How Older People Can Declutter and Lighten Up
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Lifestyle

How to Shed Clothes, Shed Stuff and Lighten Up

It's time to tackle the great summer cleanup.

animation of closet items disappearing, closet clean-up, cleaning ,closet, clothes
JR Bee

As our spirits rise with extended summer daylight hours, we look forward to porch suppers, outdoor concerts, beach days and bike rides. No more bundling up to keep warm, sometimes hiding our clothing insecurities through layers of sweaters and puffy coats. Summer is the time to shed those layers and be fun in the sun.

One day, as temperatures were still cool but warming up, I looked for outerwear for the in-between season and was happy to find my old jean jacket. One of my younger neighbors saw me and commented, “How cute!” How cute? While I didn’t agree with her comment, which seemed to imply, “Aren’t you too old to wear that?,” it made me realize that now, in my early 70s, I should get rid of other pieces that I had outgrown or that were truly age inappropriate.

This wasn’t the first time I should have had the thought. I’ve experienced my daughter’s groans, or even disdain, at certain clothing items. I didn’t have any trouble parting with padded-shoulder jackets and neon tops in the past, but what about those blazers? It’s not my fault that the fashion industry keeps changing the length of where such jackets should hit — is it at the waist, the hips or longer?

As told to me by Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic for The New York Times: “This is a different time, and that is a good thing. In the past two years we haven’t been in the public sphere, so we’ve been dressing in a vacuum. It’s not what you can or cannot wear; it’s a question of what makes you feel like the best version of you.”   

Have you changed careers? Or are you spending most of your time in sweatpants these days? Donate those suits you don’t need anymore to Dress for Success, an organization that helps women seeking employment. Bring bags of clothes you haven’t worn in the past two years or articles that no longer fit to Goodwill or to a friend in need.

You can also bring clothes to a consignment shop, though be aware that if you thought something was no longer in style, the owner will probably agree and reject it.

“Consignment shops are a good place to consider bringing items in your closet that you haven’t worn or used in a long time,” says Laura Callias, owner of Suburban Revival in Maywood, New Jersey. “Consider consignment for items you would like to find a new home for, including clothing, handbags and accessories.” She adds that clothes should be in season and must be in very good, excellent or pristine condition, in categories defined as “lightly worn,” “new without tags” and “new with tags.” And if you’ve ever wondered what to do with that fur coat that was passed down to you but just sits in your closet, you’ll be delighted to find that there are companies that turn fur and treasured clothing items into teddy bear keepsakes you can keep for yourself or give to a child.

Got stuff?

And, if we’re really paring down, summer can be a time for parting with the past beyond our attire. One task we often postpone is dealing with mementos, souvenirs and paperwork. Let’s face it, every time you look at the program from your college graduation, you still feel proud. To say nothing of triggered feelings when you come across photos of old boyfriends and classmates.

You might think these time-capsule items are essential in order for your children to realize you might actually have been interesting in your previous life. But if you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll admit that they don’t want these things now — or maybe ever.

Summer’s lazy days may be the time to scan your photos and get rid of those boxes of snapshots. Or you can look into having slides and rolls of film digitized onto discs. And don’t hesitate; it’s surely time to say goodbye to that miniature Eiffel Tower or that postcard collection you’ve had since college.

A professional organizer can be the extra person who helps you get past the sentimental stuff.  

“Seasonal cleaning can be a motivational force, but organizing is different from cleaning, which can have a negative connotation,” says Fern Silvernagel, owner of Gifts of Order, based in Fort Lee, New Jersey. “I help people manage paper, time, space, photos and stuff. Decluttering or downsizing can be a time to decide if you really want to keep something in front of the closet or put it down in the basement.” Aside from clothes you haven’t worn in years, are you still saving single socks stored in hopeless hope that a missing match will turn up one day? As you cull through your things, consider a garage sale as an option.

“Different people have different responses to dealing with belongings,” observes clinical psychologist Marla Deibler, executive director of the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia. “Making decisions about the value of things should include questions about whether an item is potentially useful, a sentimental representation of a memory or just seems too nice to discard. Having a plan to decide whether you are going to keep, donate, give or toss stuff is important.”

My plan is to keep that jean jacket. After all, it is really cute!

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