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Decluttering has been the perfect wintertime activity for eons

Golden Living

Imagine, for a minute, being a pharaoh in ancient Egypt, planning for a journey into the afterlife.

What would you bring into the tomb for the trip? Keep in mind that even a pharaoh won’t have unlimited storage space. King Tutankhamun himself was interred with 50 garments.

That was it for his wardrobe, for all eternity. For somebody laid to rest in a solid-gold coffin, his tomb took up a lot less space than you’d think he could afford, about the same as a small three-bedroom house.

In the 3,300 years since King Tut’s day we’ve learned that we can’t take it with us, but too often we forget that as our homes fill up with a little of everything: many things we need, but far more things we don’t need.

We’ve all done it: We’re at the supermarket, can’t remember whether we needed mustard, so we buy another jar just in case. A decade or two goes by, and now we have 14 jars of mustard.

As we at the Office for the Aging (OFA) have learned, we might not fit the definition of a hoarder, which involves a mental health diagnosis, but still. Why did we do this? Why did we accumulate so many things we’ll never need?

Fear is sometimes a factor, as anybody who stocked up on toilet paper and pasta during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic would remember. There’s another kind of fear: That you’ll throw something away but find out you need it.

This almost never happens, but that “almost” is enough for people to keep that 50-year-old strand of Christmas lights. A desire to hold on to the past is another factor, and seniors have the most past to hold on to, even things they haven’t used in decades.

Winter is a great time to declutter. Think of the good things that’ll result.

You’ll be able to find your important paperwork without having to dig through accumulated junk mail. With fewer things lying around, you’ll reduce the risk of injury in a fall. You might even sleep better; a 2015 study by St. Lawrence University found that people who slept in cluttered bedrooms experienced less restful sleep.

If you haven’t decluttered in a while, you might think the task is too much, so break it down into smaller pieces. Set up a decluttering plan that works for you. If you can only manage to declutter one room, one shelf, or even one drawer, that’s still progress. If you can only sort out the clothing you need from the clothing you don’t, that’s still a plus.

Clutter is going to fall into four main categories: recyclables, hazardous materials, things that can be donated and things that need to be thrown away. Your town, city or village government will know more about what can and can’t be recycled, and Dutchess County hosts Hazardous Materials Disposal days during the warmer months.

We’ll have more decluttering tips in future Golden Living columns. Until then, think twice before buying more mustard.


Golden Living is prepared by Dutchess County OFA Director Todd N. Tancredi, who can be reached at 845-486-2555, ofa@dutchessny.gov or via the OFA website at www.dutchessny.gov/aging.

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