Cleaning Up Your Room

 In Opinions

It is our responsibility to clean up our clutter.

Your kids say they don’t want your stuff. What? My treasures collected from travels to exotic places, art that moved me and furniture that has memories, no longer hold value?

I have my mother’s Brancusi ashtray, files filled with music from my father’s career as a pianist, numerous abstract paintings from my mother, wedding gifts from Bailey, Banks and Biddle in Philadelphia from my husband’s family and three thousand loose photographs.


I had an epiphany. No one is going to go through all of our belongings and “feel joy,” that elusive emotion Marie Kondo of “Tidying Up” claims is the ultimate when space has been cleared, closets reorganized and papers discarded. Yet, this petite Japanese woman has inspired me. I want that overwhelming peace she describes when space is organized.

Kondo has her methods and I have mine. I started with the garage because there were four generations of photos in boxes. It took days with many highs and lows going through a panoply of lives stretched out on my commandeered kitchen table. I made piles: people, pets, pre-WWll Europe, vacations and more. I even found my ID card from Shenandoah Junior High sporting cat-eye glasses with rhinestones. Yes, it was emotional and also cathartic. 

What did I do with it all? I tossed it. I took phone photos to send to others, made manila envelopes filled with memorabilia for family members and went to the post office a lot. I got a mountain of photos down to one big box and three cookie tins. It took a few weeks of forty-five minutes a day. Next stop: a bookstore! Let’s face it, once you’ve read it what’s the point of keeping it on a shelf? Proof to visitors that you’re smart? That you read? That you belonged to a book club?


Our parents were children of the depression who saved rubber bands, paper clips and plastic bags from the newspaper they read every day. They left it all for us. My parents lived in their home for forty years and had overflowing linen closets, packed drawers and a room brimming with musical instruments. It took weeks to clean out. Another friend whose parents passed spent three years sorting through their home and garage filled with plaster-of-Paris nude statues, boxes of buttons and a hall closet bursting with furs. My neighbor passed suddenly during Xmas. Her three grown sons are present every weekend sorting Hummel statues, sorority memorabilia and furniture from the 1960s in the garage. They asked me what to do with three sterling silver teas sets. It’s February, folks!

What motivated me to take on such a big project? The fact that as Baby Boomers we are aging, that people have falls, that one doctor visit can change your life. It’s imperative we face reality. Life as it is won’t go on forever. 

My concern is that this will all be left for a female family member to go through,  burdened by the task, overwhelmed with clothes, dishes and a kitchen drawer that’s a sin. They also might not know the sentimental or value of what they’re pushing into large black garbage bags. It’s not their responsibility to know. It’s ours.

It’s our duty to clean up rooms for the next generation and, if you are one of the few who think you’ll live to be one hundred, surprise! No one stays at the party forever. Sometimes you have to go home to clean up your room! It’s inevitable and, another hard fact: it doesn’t get easier as we age. You don’t want to wait until 80! Do it now!



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Showing 4 comments
  • Susan Brooks

    As always, a great treat to read! Your perspective humors me, and inspires me as well. Guess I better get started on all my collections and treasures collected over the years…

  • Glennis McNeal

    I realize that my children have masses of photos of their children so there’s no need to keep piles of grandchildren pix.
    Other photos that are signficant to me alone I put in boxes titled “toss when I croak.” I enjoy them but it ends with ne.

  • Norma Wilson

    A book that echoes this sentiment and provides an action plan is “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” by Margareta Magnusson. Freeing self and family from a lifetime of clutter.

  • Patricia B Ternes

    Great advice. When my 103-yr-old Aunt Louise was 96, she moved from her house to assisted living. She made up a box for each member of the family with a few things she thought appropriate for each to have, carefully wrote notes explaining the significance of the contents, and sent them through the mail. When I asked what she had done with all her photo albums, she told me, “I took them to the dump. Nobody but me knows who any of those people were, and I’m never going through those pictures again.” Everything else that she couldn’t sell, she had the trash man take. She bought new furniture and moved into an uncluttered studio apartment. Great example of how to move through life’s journey.

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