Based on a national survey, a new study finds that
after age 50, people become less and less likely to sell or donate
items they no longer need — possibly because doing so becomes more
and more difficult, physically or emotionally.
"Having too many things is an obstacle to (older adults) being able
to move to or live somewhere" smaller that better suits them, said
lead author David Ekerdt, who is director of the gerontology center
at Kansas University in Lawrence.
The problem has spawned a new industry of "senior move managers,"
but little has been known about why older people tend to hang on to
things that no longer fit their lifestyles.
"For the first time, we have data about older people's regards for
their possessions," Ekerdt told Reuters Health.
He and a co-author analyzed data from the Health and Retirement
Study, an annual survey of health, social and economic trends among
Americans age 50 and older that started in 1992. Twenty-two thousand
people filled out the 2010 survey, which included questions about
how participants handled belongings.
They included how often people had "cleaned out or reduced the
number" of belongings, and how often these possessions were sold,
given to friends or family or donated to organizations.
Ekerdt and his colleague found that among people over age 70, about
30 percent of people reported they had done nothing over the past
year to give away any belongings. And 80 percent in the same age
group said they had sold nothing in the past 12 months.
Yet more than half of the respondents in all age categories believed
they had too many belongings. For example, 56 percent of those aged
50 to 59 and 62 percent of those 70 to 79 reported having more
things than they needed.
The results are published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B.
"I was surprised by the finding that so many people say they have
more things than they need," Ekerdt said. "You wonder, why is that
so? Why don't they get rid of things?"
It's possible some people had divested themselves of excess stuff
earlier in life, or before a move to a new home, so they didn't feel
pressure to do it later, the authors write. It's also possible that
with increasing age, failing health makes it physically harder for
some to organize and disperse their goods.
[to top of second column]
In addition to logistics, emotions stirred by the prospect of
parting with items linked to one's own identity and fond memories
can make downsizing difficult.
"Sometimes when an adult child steps in to help mom or dad move,
they bring emotional baggage. A lot of people are afraid they will
lose the memory if they lose the item," said Mary Kay Buysse,
executive director of the National Association of Senior Move
Managers, who was not involved in the study.
Senior move managers help older people de-clutter and downsize
later in life by figuring out which belongings are no longer needed
and how best to get rid of these items.
For younger adults, the study serves as a reminder to survey one's
own possessions now — not in a few decades, she noted.
"As a culture, we need to look at whether we need all of our stuff,"
To avoid regret later on, people of all ages should be thoughtful
about what they are giving away or selling.
"Not everything has to go, but not everything should stay," she
Journals of Gerontology: Series B, online
Feb. 11, 2014.
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.