The realities of decluttering over 50

Is decluttering different over 50?

I had some complaints on a Facebook ad recently that I was being unkind and unfair when I said our work helped women over 50 declutter.

Let’s talk about why I said this and why I firmly believe there’s not a 1-size-fits-all approach to decluttering.

Why is decluttering over 50 different?

Watch the video as I discuss some of the following points:

  • The fact that the same decluttering tips and techniques don’t work the same for different people.
  • Decluttering needs change as we get older (and the reasons for that).
  • How motivation for decluttering also changes as we grow older.

Whether you have inherited a house full of clutter over the years or have developed health challenges that make decluttering difficult – this video is one to watch!

But don’t worry – even though our decluttering techniques at Decluttering School really benefit people over 50, our tips work for people of all ages.

How has decluttering changed for you as you’ve gotten older?

Is decluttering different over 50?

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25 thoughts on “The realities of decluttering over 50”

  1. SO many reasons why decluttering is different for people over 50. (although the number is somewhat arbitrary, the life milestones often happen around this age)
    1) We start to recognize our own mortality on a this-is-really-going-to-happen level. It is no longer a some-time-in-the-distant-future event.
    2) If we have children, they have left or are close to leaving the house.
    3) We have decades of accumulating stuff.
    4) Many of us have more time to pursue hobbies (see #2) and need space for that.
    5) We recognize that we don’t need 20 wool sweaters in storage since we live in So Cal and won’t be moving to Montana EVER.
    6) Our bodies and health are changing. We have to accommodate those changes.
    7) Many know that their heirs will just back a huge dumpster up the driveway and chuck out everything.🤚 So we would like to see it go to charities or friends who will appreciate it.

    Sorry that some people felt offended and excluded that you recognized that older people may have different needs.
    Personally, I applaud you for addressing the issue.

    • Well said. And even at a relatively healthy 55, I definitely have less energy than I did a decade (or more) ago! And even though I do moderate exercise regularly, I find it just a bit harder to get down on the floor or maneuver into tight/difficult spaces. And that’s not taking into account those who have health or physical issues that truly make it hard to move in certain ways. Sure “fifty may be the new forty”, but most of us definitely don’t feel like we did when we were twenty or even thirty! Here’s to us middle-agers (and older!)!

    • Amen Vivian! I’m 69 and have been “lightening the load” for years after inheriting a LOAD of stuff from relatives after realizing that passing on their things didn’t reflect at all on my love and respect for them.

      I have sooooooo very much less energy now than in the past! Sometimes it takes me 2 days to accomplish a task that in the past may have required 2 or 3 hours.

      I’m more motivated now than ever before, however. I want to have around me the things I want and/or need. What I DON’T want is to leave my adult daughters a huge clean-out project. I’m also a wannabe prepper and want to use my limited physical space wisely. I’m not preparing for the “doomsday” that may or may not come in my lifetime. Rather, I’m building a hedge against inflation, supply chain issues, and even unemployment. I do still work, and losing that income would be a real hardship without my well-prepared pantry. I also love going “shopping” in the pantry room (converted bedroom) when I decide I want a big pot of chili but there’s snow & ice on the ground 🙂

      I prepare for myself, my family, and neighbors who may need some help here & there. There’s NO extra space for pure flotsam that nobody (even me) wants.

      • I can relate on all points! It’s really tough making myself a list of things to do and a couple days later, I’m only half way through the list. It’s also very challenging coming up with effective ways to store the prepper supplies and clear out the superfluous stuff that’s just taking up space. …especially all those things that I’ve collected from those who have gone on before. None of my children have the space to absorb my stuff in addition to their grandparent’s.
        I certainly have found that the challenges are very different as we age.

    • I am 70 and bought the book! Just me and my husband and I’m making progress, slowly. My husband won’t help with his stuff and it gets frustrating. It is getting easier to give away, throw away and even sell some items. Thank you for all of your encouragement 😀. My daughter said she will just toss stuff when I’m gone so glad to have you motivate me, love your videos and emails

      • Oh Kathy, My Daughter says the same. She says Mum I Love you and I don’t want to lose you….However I sure wont be keeping your stuff when you leave!! Lol. I wish I could be like that!! Mind you… a lot of my stuff is her childhood stuff.

  2. One could say, “The sky is blue,” and someone would hate on them. It’s so typical in today’s world to hear, “What about me????” ME, ME, ME, ME!! ARGH!

    Of course, decluttering is different for older people. Your points are spot on. Handled four estates in five years…lots of stuff…lots of memories. Yup, grew up with Depression Era and farming parents. YES, you save that 14″ piece of baling wire because you’re going to use it to fix something in the future. Our throw-away culture is destroying our planet.

  3. I am having a terrible day; a recent major health issue has interfered with plans I had made to declutter (plans that developed as I pulled myself out of the deep depression I had experienced through most of COVID lockdown). Friends had “helped” while I was hospitalized, and they jumbled things up, put them into huge tubs, and stacked them. They took a new-to-me piece of furniture, one that I had hoped would encourage me to establish a prettier kitchen, and they put it outside in my yard without any sort of tarp, and it got rained on for almost two weeks when I was just home from the hospital and completely unable to do anything about it. Other friends, since then, have come and helped (and the furniture is now in my garage, but I may just have to dispose of it), but now the friends want to tell me HOW my decluttering should be done, in ways that don’t make sense or else ways that leave me feeling overwhelmed or shamed.

    I’m going to watch this video, and your health issues video, and hope I feel less totally discouraged. Thanka you.

  4. Yes indeed decluttering is different for over 50! More sentimental and fantasy stuff
    Hanging on to the memorize and well one day i will get around to it only real life keeps happening!

  5. As I listened to your discussion of decluttering over 50, I found myself going Yes! Yes! I could relate to the difference. I have inherited 5 family members’ worldly possessions through the years. Some things have been easier to let go of through time but there is much still tied to memories. When you mentioned family members that lived through the depression and not throwing things away, I could relate. I was raised by my great-grandparents and between what living through the depression and what living on a farm where things were reused whenever possible taught them, it was passed on to me. My problem is that I don’t have a farm or barn to store all the things that you don’t throw away because you never know when you might need it. It can be very overwhelming and never something I dealt with in my 20s or 30s. However, I was being set up for clutter since childhood….I just didn’t have as much and those family members were still alive. Now at 60, I start thinking about what I have and if it will mean anything to younger family members. I know it will not for most of them. I have adjusted my holding pattern to things that are useful (unless there is a huge memory attached), if it truly holds no use for me then I donate it. I justify donations as not throwing them away but passing it to someone who needs them now. It’s funny that I feel I must justify letting go of something. My husband does not have this problem, he would back a dumpster up to the door & start tossing. I have to justify and then only if I think it has no use whatsoever for anyone can I just toss it in the trash. Younger people today don’t understand that, they just toss it and rebuy if they need it again. Nothing was disposable growing up. If a shirt wore out, buttons were removed and put in the button tin or jar, the material was then either cut into strips and added to the material ball that would be made into rugs or it went into the rag bag for cleaning or even used to tie up tomato plants. That isn’t taught today and the necessity isn’t the same. I have read of clutter being tied to emotional trauma also. I can understand that too as sometimes having stuff validated my life.

    • Yes, yes, YES! My grandparents and my husband’s father all lived through the Depression and people in general just didn’t waste a thing back then! I mostly try to live my life this way (I’m 55), but have had to learn to reset my mind a bit and understand that if it’s actually clutter to me, it’s not valuable enough to keep. But it’s hard to undo a lifetime of seeing things done a certain way.
      Our personalities definitely make it easier or harder to let things go; my husband and younger son can chuck stuff with relatively no emotional affect, while myself and my older son both attach so many memories and feelings to things. It makes parting with things a tougher decision, involving all sorts of emotions.
      And you’re right; we have collected more decades worth of stuff and have starting losing parents and people we love, so there’s much more to manage.
      I’m personally thankful for this viewpoint being shared, and I’m sure the principles still apply to others. 🙂

      • Yes ma’am, K Ann! My parents were teens during the Depression, and of course my grandparents dealt with all aspects. I find that I often have to stop and audibly ask myself why I’m thinking about keeping a particular item.

        But you’re right on the mark about personality differences! LOL, my youngest daughter absolutely is ruthless about chucking things! She’s determined not to be strangled by clutter, but she’s also thoughtful in how to get things out of her house. She donates kids’ toys to a group that serves foster families; donates her better clothes to a shelter for abused women looking for (or needing dress for) jobs, etc. There’s MUCH that we who can’t deal with simply chucking things can do with things useless to us but can be highly useful to others.

    • Roberta, I can relate. My mom was a depression era baby and I spent lots of time with my grandmother whose favorite saying was “waste not, want not” so I cannot just throw things away. I also am disgusted with the wasteful attitude of so many people and I strongly believe in “reuse, recycle, repurpose”. But I don’t want to burden my children when I’m gone, so working hard to get rid of things. Yes Sarah, decluttering IS different over 50!

    • It feels so good just to hear you mention the button jar, and the clothes being cut up to tie up tomatoes. Thank you for sharing! I have way too many things and I have felt such emotional trauma because I don’t have someone to give these things to that would understand how very precious they were to my mom and now to me.

  6. You bet age makes a difference. I am 75 and have completed a MAJOR declutter and after years, have my Craft Studio back. I took the month of January to do it and did as much as I could each time. Sometimes for an hour. Other times several hours. About four hours a day was about all I had the energy for. Many emotions popped up along the way. Frustration that I had accumulated so much stuff over the years, pain from having to let go of so much that I will never use, and exhaustion and a little fear that I would never get it finished. I am elated that it is totally finished and very usable. I love to spend time in the room now. This accomplishment has given me much more confidence about continuing my decluttering challenge. I CAN do this one project at a time.

    • Until I was in my early 60s, my then-husband and I had moved (over our marriage years) from a small ranch rental, to a 2-story 2400sf with basement, and then a huge 3-story golf-course/country club home. With 2 children, each having their own bonus rooms off their BRs, we always had space to keep everything we brought in. Once we began to downsize, as the kids were leaving home, there were so many things to purge or make decisions on. College kids didn’t want our fine furniture and accessories. Many people were losing their homes during the 2008-time slot, and all estate-sale companies I contacted were already booked. I didn’t know that my then-husband was “planning his exit” from our marriage at that time, so I assumed we would eventually buy a medium sized home in a couple of years (for our future visiting adult children and grandchildren), so it was hard to know what to get rid of or keep. We were renting about a 2600 sf house in the meantime. As it turns out, I had to downsize again, on my own, to a 3BR/2BA ranch. It’s perfect, but one BR and 1/2 the 2-car garage have things that I either couldn’t go through fast enough or didn’t know what to keep. I DO NOT WANT TO JUST MOVE BOXES OF STUFF AGAIN the next time. WHAT DO PEOPLE DO WITH OLD FAMILY PHOTOS, ONCE THERE IS A DIVORCE??? My kids don’t want them, and I don’t want to throw our family portraits into the local garbage dump….my kids as babies, alone or with us. So they have been just stacked in a spare bedroom. Whenever I move again, I will hope to be able to schedule an estate sale, but no one wants fine designer brand mahogany dining room and master bedroom furniture or a grand piano. Large furniture and elegant accessories and collectibles (like Dept. 56 holiday villages and Longaberger baskets) bring very little $$, if any, these days.

  7. Thank you, appreciate you talking about this. My husband and I are in our 70’s, we have moved several times, each time it has been harder as we don’t have as much energy. He has had 2 major surgeries in 2 months and is slow in getting better. We down sized, and I have much stuff to get rid of, it is depressing, and not really liking where you live because of remembering times past, and memories in other houses that were bigger and nicer, it is hard and it hurts, we hang on to things because of the memories, and letting go of things are emotional. Our kids don’t care about it, but it is a part of us, my past, our past, I look at something and it brings back memories of a place and certain people that have been in my life for a time and a season. It is definitely different as things change as we get older, and what is really important to us and to keep and to let go? That is where I am at now at this stage of my life. Thank you for letting us talk about what is going on in our lives.

  8. I feel like a curator and a librarian. I have things from my deceased husbands grandparents! And we both collected books on our various interests for many years. All that I could deal with if I could be better with the paper clutter. My husband died at age 86 and I’m 73. I have pain issues, fatigue, and I’m only 5 feet tall! That makes a big difference. Thanks for making people aware.

  9. I am 65 yrs old, and have a large house full of stuff; not only stuff, but lots of documents, paperwork, etc from my past and past business, that I am emotionally attached to. Also, stuff from my husband’s parents when they died. Please understand that it is not like a hoarding house; most rooms look decent, but my office & the BIG basement does not! And you’d be surprised at how good I am at hoarding stuff & able to hide it out of sight, like closets, under the bed, under the staircase, etc. My previous business was a bed/breakfast/restaurant-lots of memories; then I did income taxes, & I’m that person that is afraid to throw away paperwork, needs copies of everything, etc. I had children late in life; they are 27 and 23. The 23 year old lives at home & says he will never leave our home as it has a huge warehouse attached (strange I know, different story), so he loves working on his car etc there & wants to have his own business there. So my husband & son are constantly badgering me about getting rid of stuff. I’m pretty sure they have gotten rid of some of my stuff without me knowing, & that really ticks me off. I am trying to declutter, but I don’t have energy like I used to, & sometimes the motivation. My health is pretty good, but I’m very overweight (another issue) & I think that affects my energy level & mental health too. In addition, my mother passed away in June, & though her house is small, every room is full (some to the ceilings if you know what I mean), so my sister & I have also been trying to go thru that, very slowly. My mother was 90 yrs old & saved everything for use later. I’ve got some of that mentality as well. Plus, like her, I’m extremely sentimental. And I was very close to my mother, so my grief is pretty constant. I still work very part time, do love learning, & have an entrepreneurship spirit. I want to have my own business of some kind, maybe doing taxes, but can’t with all the boxes of papers in my office now; or I would like to take some courses, & start an online business, but don’t feel I can until my own house is in better order. I’m not an over shopper, as I limit myself on that; I can resist things that I don’t need for the most part. Except I love thrift stores; you never know what treasure you will find. And I do buy Christmas decorations there, as I love those, but limit myself to decorations that are very unique. My big downfall is shirts/blouses. I buy WAY too many of these, usually at thrift stores, cause I’m always trying to find something that I look “ok” in with the extra weight I carry, & then a lot of the time, once I get home, I feel that I don’t look good in the clothing I bought. I have given away some of these or even sold at co-signment, but I still have a ton of them. Another issue is I handled all the paperwork, forms, doctors, medicines, etc for my mother & I have a ton of that also. Even though she recently died, I don’t feel I can just throw it away. And obviously, as we go thru our mother’s house, there are some things of hers that I will want to have, so that means more things brought into my own house. So even though I probably seem “together” to most people, I’m really not. Wow, writing this makes me see even more so how many issues I have! I wonder if this would make a good blog…..

  10. I’m 72 years old and spent my 20’s and 30’s as an Army wife moving very frequently. I was so good at keeping the clutter down so it wasn’t such a hassle to move “stuff”. BUT, hubby has been retired from the Army for nearly 30 years and we’ve lived in the same house that whole time…gathering “stuff” with no reason (moving) to get rid of things. As I await my decluttering book, I am making mental notes of things in my house. My grandfather gave me a bright gold ceramic mug that has beautiful flowers etched in it. He had 2 of those mugs…one gold and one green. He told me I get the gold one because I was so special to him and gave my cousin the green one. Talk about a tear jerker thinking that when I’m gone NOBODY is going to have ANY interest in that mug. I also have a ceramic vase that is 2 girls dressed in winter coats that my grandmother gave me. It’s cute, but nobody in my family’s style for sure. I also have my mother’s fine china. NOBODY wants fine china these days! So, I’m feeling kind of sad thinking about those things and how important they are to me, but realizing that they will be nothing but clutter to my descendants. I have gorgeous Waterford crystal and had it sitting in a china hutch on display for quite a few years…BUT then I realized there’s no value in them just being displayed so I started using them. They feel so elegant and are so beautiful. A couple pieces have been broken, but that’s OK. They are meant to be used…when I am on my deathbed, I won’t think “why did I just store that crystal” but will instead think about the joy they brought me when I used them.


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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