6 decluttering tips from Downsizing Diva

Downsizing Diva Judy Mitchell offers six tips for seniors and others who need to simplify their existence.

Don't let stuff detract from what really matters, advises specialist in helping seniors pare down

After a lifetime in one home, some people feel that they've become 'slaves to stuff.' (Submitted)

Many of us have a room, a garage, or  gulp — a whole basement filled with unused stuff.

Enter Downsizing Diva, the alter ego of realtor Judy Mitchell. Mitchell and her husband, Terry Moore, specialize in helping seniors freshen up their living spaces by paring stuff down to the beloved essentials.

"It is so much better for your mind and your psyche to be decluttered rather than drowning in stuff," Mitchell said. "If you just have the things you love, you can think more clearly and everything becomes easier."

Judy Mitchell and her husband, Terry Moore, work together to help seniors pare down belongings in a healthy, stress-free way. (Martin Flewwelling)

Here are six pro tips to make decluttering as painless.

1. Organize

Start by making a plan: if a move is on the horizon, ensure that every object has a place in the new home before it gets boxed up. Professional move management companies like Downsizing Diva start by creating scale drawings of the client's home to ensure "everything has a space," said Mitchell.

They then sort, pack, prepare and manage movers, and sell and donate the items that aren't wanted.

2. Digitize

Digitizing old photos can free up valuable shelf space — and ensure the entire family can see them. (Ollie Williams/CBC)

There's no need to maintain shelves of bulky albums no one's going to look at.

"The first step to culling photos is to get them out of the albums," said Mitchell. Photo boxes, commonly sold at craft stores, can accommodate up to 1,000 pictures each.

Or simply digitize the favourites, said Mitchell, "so that everyone in the family can get a copy of them."

3. 5 in 5

A Pinterest-worthy closet can be as simple as getting rid of wrong-sized, unworn items. (Erica Joy/Flickr)

Mitchell recommends getting rid of one outfit for every five you try on.

"If the colour isn't right for you on Monday, it won't be right on Thursday," she said.

As for clothes you're secretly hoping to fit into again, Mitchell has this hard truth: "Chances are, if you've worked that hard to get back down to that size, you're not going to want clothes that are years old," she said. "Just give them away and let someone put them to good use now."

4. Focus on the positive

"If you ask, 'what do you want to get rid of?' people dig their heels in," said Mitchell.

She often asks reluctant downsizers to point to their favourite things. "We get all their shoes out, and I get them to show me their favourite 5 pairs," said Mitchell, "then we put them on the shelf that is most accessible. Then we do their next favourite five pairs."

"Eventually you've run out of space, and they can see which ones they don't wear."

Rather than asking 'what do you want to get rid of?' try asking the reluctant declutterer 'what are your favourites?' (Submitted by Judy Mitchell)

5. Be generous

"The majority of things can be donated," said Mitchell, citing the the Saint John Association for Community Living, YMCA Newcomer Connections, and Canadian Diabetes Association as agencies frequently seeking donated goods.

Even worn-out items can have surprising uses.

 "The SPCA will take towels or bedding, pillows, with holes in them to use with the dogs," said Mitchell. "It's nice to think, 'Hey, I wasn't using this thing, and now someone else has something that they might really need.'"

Local not-for-profits can often use donated clothing and furniture. (Submitted by Breanna Ching)

6. Ditch the guilt

Too many people become "slaves to their stuff," whether family heirlooms or once-expensive items they feel they can't abandon, Mitchell said.

But objects can suck away precious time.

"Stuff has to be maintained, stored. It needs attention," said Mitchell.

"If people are forced to move for health reasons, or they have to move suddenly, you want to be focused on being there for them — rather than dealing with their stuff."

with files from Information Morning Saint John