Senior Living: Does a Minimalist Approach Make Sense?

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Over time, many of us accumulate lots of stuff. Some of us simply wind up with a variety of things that greatly appealed to us at one point in time, like a pretty painting on the wall or a lovely vase on the mantel. Sometimes, we receive gifts given by well-meaning loved ones that wind up migrating to some forgotten corner. Other times, it’s the remnants of a hobby we chose to take up at some point and then abandoned, like a set of golf clubs gathering dust in the garage or a quilting rack that hasn’t seen the light of day in years.

Did you know the typical American home has over 300,000 items in it[1]? No wonder the size of the average American home has tripled over the last 30 years[2]. But even so, one of every 10 people in the United States rents off-site storage in addition to the storage they already have in their homes[3]. According to the Wall Street Journal, that slams our bank accounts to the tune of 1.2 trillion dollars (yes, trillion) spent on “non-essential items.”

As we accumulate more things in our homes, we might start to wonder if paring down is a good idea – and if so, how far should we go with it? Enter the minimalist movement, where individuals choose to live with only items that have a clear purpose or deep sentimental value.

What Exactly is Minimalism?

There are many ways to define minimalism. The shortest answer is that minimalism is a life lived with fewer possessions. The popular blog Becoming Minimalist defines the word, in part, as “intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.” The Minimalist Vegan defines it asidentifying what is essential in your life and having the courage to eliminate the rest. When you remove the unnecessary, you free up your time and capacity to focus on the things that truly matter in your life. Less is more.” And The Minimalists defines the word asa tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Minimalism is the art of paring our lives down to the essentials. This is often done by creating a life filled with fewer things, in which every single item you own has a purpose or deep sentimental connection. You can point to every possession and not only explain why you need it or why it makes you happy, but you can look at other things you don’t have and know why those wouldn’t make you happy if you had them. Minimalism is just as much a mindset as it is an act.

To that end, it’s also a matter of letting go of things that no longer serve you in a broader sense. Minimalism can mean leaving your high-powered and high-stress job for a position that brings in less pay but gives you more time with loved ones. It can mean cutting out obligations that have been tying you down and making you unhappy and opening up your time to do the things you really love. It can mean retiring early so you can enjoy the benefits of the money you worked so hard to save.

And while all of this might seem idyllic, according to a survey by Civic Science, only about 10% among us identity as minimalists. But 46% of survey respondents said they had many things they could “get rid of.” The survey found that women were more likely to want to live a minimalist lifestyle than men, with 59% of the respondents already working toward a lifestyle of fewer things. Of those who already consider themselves minimalists, 38% of them are Baby Boomers[4].

But keep in mind that minimalism certainly doesn’t mean forgoing the things you actually need. For example, a medical alert watch, pendant, or wristband is so important to any senior with a health condition or who lives alone. So is a mobility aid that your physician may ask you to use, such as a cane or walker. Don’t try to tough your way up the stairs and risk falling down and getting injured – use a stair lift instead. Paring down to the essentials means taking a reasonable, measured approach and choosing the things that you need to keep to remain as active, healthy, safe, and happy as possible.

Why is Minimalism a Good Idea for Seniors?

There are numerous reasons why individuals choose to live a minimalist lifestyle. Some are worried about the environment, while others are concerned about the economy and job market. In fact, some financial experts suggest that living with even a few minimalist lifestyle habits can save money in the long run[5].

Here are some other reasons why minimalism may make sense for seniors[6]:

·         It promotes simple joys. Taking a walk, spending time with family, getting out into nature, and finding meaning among the things you do own is a huge benefit of minimalism. Without so much stuff to attend to and without a variety of frivolous obligations that take up your time, you are free to pursue the things that matter most. For example, if you have a large lawn, you have an obligation to keep it trimmed and neat. But what if you have no lawn at all? That frees up a large amount of time and resources that you would have spent on that lawn.

·         It makes organizing easy. The fewer things a person has to take care of, the easier their life becomes. The average person spends a whopping 3,680 hours – that’s 153 days – searching for things[7]. Not having as many things can decrease stress and anxiety, which in turn can make you happier. And for those with dementia or other memory issues, a minimalist lifestyle can actually keep them more independent for longer.

·         It keeps you safer. The lack of clutter can help keep you safer, as you don’t run as much of a risk of falling as you trip over a stack of books or clothes you forgot to put away. (Though you’d still want a medical alert pendant to call for help if necessary, it certainly is good to lessen trip hazards and fall risks.)

·         It helps you save money. Did you know that 47% of Americans don’t save any money[8]? If you are living a minimalist lifestyle, you are naturally buying fewer things. That means more money in your bank account. It also means that when you do purchase something, you do it very intentionally, which means you are more likely to buy something of higher quality.

·         It makes life easier for your heirs. When we are gone from this earth, what happens to our stuff? Like that old saying goes, you can’t take it with you. That means that your heirs wind up sifting through the things you left behind. A minimalist lifestyle means that they have fewer things to sort through and decide upon in the wake of your death, and that can bring a great deal of relief to them during a very difficult time.

·         It keeps you mindful. Living with intention means that you are looking at your life in new and different ways. It keeps you grounded in the present. Instead of thinking about the regrets of the past or looking at the new “big things” coming in the future, minimalism allows you to focus on the here and now – and that’s a wonderful boon for those who want to eliminate as much stress as possible in their golden years[9].

How to Get Started with a Minimalist Lifestyle

Are you sold on the idea of paring down and living a life of less? Though it might seem overwhelming at first, there are ways to make it easier, which makes you much more likely to stay the course.

Here’s how to work toward a minimalist lifestyle for seniors:[10]

·         Start small. Never try to tackle the whole house at once. Instead, go room by room. Choose the easiest place to start, such as a closet or a small bathroom. Methodically work through that room, looking at each item and asking yourself if you really need it. If you don’t, then it’s time to donate or recycle it. As you work through your home, keep this decluttering checklist in mind.

·         Begin with what you can see. For the greatest impact and motivation, start with the areas you can actually see, such as the items on a shelf in the bathroom or shoes on the shoe rack in the foyer. When you see the advantages of having so much more space, as well as the cleaner lines it provides for visual appeal, the more likely you will be to keep going. Order brings peace.

·         Mindfully choose how to pare down. When you begin to declutter your home, ask yourself a few very important questions: Do I need this item? Do I actually use it? Let’s say you do. What would you use if you didn’t have that item? Is there some sort of alternative that can do double or even triple duty? If it’s something that has more sentimental value than anything else, ask yourself why you keep it. Keep in mind that a minimalist lifestyle doesn’t mean getting rid of family heirlooms simply because you aren’t using them. Some things are meant to be preserved for future generations and cherished for what they represent to you.

·         Keep the things that have a story. When it comes to heirlooms, choose to keep only the things that you can tell a story about. Consider what you would say if someone asked you, “What does this particular thing mean to you?” If you have a story behind it that makes you smile, keep it.

·         Don’t buy more. When you start to see all the space you have available to you, you might begin to consider buying more to fill in those spaces. Perhaps you start to think about replacing your old television with a newer model instead of just donating it and getting it out of your life. Resist that urge! That’s the “old” you who lived with far too much stuff. The new you will keep that money in your bank account and not have yet another thing to manage.

·         Keep things neat. This can help you resist the urge to fill in the empty spaces with more stuff. Soon you’ll see how much easier it is to clean and maintain your home with fewer things, and that can open up all sorts of free time. Pick up any clutter on a daily basis and as you clean, consider whether you need to keep a particular item. You might be surprised by how daily cleaning can quickly lead to a minimalist lifestyle!

·         Follow the “one in, one out” rule. When you are purchasing something, do it mindfully, and ask yourself what you are replacing. For instance, if you are purchasing a new blouse or pair of pants, it should be because you are replacing an item that is damaged or no longer of use to you. When purchasing a new book, consider which older book you own you that you will donate to your local charitable store or community center. This forces you to live mindfully and with fewer, but more meaningful, things.

Finally, make a point of searching out your motives for scaling back. Why does a minimalist lifestyle appeal to you? Do you want to save money? Do you want to spend more time with friends and family? Do you want to retire early? Are you tired of cleaning your home and maintaining things you don’t actually need or use on a regular basis? Whatever your purpose is in choosing a minimalist lifestyle, keep it firmly in mind and work consciously toward the goal of “less is more.”

As always, Alert1 wishes you health, happiness, and safety as you thrive in your senior years.