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Five Tips for Deciding What Stays and What Goes

Your favorite pastry is only a glance away
I bet you can spot your favorite quickly

BLOG 186: Five Tips for Deciding What Stays and What Goes

Having a hard time deciding?

My wife and I recently moved from our home of 46 years to an apartment that was one-third the size of the house. Boy, did we have fun figuring out what should go and what should not?

Now that the move is over, now that we’ve been in our new place for a little over a year, and now that we’ve lived with the consequences of the decisions, I’d like to share what we learned about deciding what should go and what should not.

  1. Not every decision should get the same amount of time.

It seems to me that we didn’t spend a whole lot of time deciding whether to take our stuffed furniture. Some pieces were worn and others had suffered the ravages of an attentive cat’s claws. We spent more time deciding which carpets and which kitchen appliances could go than we did on that furniture.

Some older furniture got sold
Some older furniture got sold

We could mentally take much of the furniture out of the mix. Doing that subtraction opened up the space and allowed us to think about a new place with less stuff. Who needs an ottoman you have to move out of the way or a coffee table you have to go around?

We spent more time deciding where several boxes of flatware were going to end up than any of those items.

2. Decide the easy stuff first, take more time with the stuff in the middle.

I discovered a secret to deciding. Don’t you have favorites? Looking at all those lovely pastries in the picture, my eyes automatically migrate to cinnamon and nuts. Those go onto the “get me list” immediately. Similarly, croissants go onto the ignore list immediately.

Talk to my wife and her list would be closer to the opposite. She loves croissants.

The point is, some decisions are easy: This one is in. This one is out. You will spend more time trying to figure out which ones in the middle should be accepted or rejected. And, in the heat of the moment when a disagreement arises, remember one important fact: You’ve already decided on the important items: The best and the worst. You’re arguing about the less important items in the middle.

When you approach a new room intent on deciding where stuff should go, stand in the doorway a bit and glance around. I bet you can spot things you want to take and those you don’t fairly quickly.

Don’t be surprised by this. Go with the flow. Think of all the time you’ve saved making those snap decisions early.

3. You don’t have to have a reason.

Why do you want to keep that? What do you want to throw out?

Sometimes you just don’t know why you want to keep that or why you don’t. If you need an immediate choice, go with your gut. If you have a little time and some hesitation, set them aside temporarily.

If you circle back in a couple of days, I bet you’ll have an answer to those questions. The “decider” part of the brain moves a lot faster than the “why” part. We will come up with a “reasonable” “reason” when we let the “reasoning” part of our brains work on it a bit.

If you keep thinking about it, your explanations may get even richer. They might even change over time. And, not to be punny about it, the change is due to the same reason.

4. You can defer some decisions.

Hard Styrofoam can be re-used
Hard Styrofoam can be re-used

Do unimportant things first. In our move, we had great mounds of cardboard and Styrofoam (the hard kind). They were "unimportant" because nobody wants them; we certainly did not want to keep either one. On the other hand, we had half an attic full of inherited letters, diaries, scrapbooks, and the like that needed careful attention.

So while we were spending time reviewing the inherited material, we delivered the Styrofoam to a place that reused hard Styrofoam, and we took the cardboard to the recycling center.

5. Don’t get overwhelmed

The brain can get overworked. “Decision overload” is a real thing and it happens when you try to pile too many decisions into too small a space. Give the process some time. We took two years to get from start to finish. The only reason we didn’t take more time was because we were offered an apartment much earlier than expected.

The project was on our minds continuously, but we didn’t actually box things or decide all day every day. For much of a year, Thursday afternoon was reserved for deciding and moving while Friday morning, at least for me, was dedicated to getting things to places where they were to reside.

Savor the process. If you think you’ll miss Gramma’s special knick-knacks, set them out where they can be seen for a few weeks before you actually decide where they’re to go. You often keep those things because you want to remember Gramma. Use this time of discernment to tell the stories. Maybe even write them down. Once the stories are known, who knows, you might not have to keep the knick-knack.

You don’t keep Gramma’s knick knacks because they were particularly valuable. You keep them around because Gramma is valuable.

You make at least one decision per item when you move. Follow these five tips for what stays and what goes and your decision-making can be simplified.

If you do savor the process, if you do remember the stories, it is much more likely that the stuff you keep will make your new place “just like home.”

Ed Zinkiewicz

Your Aging-in-Life Strategist


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