Some people set out to acumulate as much as they can in the form of collecting memories, souvenirs, keepsakes, and other positive reminders of life experiences. Parents often keep items that their children produce, such as artwork and papers with good grades on them. Any ribbons and trophies that their children don't keep for themselves, the parents often end up retaining.
Some people love collections and amass very large numbers of figurines, originally packaged toys or models, dolls, tools, stamps, coins, licensed clothing items, or other collectibles.
Others are innocent collectors who never intentionally hang on to anything with the idea that they are collecting anything - they just hang onto it for various reasons and end up with a similar result (perhaps in a smaller aamount) than thiose who set out to retain things.
People may hold onto their stuff for years and never have it become an issue for them in terms of taking up too much of their living space or becoming a safety concern. They may have a home that ample enough to store what they have, they may periodically reduce the volume and amount of what they have, or they may rent a storage facility. Homes with basements, attics, and garages generally have more storage space for keeping the items they retain.
There are so many things that we hang onto as we go through life, and the older we get, the more items we tend to have. There really isn't a good time to review what we have and begin reducing the total amount by discarding outdated styles, broken or obsolete items, or things we know we'll never use again. There's also that little voice that reminds us that we may need it again in some way so we should just keep it and not worry about it.
It's not that people set out to acquire and retain as much stuff as possible over their lifetime or that they seek to max out the storage capacity of their living space. We know that we tend to retain stuff so it's a matter of determining how much stuff is too much to retain. Regardless of the size of our homes, we can only retain so much stuff before it takes over and we have to fend for ourselves.
When what we have decided to keep (intentionally or just by not saying no) begins to get a little unmanageable, we need to look at how much we have, the condition of it (is it being kept for sentimental reasons or because it has a useful life), whether it is ever likely to be used again or passed along to another family member, and if it duplicates other items in use. Even donating items to a charity has limitations because they do not need or want stuff that is damaged or for which there is no demand.
This phenonona applies to all of us - we all have stuff. Managaing it and keeping it check is a tall order, but it needs to be done. As aging in place professionals, we need to look at how we are living to understand the challenges of having stuff around us and then help the people we can serve to understand when the stuff they are holding onto and continuing to acquire is competing for their living space with them and becoming a safety, comfort, and access issue.
No one likes to be told that they have too much stuff, but when it becomes a safety or comfort concern, it moves from collecting or hanging onto to stuff to a more serious matter of using the living space effectively.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place books. To learn about this and other programs for aging in place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.