Make Your Home Work for You: Autumn is the perfect time to organize

The flowers have faded, the garden is sleeping, and the late fall afternoons are as full of pensiveness as promise. Sometimes, all you feel like doing is cradling a hot cup of tea and settling in for some serious reminiscing.

Ignore that impulse at your peril. It can serve as a springboard for an extremely worthy household project: getting a handle on a lifetime’s worth of photos and family memorabilia.

What better way to take a deep dive into the memory pool than by sorting through the paraphernalia of the past? In addition to recalling the people and milestones that have enriched our lives, the process is a perfect opportunity to cull out the excess, streamline our storage, and get in touch with the things that really matter.

Bill Fuller, a retired Judson sales counselor, has been there – and done just that. “Ever since we moved back to Cleveland 20 years ago, my goal has been to make our house too big for us,” he chuckles. “To me, one of the joys of aging is being freed from the burdens that drain us. And for many of us, ‘too many things’ constitutes a burden. If we can address that, it liberates us. And at this point in life, why not be as free as we can be to balance the things that bring us joy?”

The basics of organizing are well known: Eliminate objects that are redundant. Keep only the items you truly love. Donate, sell, or give away the remainder.

But here are some further thoughts to consider as you set about this autumn project:

  • First and foremost, remember: There is no time like the present. “We will never have more energy than we have today,” Bill reminds. “Putting it off will not make it any easier.”
  • On the other hand, be realistic in your expectations. If your photo collection stretches back to the ’30s, don’t expect to organize it by cocktail hour. Allow yourself plenty of time.
  • Things are precious – but they are just things. “It would be disingenuous to ignore the importance of tangible objects,” Bill says. “We think, ‘This was my mom’s,’ or “This was my grandmother’s,’ and we want to hold on. But do we really need 17 – or 170? – things that remind us of mom? Can we whittle it down to the one or two things that represent her the best?”
  • Find better ways to manage family photos. Rather than dozens of framed photos scattered around, consider a single digital frame that can rotate through hundreds of images. Use archival boxes, labeled by date, to replace cumbersome photo albums or piles of unsorted photos. Or consider scanning and storing your photos digitally; plenty of apps exist for DIYers, or find a scanning service online.
  • Rotate your collections. To minimize clutter and maximize appreciation, tightly curate your displays of artwork and memorabilia; if space allows, keep the rest in storage. “I don’t need everything out at once,” Bill says. “I want to be able to focus on a few things, and then change them out.”
  • And, finally, enlist the aid of family. It is a truism that, by and large, our kids don’t want our stuff. Still, there are ways to encourage their involvement. “Tell them the story behind the piece,” Bill suggests. “Then ask them if they have any interest in it – and don’t be devastated if they don’t. My parents just thought we would take everything; I don’t think any of us want to do that to our kids.”

It’s reasonable to be caretakers of our family stories, after all, but we don’t need to be caretakers of the family’s things. “There is a huge push/pull in this time of life – the sadness of letting go versus the joy to be found in making space,” Bill says. “But there is a real sense of liberation in opening a cabinet and finding there is room within.

“It can be a hard, hard place to get to, but we have the right to make our homes work for us.”

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