Decluttering senior households

Issues include excessive paper and clothing

Spring cleaning can provide motivation to reduce the amount of stuff that is taking up space.

LaRhea Steele, of Camas, recently cleaned out linen and clothes closets.

She donated some full size sheets to Arc of Southwest Washington, and clothing that is no longer being worn will go to a church rummage sale.

She will keep sentimental items, such as her daughter’s first Communion dress from 1979.

“It had a large orange stain on the skirt and underskirt,” Steele said. “When I took it to our local cleaners, she did not think it would come out but she would try. It now looks brand new.”

Steele, 73, and her husband, Jerry, raised their five children in the home they moved into 42 years ago.

“Furniture has been moved to different rooms, as our needs changed,” she said. “That helps the de-cluttering.

“I buy or am gifted the large pretty boxes from HomeGoods which are useful for storing items, like my baseball caps.”

LaRhea recently attended a Seniors and Law Enforcement Together meeting, where “Waste Not, Want Not” was the topic.

Beth Simon, an environmental outreach specialist with the Clark County Department of Environmental Services, asked attendees what they could part with, to reduce the amount of clutter in their homes.

Responses included Oxfords from high school, duplicate kitchen utensils and 20-year-old financial records.

Simon encouraged the seniors to set small goals, and de-clutter for one day or one hour.

Old books, furniture and appliances could be among the household goods suitable for donations, while items of sentimental value could be given to family members or friends.

“If items are reusable and in good condition, donate them to a favorite charity,” Simon said.

Some organizations, such as ARC, offer complimentary pick up of household goods.

Selling clothing and shoes through a consignment shop is another option.

Old bills should be shredded, and junk mail can be recycled.

Simon said boxes that contained frozen foods cannot be recycled, because they contain “wet strength” plastic. Milk and juice cartons can be recycled, without the caps.

Old medications, if over-the-counter, can be taken to some area pharmacies, while prescription medicines can be taken to local police stations to be incinerated.

Old electronics, including the broken and obsolete, can be donated to Empower Up, 3206 N.E. 52nd St., Vancouver.

An exception is older, larger TVs.

“Get ride of the hard drive on the computer,” Marion Swendsen said, to avoid potential identity theft concerns.

Swendsen is president of the SALT advisory board.

E-CycleWise LLC, an electronics recycling company, provides free pick up services of computers, VCRs and fax machines.

for the future

Judy Graves, 76, of Washougal, hopes one day to move to a smaller house.

She has advice for people wondering which clothes to give away.

“If you don’t wear it within a year, you don’t need it,” Graves said.

She went through the decluttering process after her husband died.

“He wore a lot of blazers,” Graves said. “I was told they are outdated. Clothes are hard to get rid of. Today, people don’t dress up as much as they used to.”

Clothing can be taken to a Goodwill Industries donation pod, in the Evergreen Marketplace, 3307 S.E. Evergreen Way, Washougal; or the Inter-Faith Treasure House of Camas/Washougal, 91 “C” St., Washougal.

Regarding collectibles, Graves advises people to give them to an organization or have a garage sale.

“Otherwise, they sit and collect dust,” she said. “See if your family wants things. Give them to them now. Don’t hold onto them.”

She suggested donations be dropped off at a ReTails Thrift Store trailer in the Humane Society for Southwest Washington parking lot, 1100 N.E. 192nd Ave., Vancouver.

for the aging

Joanne Bond, of Camas, recently shredded financial records from 1998.

She was inspired by “Living Well with Chronic Conditions,” a six-week workshop offered by PeaceHealth Medical Group.

Bond, who is in her mid-80s, has some clothing from 22 or 23 years ago.

“Some things I have continued to wear,” she said. “I do sort through things and give them to Goodwill, but I need to do that faster.”

When Bond exercises at Firstenburg Community Center, she drops off small, wrapped gifts for bingo winners.

She encourages other senior citizens to get serious about reducing the amount of stuff they have in their residences.

“If they start looking and researching retirement homes and assisted living care places, their units are very, very small and you won’t be able to take six carloads of materials with you,” Bond said. “It’s good to start now when you can choose what to keep, what to give away or share with relatives.”

She plans to donate a big box of buttons from her mother, to Camas Parks and Recreation, for craft classes this summer.

“Boys and Girls Clubs need craft projects, and garden clubs have use for clean flower pots for plant sales,” Bond said.

“I used to go to garage sales and thrift shops, but there comes a time when it’s not my biggest interest anymore,” she added. “I hit the book sales in Camas, Washougal and Cascade Park. I’ve become addicted. I love to read. I share a lot of the books with my friends, relatives and grandchildren when they were younger, at Christmas. The books can be donated later.”

Russ Lehn, 89, of Camas, said he and his wife Margy, do not have any issues with clutter.

“We get rid of it all the time,” he said. “We give a lot of stuff to ARC and put newspapers and boxes in the recycle box at the curb.

“We’ve always gotten rid of stuff instead of letting it pile up,” Lehn added. “A lot of people don’t throw anything away. They throw it in the corner or in the basement.”

Tips for clutter prevention

For Simon, clutter is anything that takes up space but does not add to her quality of life.

In addition to switching to online billing and periodicals, she recommends not storing items that are no longer being used.

“Make shopping lists and stick to them,” Simon said. “Buy durable items that are built to last, and don’t give in to fads. For special occasions, don’t be afraid to ask for the right gift so that your friends and family don’t accidentally give you something that will become clutter.

“Clutter is personal, and it’s a moving target,” she added. “Make sure to take some time to think about your clutter and your shopping behaviors. Take those baby steps, and soon you’ll be clutter-free and proud.”

For more information, contact Simon at 397-2121, Ext. 4543, or