Comparing Apples to Apples in Healthcare
Ronni Returns with Some New Elderblogs

Getting Rid of the Junk

EDITORIAL NOTE: This sabbatical/hiatus was planned to last two weeks which means I should be back today, but it will go on a a little longer. I will return on Thursday this week.

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is Mike Nichols who blogs at Anxiety, Panic & Health which takes up much of his time. In it, he writes about the anxiety disorders and has several articles concerning anxiety among elders.

Mike lives with his wife and daughter in Columbus, Georgia, and is retired from the music and computer industries. Though trained as a classical musician, he loves the blues.

Three years ago my wife and I decided to move to a smaller house in a less expensive city. I had recently retired due to health reasons, and our income was halved.

Our house had two stories with a full basement, and every nook and cranny was stuffed with the detritus of 35 years of marriage, abandoned hobbies, two children and advanced packratism.

We soon came to realize that we had to think through this move, not only as to what we were going to do, but in terms of what it really meant and how it was going to affect us. The economic necessity was obvious, but if we just started throwing things this way and that, what would that accomplish but confusion and an impoverishment of spirit with less stuff?

After thinking and talking it over, we decided that what we wanted to have left are items that contribute to our quality of life, to the notions and habits that we hold dear, and to the things that help us live fulfilling lives.

In short, my wife and I came to view the move as less an economic necessity than as an opportunity to simplify our lives.

We gave away what we could: 37 cartons of books to a local book sale, a bedroom suite to a former student, darkroom equipment to my daughter's friend and even a car to the American Kidney Fund. We used Goodwill, FreeCycle, eBay, and several other agencies. What couldn't be given away or sold was tossed: We used five large construction dumpsters and could have used another.

Every item had its own story about the place it had held in our lives. Often we had to fight the urge to keep things due to sentimental reasons, but had to remember that we would have no place to put them in our new house. It was greatly liberating to get rid of those old monkeys that had been on our backs for so long.

Our "new" old house is charming, but has little more than a third of the square footage we enjoyed before. As is typical of houses of its vintage, it has few and small closets, no basement, and almost no attic storage. So we are still in the process of culling what we had already thought we had pared down to bare essentials.

Now our resolution to simplify our lives has hit a new challenge. My wife has lost her overtime hours, our investments have tanked and I am still not well enough to hold a job even if I could find one. What once was a sparse budget has become bare-bones.

Once again we are faced with making mindful decisions and taking measured actions when everything within us is screaming to panic.

Although our decisions ultimately will be about things that we can sell, services we can do without and what can be substituted for the things we want, our intention is to go beyond mere budgetary adjustments to making the process an opportunity for growth.

We found that though we have simplified our lives greatly, there is yet more work to do. Our principle of maintaining and enhancing our quality of life still has some major adjustments that need to be made.

For though we have gotten rid of a lot of physical stuff, our habits of mind have not changed. We are still the same people that are owned by the objects we accumulate, that are confused about the words "need" and "want," that are enslaved by the acquisitiveness coached by Madison Avenue and that grasp for the easiest solution to a problem.

More than clearing away the clutter of a lifetime together, we need to get rid of the junk that has accumulated in the corners of our minds over the decades. Cleaning out the habits of mind that have kept us chained for six-plus decades is much harder to do than simply tossing or selling junk or making budget cuts.

Still, our goal is not only maintaining our quality of life, but enhancing it. We are finding that we are appreciating what we do have more after having validated its place in our lives.

This is not an event that can be done in a weekend, or even in 50 weekends. It is a process, a journey toward a simplicity of mind and life that is truly liberating. Even in these trying times, it makes the future an exciting place to be.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, The Cover-Up from Frank Paynter. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]


Wonderful, thoughtful article. We all must do likewise if not for the same reason. Thank you for sharing with all of us your journey.

Yes, Mike; THANKS.
I find that my biggest challenge these days is between the "mindful decisions" and the "screaming panic" that you mention.

Thanks for pulling me back toward center where the decisions are a bit easier and a lot less reactive.

Good luck to you on your journey.

A wonderful post. Lots to ponder here...

Having gone through a move that entailed getting rid of many objects that I thought necessary and simplifying my life I can identify with much of what you said.

Unfortunately, I forgot to rid the clutter in my mind. I did not change the acquisitive habit and have filled all the storage space in my new home. I need to rid myself of the new junk that is cluttering my house and mind. This time I will not replace the missing items and will be more selective in what I get rid of.

I think my life needs to take a new direction. Thank you for reminding me that I need to achieve simplicity.

Absolutely wonderful points to ponder now and tomorrow. Thank you for doing the heavy lifting of tossing and updating who you are/want to become, and for sharing your process and wisdom.

Thank you, Mike for sharing your insights. You have definitely made the point...we all have external and internal stuff that needs organizing and removing. The importance of a "house in order" can not be overstated as we get "younger".

I think it's easier to get rid of stuff than to the habit of acquiring stuff. My path to simplifying my mind has been the Tao Te Ching, others turn to Zen but it confuses me too often. The Tao is only 81 verses, after all. ;^)

I find with de-cluttering and simplifying the biggest problem is overwhelm, just looking at it all instead of as one thing at a time. I find dealing with whatever is in my hands at the moment is easiest --- when I pick it up, how does it make me feel, do I want to have it in a place I can see it, do I care enough to have it at all, etc. I am finding myself more and more drawn to hand-made things, artworks by friends I know, and less and less to cheap plastic crap from China. I have a "china" rule on acquisitions -- if it is made in China, I won't buy it unless I absolutely need it. I look for locally made or handmade goods, recycled, or re-purpose things I already own if I "need" something new. (mugs make fine pencil holders, etc...)

And after cleaning out my mom's house after she passed away, I vowed that I would live in an apartment with rented furniture when I was older, and toss everything or give it away before then. 75 years worth of stuff, 50 years in the same house, was really hard to deal with!

Do your kids a favor and sort it before they have to. Oh, and get your financial affairs in order -- after five years dealing with JP Morgan trying to close the estate, we know have a living trust with everything in it, signed powers of attorney for each other, and the kids know where the will is.

Along with seconding the comments on the excellence of your post, I have a personal connection. Big move in my sixties, now another in mid-seventies. Clearing out mind clutter along with objects is a challenge. Thanks for the reminder!

Mike: I enjoyed your post today because my wife and I have just done something similar. We were living in a large home in North Carolina last year and sold it to come back to Arizona.

We have learned that happiness is not about what you own (because possessions end up owning you) but more about what you give to and get out of your daily existence.

We are much happier owning less and enjoying life more. It is as much a mindset as the literal throwing out of useless stuff.

I am happy to hear others have found this out.

Like you, we look forward to the excitement and challenges of a less encumbered existence.

Thanks for sharing this post.


Mike, great story. I congratulate you and your wife because it is not easy to do what you did -- getting rid of your stuff. I actually started a business a year ago helping people declutter in the Boston area. I find that for some people it is virtually impossible to begin to get rid of things without someone there, going through item after item after item. But it works. And I do find the mental changes happen along with the physical. It takes a while, but it happens.

Thanks for this excellent post!

I am greatly relieved that my parents unburdened themselves over the years rather than accumulating more and more stuff.

Dad is gone now, and my 86 year old mother downsized even further in order to move to my city a few years ago. She lives quite contentedly in a studio apartment only a block away.

She likes her kitchen, which is big enough for a small table for dining, and she likes the spaciousness of her one large living room. She kept only the items that are meaningful to her. As she put it, "If I can't use it and it doesn't make my heart sing, why should I keep it?"

That's the wisdom of age!

Ah yes, we are doing exactly the same thing. We do have different results now when we go out to sales. We often spend hours looking at things and never buy a thing. If we bring something in to the house, something has to go out. We donate to the Cancer Society, and what isn't quite up to par goes to Father Joe at Saint Vincent de Paul. Father Joe guarantees to sell everything. Life is better.

I purchased a piece of art several years ago. I told my family I want it to be my last possession. However, right now I'm afraid it is a long journey to that point. Excellent post and subject.

I cannot find the words to say how much I was touched by this piece, and how it connected in some deep, inner part of me. I have struggled with the accumulation of a century of life from my mother, who saved everything. Three years after her death I am still going through stuff, and I have my own accumulation to cope with. I especially appreciated the idea of changing the way we think about things. To some degree this has come to me with age. Most of the time I don't even look at stuff, let alone buy it. Thank you so much for this.

It can seem like such a big decision to get rid of stuff. When it's gone, 99% of the time I never notice afterward. The only truly bad decision was moving to a condo that does not allow dogs, and now being stuck here in an inversion, without sufficient work to move on.

Welcome back. I enjoyed all your guest bloggers, and I will enthusiastically read your new 20. Glad you had a grand time.

Very insightful. Things creep up on us, and sometimes we get blindsided. But with your self knowledge to guide you you'll be fine, I'm sure.

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