What Matters the Most?

I recently helped my mother move from her home into long-term care. I had the daunting task of combing through her possessions to decide what was most important for her to move with her. All of this sorting and purging got me thinking: What is really important in our lives? In the end, does all of this stuff really matter?

As I sorted through her home, I saw the belongings of someone who led a simple life, yet had far more possessions than she would ever use. I wondered, “What didn’t she have because she had all of this stuff?”

I quickly realized that she needed very little to be happy in her new residence. Unlike the packed drawers and stuffed closets in her home, her new residence needed only a few things to feel like home:

  • A clock and a calendar — Knowing where and when you are in your day is important.
  • A small, well-curated wardrobe — Mix and match essentials that work in your environment are key. If everything in your wardrobe is coordinated, choices are simple and you always look well put together.
  • A few decorative items to make rooms feel like home. The key word here is few. Cluttered rooms are less inviting, harder to keep clean and more difficult to maneuver. Keep your spaces simple and user-friendly so you can enjoy them every day.
  • A small collection of keepsakes — Keepsakes are not just meant to be kept, they are meant to be enjoyed. Storing possessions in boxes for years means no one is enjoying them. Why wait to leave things in a will? Enjoy them today. If no one is enjoying your treasures, perhaps it’s time to let them go. Considering selling them or giving them away.
  • Personal care items to make you feel fresh — We all need grooming. Keep in mind that most of these items have a shelf life, however. Old makeup is especially hazardous to your health, so do yourself a favor and purge it. Stick with a few things you love and that you will use. The rest is simply clutter.
  • If you are responsible for cooking, cleaning and home maintenance, you would also need cleaning supplies, along with cookware, utensils and dinnerware to stock your kitchen.
  • Additionally, we all need to keep the appropriate paperwork (paper or digital) to track finances, pay bills and keep records (such as taxes). Many guides are available to help you determine how long to keep financial records. Make a plan to do an annual purge of records you know longer need and have those items shredded or appropriately destroyed.

After determining what would stay with my mother in her new residence, I found myself purging the vast majority of what she owned. Here are three themes I saw over and over:

  • Duplicates and more duplicates! How many sets of sheets does one bed need? How many place settings can a person use at one time? Eliminating duplication helps reduce clutter and save time.
  • Unfinished “projects” — Keeping things for future use because “someday I’m going to…” rarely results in anything but clutter. Set a firm date and time for completion. If your project doesn’t get completed, purge and move on.
  • Items no longer fit for their intended purpose — This includes outdated home décor, clothes that don’t fit, broken things in need of repair, or even activities on your schedule that you know you should say no to.

If you have trouble letting go, ask yourself, “What could I have done with the resources I have invested in this? Do I want to continue to spend my time, money, or space this way? Or is it time to let this go and free my resources for something new?”

Assume your future self won’t have any more available resources than your current self. The day will still be 24 hours long. Your time and energy will still be precious. Do you want to spend them managing your packed closets and even more-packed schedule?

Free your space, simplify your schedule, and you’ll enjoy the results.



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