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How Organizing Later in Life is Different From When You Were Younger

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Organizing later in life is very different from organizing when you were younger.

I wasn’t sure how to title this post because everyone is different – everyone’s situation is different. Some young people organize like old souls and some of the more seasoned among us don’t fit the mold either.

But this post is about my thoughts and my philosophy about why people over, say 50 – the empty nesters or the sandwich generation – have different organizing challenges than people of other ages.

woman with gray hair sitting at desk with laptop, book, and glass of green juice

Understanding Who People Over 50 Really Are

Think about it.

People over 50 were born in the late 60’s or early 70’s and prior. We are Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Many of us started our families before the age of the internet and over the years adapted our lives to the new technology.

We are now empty nesters or have adult (or young adult) children living at home, we may also be caregivers for our elderly parents, and we may be grandparents.

And we are either well established in our careers, facing retirement, or thinking about using this next chapter in life to start over.

How This Translates to Stuff (or Clutter)

Because we started adulthood before the internet and online boom, we were most likely raised in a home where people cherished their possessions.

We also accumulated a lot of things early in adulthood because those things were our hobbies and our entertainment.

We got lots of toys for our kids, things for our homes, souvenirs, clothing, accessories, shoes, CD’s, records, you name it.

Our lives were chronicled on film (doubles, in fact), loads of photo albums, video tapes, and eventually digital formats.

The things around us represent a lifetime of memories.

But not only do we have our own stuff, but we also might be the keepers of our adult kids stuff, our parents stuff, and perhaps even some of our relatives things.

As far as living arrangements go – we might be thinking of downsizing or even upsizing (but we don’t want to take unwanted possessions with us when we move).

Compare all this to a young family just starting out. This young family has the advantage of having somewhat of a clean slate.

They can decide where to store their digital life right from the beginning.

Instead of having a music and DVD collection – they can opt for a streaming service.

Their books are on a Kindle, recipes are found online.

And they put a lot more emphasis on experiences than they do on collecting things.

As for the things that they don’t know what to do with – well, they might just leave those boxes at their parent’s house (translation: people over 50).

Why Organizing An Empty Nest is So Hard

The problem with organizing an empty nest comes down to one thing – TIME – or lack of it.

I actually hate the term “empty nest” – because it sort of implies that our home is empty and we have nothing to do.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth!

Most of us have very busy lives.

And the last thing that we want to do is spend the second half of our time on earth cleaning up the stuff we accumulated in the first half.

Our Priorities Have Shifted

In the first half of life we collected things, we raised our families, and we put our needs behind the needs of others.

But at 50 our priorities tend to shift to ourselves.

At this stage, self care is very important.

Our priorities might include things like:

  • exercise,
  • meditation,
  • cooking healthy foods,
  • self care rountines,
  • travel,
  • doing things on the “bucket list“,
  • and even growing your career.
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The Bucket List

Think about rewatching this classic movie and find inspiration to make your own Bucket List of things that you want to do in this lifetime.

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On the surface it may seem selfish – especially to others – that you are spending so much time and energy on yourself.

But the reality is that by focusing on self care and maintaining your health, you are not only making it possible for you to live a healthy and fulfilling life but you are also doing your best to keep yourself from becoming a burden to others.

Is Your Stuff Keeping You From Getting What You Want Out of Life?

So the question to ask is this – Is your stuff preventing you from living your best life?

I am willing to bet that no one has “spending months or years organizing all my stuff” on their bucket list.

But a houseful of belongings is the reality for many of us.

How to Deal With the Clutter

Empty nesters have many organizing challenges including:

  • managing a lifetime of memories,
  • being caretakers of other people’s stuff,
  • having adult children,
  • caring for our parents,
  • downsizing or even upsizing,
  • and shifting priorities.

I can’t solve the problem with this one post, but hopefully I’ve got your creative juices flowing.

It is time to make a list of your priorities so you can start making decisions about what to do with all the things you no longer have time for.

On this blog, I try to offer up ideas, thoughts, and suggestions on things that will be useful to you in this next phase of life.

If you haven’t already – please click here to subscribe to my newsletter where I share my latest posts, as well as organizing tips, fun finds, and resources to help you on your own unique organizing journey.

Tell me about your organizing challenges and your new priorities in the comments below.

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4 Comments

  1. At 64 yo and disabled, I too am going through the house of 22 years and finding so much I must donate. I still find a pair of sox that are completely good in the donate box and say I may need those one day and pull them out again and put them away. I HATE IT! My mother and Grandmother both had pictures from family and I seem to have gotten those in my possesion as well as my husbands’ mother’s photos. I don’t even KNOW those people and have no idea of what to keep and or toss.
    The pictures are second to only the paperwork. Yes, I am trying to put them all on the computer. I have all my mother’s (she passed 2 years ago) paper work and hers is twice as bad as mine. She has so many notes written about life in the middle of other stuff that I find I have to go thru all the pages in case I might miss something dear. I then start reading and not sorting and… and, and. I never finish anything due to the large amount of work and the fact that my disability will not allow me to last “through the night” as I did when younger. I just finished what I was doing even if it DID take all night. Oh to be that young again!
    I continue to call Red Cross and the Vets to pick up items and continue to struggle through the clothes of my Grandmother and mother, trying not to keep them because they bring back memories. I am going to finish those papers in my scanner and I am going to have my house back. It was inspiring to read your information about our generation and realize that it is not my family, but my generation of families and I am not alone. I look forward to reading more about this and learning more about pushing through the items and having a clean house I can enjoy and not feel guilty if I want to have fun vs working on the sorting projects.
    Thanks again, look forward to more help from your work.

    1. Hi Liz,
      Thank you for sharing your story – and you are most definitely not alone. I think we all struggle with all the same issues at different levels – and the items that evoke memories are the hardest to deal with. You obviously care a lot about your family and their legacy. One thing that helps me get through stuff like that is asking my kids what things from our family history they might want to have one day. The reality is that they don’t want a lot.

      I haven’t tackled all my family photos yet – and that is a big project.

      To keep your momentum going and help with distraction, perhaps you set aside half an hour at the end of each of your organizing sessions to read and enjoy some of the items that you have sorted instead of doing it while you organize.

      Be sure to appreciate your own efforts – it’s a tough job and it sounds like you are making good progress!

  2. I certainly resonated with your newsletter above. Jim and I are 75, and in that crazy place of knowing about what our new priorities ‘should’ be (exercise, growing in different ways, etc) but somehow we have issues with both our schedule and our stuff. This shouldn’t be, as we moved to TX from MI almost 5 years ago and technically left most of our ‘stuff’ in MI as it would never even fit in our TX downsized house w/o a basement. Yet we (well, I) know at least 25% of the stuff in this place needs to go.
    Paperwork is the worst — piles of it. From your wonderful video at the org conference, I finally learned how to organize files on my computer and am in the process of slogging through those — then I bought a high-speed scanner and will tackle the office. So, I have hope. Thank you for your understanding of people at ‘this stage’ of life — our daughter, SIL, 3 teen grands live 10 minutes away but in another ‘world’; they are always lovely and nice but . . . clearly can’t imagine that we have 1/3 the energy we used to and of course, more ‘stuff’ from our earlier life stages. And their house is the minimalist look, always completely tidy, NO paper-mess, etc. Sigh.

    1. Hi Susan,
      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment.
      I know from experience that the struggle to stay organized is real – and it always amazes me when I see people who have seemingly conquered all their clutter.
      But remember that “comparison is the thief of joy”. Every single one of us is going to have a different path and we need to celebrate our own progress., because it is a big deal. So, kudos to you for getting that scanner and tackling the project! And thank you for sharing your journey with me.

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