Downsize and Organize for the New Year

We grandmas can do our adult children a big favor by downsizing our possessions while we still have the mental and physical energy instead of leaving the responsibility to them. While it may seem like a daunting task, says professional organizer Maria Quinby, the sooner you start, the better you’ll feel.

I completely agree and that’s why I invited Maria to be this year’s first speaker at our GaGa Sisterhood meeting. “Getting organized” is the second most common New Year’s Resolution after losing weight. Judging from our SRO attendance, the topic is indeed popular among grandmas.

I asked each member to state her biggest challenge in the areas of downsizing and organizing. Here are the most common:

  • getting started
  • finding time
  • emotional attachment to things
  • decisions about what to keep and toss
  • overwhelmed by where to start

Maria said she’s heard them all in the years she’s been helping families downsize and organize. She began by helping her own parents move from two family homes into a small condominium. Although it took two summers, she discovered she had an affinity for organizing and enjoyed helping people.

But how do you get started when as one grandma so aptly stated: “When I have the time, I’m not motivated and when I’m motivated, I don’t have the time.”

Downsizing is emotional – your entire life will be passing by and it’s hard not to get stuck in “memory lane.” Schedule a block of time on your calendar. Start with small goals such as emptying the contents of one drawer and tossing duplicates or items you don’t use. You’ll feel a huge sense of relief and spend less time looking for things. Don’t start with the garage or kitchen because that can be too overwhelming. Maria offered eight ways to downsize, organize and simplify.

Get Motivated

  • Clean up your own mess; don’t leave it for your children.
  • “Do your giving while you’re living and you’ll be knowing where it’s going.”


  • Be brutally honest with what you need and what you don’t.
  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • Will it fit in my space?
    • When was the last time I used it?
    • Will I ever use this again?
    • What’s the worst thing that would happen if I gave it away?
    • Would it be appreciated as a donation or gift?
    • Am I keeping this out of obligation?
    • Do I have multiples of the same item?
    • Could I use the space for something else?

Do a Category Purge

  • Sports gear
  • Inherited items
  • Handmade toys
  • Furniture
  • Collections
  • Family history

Practical Tips

  • Know your goal
  • Assemble supplies
  • Schedule time
  • Create a staging area
  • Categorize: keep, donate, family, toss, recycle

Enlist Help From a Friend

  • Hold up clothes and ask for her impartial opinion to help make decisions
  • Use the “3 second rule” to speed up the process in what to keep or toss

Get Re-Organized

  • Sort and store items so they’re easily accessible
  • Be comfortable with empty space

Create a Simple Sorting System for Papers

  • To Do
  • To Read
  • To File
  • Use 15 minutes once or twice a week to sort

Recycle or Freecycle

  • Check out your local recycle website to get rid of hazardous waste and electronics
  • Check out Freecycle, a nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns

Once you have a clean, well organized and simplified home, you’ll be more likely to keep it that way. Researchers have found that people are significantly less likely to litter in clean environments than already littered ones, and the same theory applies to home clutter as well.

Organization is a process, not a state achieved in one day. Think about it as “being organized” or “staying organized,” not “getting organized.” After that, the challenge is to continuously maintain it and work on it one day at a time. The good news is, once you learn good systems, habits, and tools, change becomes easier, as does bouncing back from an unexpected detour or period of feeling overwhelmed.

Your simplified home is a clean slate, and the process of simplifying is also an opportunity to reflect on consuming habits that may no longer suit you.

Some Kudos GaGa Sisterhood Received Over The Years

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