself. When you have so much that you don't need, that you buy just because it looks good or to have on hand, you waste so much money. I do pay attention to expiration dates on things and I don't hang on to anything past that date. That is why scratch cooking is really preferable to buying processed foods -- it is easier to store, less chance of spoilage and less waste. I mean, who is going to stock up on three months worth of cabbage?
When we were at my great-grandmother's 100th birthday party I remember a conversation between my mother and my great-aunt on what would be an appropriate gift for Granny. The answer was nothing. Apparently Granny had so many gowns and robes they couldn't get the closet door shut and the top shelf of her closet was piled to the ceiling with boxes of bath powder that she wouldn't ever use. So, be thoughtful when giving gifts.
My daughter (a true minimalist) has always said consumable gifts are the best and I agree. She likes to give me soap and I like to get it. We routinely give gift cards for meals and I really like that. I have gotten gift cards to buy books for my e-reader and I like that. When you give somebody a gift, a good deal of the time, they feel obligated to keep it even if it has outlived it's purpose so be mindful of that. While it may seem to be bad manners or gauche to give money, sometimes that is the best thing. For instance, my mother in law doesn't need another THING in the world. Because of all this activity at the holiday season we owe her a birthday gift and a Christmas gift. We will be giving her money. The new apartment place has a beautiful new salon and she is a beauty shop kind of gal -- she has the "standing appointment" mindset so she can always use cash for that. She has a girl that takes her shopping so she always need some dough to grab them some lunch or something like that. I don't see a problem with that but I do see a problem with adding one more knick-knack or piece of costume jewelry to the mix. Not. Going. To. Happen.
So, at the end of the day, I will have to say that what I have learned from this experience is to THINK. Don't blindly store things away, don't buy more than you need, don't clutter your life or your space or your mind with too much. I wish I had had the time to keep a running list with a dollar value of everything I threw away or donated from that apartment. I am sure that what I unloaded out of the pantry would have been at least $500 worth of expired food. Trying to put a value on the durable goods that were given away would have been in the thousands. When I think of the money spent just to be, in essence, thrown away, it almost makes me scream. There is no dollar amount to be placed on the effect that living with clutter has on you emotionally. It steals your joy. It steals your serenity. It steals the confidence that you have control of your environment and your needs. Clutter is just about as serious as stress in my book. It is insidious and can be actually harmful.
Hopefully my experience can help others. I know it will help me. As I look around my own house I see so many ways to make things better. When my life changes happen I want my husband or kids to be able to walk in and identify where the family photos are, to look in my pantry and find it to be viable and healthy. I want my family to be able to move my things or discard my things and not have to worry about throwing out my high school diploma with the 25 year old bank statements which are all shoved in a Christmas bag.
Yes, people, think about it. Be logical. Stay on top of things. Be reasonble and rational and I guarantee you that life changes, while sometimes upsetting and overwhelming, won't have to be worse than they need to be.
And, in closing, if you have a "shopping problem" -- get help -- it is a REAL problem!