Perhaps one of the hardest, and most necessary aspect of retirement is to decide on where you are going to live. Going along with that, is the need to move all of your personal belongings to your new dwelling. It can be difficult, emotional, time-consuming, and down-right frustrating. But, having gone through a couple of major long distance moves, I know how to do it. I wanted to share with you all how I have done it in the past, and how I will be doing it again pretty soon. Here are my steps to decluttering as a retiree or soon-to-be retiree, and the story of how I put together those steps.
First of All, Why Should You Declutter?
1. Moving is expensive. Big moving companies charge you by the ton. So if you have more tons of stuff, you pay more.
2. If you have not decluttered before, and have lived in your current home for an extended period of time, you will likely have accumulated a lot of useless stuff that should be discarded.
3. Even if you don’t intend to move from your life-long home, what kind of mess are you leaving your children and grandchildren to go through upon your demise? Declutter if only for their sakes.
4. Perhaps you are down sizing your home for retirement. All that stuff isn’t going to fit in a smaller house.
5. Without all the clutter, you are able to move around more freely. You can move quickly from place to place. You can up and leave in a moment’s notice. You can jump in without being held hostage by a bunch of stuff in your way. Want to live near the grandkids? Go! Want to move in with one of your kids when you get too old, do so, having already gotten rid of your junk!
6. Once you declutter, you feel like you have turned a page, like you are renewed. It reemphasizes that retirement is entering a new phase in your life, and you are starting with a clean slate.
My Last Big Move
My husband and I inherited the house we had lived in for 13 years. So it had all our stuff from our own accumulation, all his parents things from when they passed away, and all his grandparent’s things, since they came to spend their golden years with my in laws. So I had accumulated stuff from 1967, a spread of 39 years.
My husband and I were working at a couple of dead-end jobs in the giant suburbia that is called The Front Range, the I25 corridor that runs north and south of Denver. We wanted out of the rat race, so we bought a business in a tiny town up in the Colorado High Country. My husband quit his job and went right away, and set up household in a 40′ Fifth Wheel camper. He had procured a 53′ semi-trailer to keep all our stuff until we could afford to buy a house.
This was April 2006, and I stayed working at my job, and worked full time right up until my final move in August. I was tasked to move all our stuff to the semi-trailer. The little town was 3 hours away, so it was quite an undertaking.
Every Friday, I loaded up my Jeep Cherokee with as much stuff it could hold. I would drive one hour to work on Friday morning, get off from work Friday afternoon, and drive straight through to our little business, usually arriving there around 9pm. I would spend the night in the camper.
Then, on Saturday morning, early, I would drive my husband’s pickup down to our house, and I would fill the pickup with a load of bigger things. As soon as I was loaded, I would head back up the mountain, usually in time to help out at the business for a while, and get supper, then fall into bed.
On Sunday, my husband and I would unload the Jeep and the pickup into the semi-trailer, then would both drive back home after our store closed on Sunday. On Monday, I would go back to work, and my husband, who had Monday off, would do errands for the store, then load up what he could at home, and drive back up the mountain to start another week.
(Meanwhile, too, I had to get the house ready to rent out. I painted the entire interior of the house over the July 4th weekend, all by myself.)
We had one BIG Moving Day, where we rented a truck, and all the relatives came, and we packed the big furniture items and hauled them to the semi-trailer. Everything needed to be packed and out of the house and to be gone. It was all hands on deck, and everything goes!
That was chaos because, at that point I had quit sorting. I had only two weeks left, and I knew that big truck was coming, and there just wasn’t any more time. It was the kitchen that I left for last, the most junk infested room in the house. And the room where I needed some of the stuff for living in the camper, and also needed to give stuff away. It’s so funny, because when I unpacked the kitchen boxes in 2016, I found that others had packed a lot of crazy stuff, like Taco Bell sauce packets, full shakers of salt and pepper that spilled everywhere, a few dirty dishes, my kitchen sponge, and a box of crackers, all unpacked years later!
I was left with an air mattress and an overnight bag, and the stuff to clean the house with, basically one Jeep load. I put in my two week notice because I knew I was done by then.
So, you see, it was a daunting task, and I felt overwhelmed more often than not. But I got it done, and here’s how I did it.
Get a Game Plan
You might stand back and look at your home of 30-40-50 years and think, “Oh My! This is too big! I can’t do this!” But you can if you break it down into daily goals. Figure out what you can get done in a day, and make that your goal. Be conservative! Don’t try to do it all in one day, for that will not happen. Write your goals on a calendar and stick to them.
Here is how my game plan went.
Start out with a room. After work every night, I went into a room with a batch of boxes, trash bags, labeling supplies, etc. I would start in one corner of the room, and make my way through to the door. I would pack boxes as I went, carefully labeling them, for I knew it would be a long time until I would unpack. (Some of those boxes stayed packed from 2006 to 2016!). I would stack my packed boxes in a central location for loading. Along with the boxes, I would stack small pieces of furniture and other items that could go in the load. I would often pack late into the night, because I had to have enough stuff to fill the Jeep and the pickup.
Touch each item once, and only once. I didn’t have time to deliberate on whether I was keeping an item or not. I just knew in the back of my mind, that I had limited transport space, limited storage space, and limited time. Therefore, the decisions needed to be swift, decisive, and emotionless. If I was going to get this thing done, I had to be down-right uncaring at times. So, as I was packing, I was sorting. My choices were: Pack it. Recycle it. Trash it. That was it. Every thing I touched went under those three categories. I had no “Decide Later ” pile. If I allowed myself to decide later, that meant handling the item again, which I didn’t have time for.
Get a dumpster. I will tell you, my neighbors were not happy about that. In hindsight, I should have done something different. But I knew there was a bunch of just plain trash, and I would not have our pickup available to haul anything to the waste facility. So, I got a dumpster to put temporarily in front of my house. My plan was to fill the dumpster and have it dumped once per week. I managed to do that up until I left for good.
Do a recycle run once per week. This was another part of my game plan that I did faithfully right up until I left. I would pack up all the recycling and the give-away pile, and would run around town getting rid of the stuff. The recycle center was a few blocks from my house, and the Goodwill was down the road a ways. If I was giving items away to family and friends, I also used that day to distribute. Then I would go home and pack some more.
Clean as you go. Part of the sorting and packing ritual every night was to clean the spot I had just cleared. That made it a lot easier when it came time to hand the house over to the new renters. It was already deep cleaned, and all I had to do was do a quick vacuum and dust.
Ebay, Craigslist, and yard sale. I didn’t have time last time to do much of a yard sale, Craigslist, or Ebay either one. But now that I’m more tech savvy, I think I could manage that a little better. Plus there’s a couple Facebook groups that are basically continual community garage sales, where I can sell some of this stuff. Look into that as well, as you de-clutter.
Give Away the Inheritance Pieces Now
If you can live without the pieces you plan to put in your will, to give to family and friends, it’s a great time to do so, when you are decluttering. It’s great peace of mind to know that your wishes are really carried out, and it’s a joy to give something you value to your kids and grandkids.
When I made the big move, I did a little of that. I was in my 40s, so I wasn’t ready to give away everything. But I had things that I thought would be easier to give away rather than move them. An example: I had two sets of crystal stemware. One, my mom gave to me when I got married. The other was my husband’s mom’s. I didn’t want them broken in this big transition. I knew I was going to give them to my girls anyway, so I gave one set to each of them. I have seen my girls use their crystal pieces a lot, and I’m glad they have it, and it’s safe and soundly in their possession.
I did that as well with the Christmas tree ornaments. I knew I had way more than I needed for one tree, and I knew when I took down the tree that year that I was moving. So I had the girls help me take down the tree, and I told them to divvy up the decorations between them and take their share home.
The thing I didn’t give away was my piano. My husband gave that to me as a wedding present. I want to hand it down, but short of sawing it in half, I am still not sure how, or who to give it to. So it sat for 10 years in storage, and now, lovingly sits in my current living room.
Don’t Forget to Keep Out Items You Will Need
I had a whole other list I needed to keep track of. I needed to keep from packing the things I needed to live with until I moved, and the things I would need once I moved into the camper. I needed to keep back all the cleaning items for the final once-over, when the house was empty. I needed pots and pans and dishes to cook with. I needed a fraction of my clothing, because I went from a giant walk in closet to a mini half closet in my camper. I had to keep out some of our camping gear.
I made a couple mistakes in that regard. I packed all the silverware. And I packed my winter coat. When the time came that I needed those things, they were cram-jammed into the semi-trailer, who knew how deep. I ended up getting some cheap silverware and an inexpensive coat.
So, keep a running list of what you need to keep out. Don’t forget to keep out some toilet paper! I speak from experience.
Ask For Help
Ask family and friends to help you do this. I was unfortunate because the usual people I would have asked were otherwise involved. My neighbors were moving as well, so it was every girl for herself. I did have help here and there, and when the time came for The Big Move, I had a huge family get-together, in which we provided the pizza. That worked out well.
Don’t be afraid, either, to ask for professional help. HomeAdvisor had several different decluttering categories, such as office, whole home, kitchen, garage, etc. available in my area, when I searched “professional organizers”.
You can also hire the whole thing packed and moved, by most moving companies. Check out Mayflower and Bekins.
And don’t forget that you can rent a truck or a trailer. We did ours through Ryder Commercial, because we had a business license, and my husband had worked for them. However, you can check out Budget or Penske. I do not recommend U-Haul, because of their bad business practices with their retailers, but that’s a story for another blog post!
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In the End
I learned a lot from that move, perhaps the biggest one I ever made. We filled that semi-trailer, to the point we needed a couple of big guys to hold the door shut while we latched it. So I’m glad that I took the time to sort things and get rid of junk I wouldn’t need. There was no way all of that stuff would have fit if we didn’t.
In the end, because I had a plan and stuck with it, we made it out of the house in time, and with all the important stuff we wanted to keep. When it comes time to do it again, I’m going to have to make a few changes based on where we move and how big our new home will be, but will, for the most part, go according to this plan.