We Americans have a lot of stuff.
According to various online sources, we have more than 300,000 items in our homes and only use 20% of them on a regular basis. Whether or not these numbers are completely accurate, it’s an accurate reflection of the notion that we live in a culture that encourages us to accumulate material possessions.
Most of us spend a lifetime amassing a house full of belongings; then, in our later years, we have to confront the question of what to do with it. Whether we want to downsize to a more manageable living arrangement or need to move to an assisted living facility due to health issues, we will need to also find new spaces for many of our belongings.
Waiting until we’re faced with an impending move to begin to sort through it all can add unnecessary stress to a situation that can already be stressful. We often don’t like to think about what will happen when we get older, but making arrangements for some of our stuff when we’re physically and mentally able can prepare us for the future, and even make our life in the present easier.
Here are a few suggestions you can act on to organize and simplify your life. You might set aside an hour each week or spend an entire afternoon once a month, whatever works best for you. However you schedule it, making time on a regular basis to slowly go through your home at your leisure will keep you, or your loved ones, from being forced to make decisions in a time crunch when you want to be focused on more important things.
• Get your files in order. Wills, property titles, bank accounts, credit cards, retirement funds, insurance and other important papers should be organized and easily accessible.
• Sort through family photos and mementos. Consider digitizing fragile photos that have sentimental value. Set aside any special photos, mementos or family heirlooms that no longer mean anything to you and check to see if someone else in your family might want them. If no one does, sell or donate them now, rather than waiting until a time when you might not want to deal with it.
• Old phones, electronics, computers and some office equipment can be taken to Staples for free recycling. There is a limit of six items per person per day. If you are getting rid of a computer, be sure to wipe the hard drive to clear it of your personal information.
• When you need to clear out your home quickly, hazardous materials can end up in the trash, which can be harmful to the environment. If you have old paint and other household chemicals you no longer need, such as pesticides, chemical cleaners, gasoline or even nail polish, dispose of them safely now, when you have the time to see to it properly.
For Howard County residents, the Alpha Ridge Landfill, on Marriottsville Road, accepts hazardous waste on Saturdays, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., from April through November.
• Earth911.com is a great resource for recycling. They have all the info you need to recycle hundreds of materials, including medications, automotive, batteries and construction materials.
• Sort through your books, CDs and DVDs. Keep what you love and let the rest go to new homes or used music and/or book stores. Second Edition Books, in Columbia, will buy used books, CDs and DVDs, and staff will even come to your home for larger collections.
• Throw away items that you couldn’t imagine giving to someone, even for free. If it is broken and not fixable, stained, worn out or serves no purpose in your life, it’s time for it to go. Sometimes you can make arrangements with your local trash removal company for a large pickup. Items that can go out in the trash can be picked up by junk hauling services.

Julie Klopp is vice president of decluttering and downsizing at Caring Transitions of Columbia, Clarksville and the Western Suburbs. She can be contacted at 443-535-6609 and [email protected].