Moving into a retirement village is much more than just making that initial decision to move in.
For some it means facing a potentially overwhelming task of sorting through up to four, five or even six decades of accumulated stuff in the family home and the many, many decisions that can involve.
Star of TVNZ’s Space Invaders, organising and decluttering expert Peter Walsh, lands in Auckland on Saturday ready to help prospective residents to prioritise what they need to take.
Perhaps surprisingly, he tells us: “I never start with the stuff.
“Every single item in a person’s home has a story so you have to get the person to start telling their story. And everyone in the home has a different story, even couples who’ve lived together for 50 or 60 years. Each of them looks at the item and tells a different story, which is the problem we have to deal with.”
There are two broad categories – the treasures which trigger happy memories and the useful stuff.
Peter helps people to hone in on the precious memories and associations that certain items might prompt and figure out a way to prioritise the most treasured ones.
“The ones that have the most positive memories, that make your heart sing,” he says.
It should feel a bit like a highlights reel, where you pick one thing that represents the best memory from various chapters of your life, and ideally it should fit in with his kitchen table method.
“The number of treasures you can take are the number of items that can fit on your kitchen table – it’s a good rule,” says Peter.
He cites the example of a woman who lost her beloved grandmother and packed up the house into storage for 26 years because she couldn’t face getting rid of anything.
“I asked her ‘what’s the single most enjoyable thing you did with your grandmother?’ The answer was baking.
“So we dug into the storage unit and found rolling pins, cookie cutters, recipes, you name it, and we built a show box to mount it all in the kitchen.
“Every time she looks at that it makes her heart sing, it brings her grandmother back in a real way, it provides a talking point and a way to relive those memories and suddenly everything else in the storage unit seemed insignificant.”
In his 20-plus years of organizing and decluttering work, Peter has helped hundreds of people and is proud of the low rate of backsliding into old habits.
Having dual Australian and US citizenship, he’s a familiar face on shows like Oprah, where he did his very first decluttering episode.
“There were so many clothes in the first floor bedroom we threw them out of the window and by the end of the day you could step out of the window and walk down the pile!
“I never judge. I hold up a mirror and give them a helping hand, one family at a time. It’s great to watch the change in people’s eyes.”
Living in a cluttered house has now been proven to have serious health ramifications too due to its cortisol-producing effects.
“Things have power, even a bit of paper if it has Grandma’s writing on it. But you can hold onto your greatest memories whilst letting go of stuff and then find yourself stepping into this incredibly exciting future!”
Peter loves having fun with a live audience and says he can tell within minutes who has been perhaps dragged along a little unwillingly.
But don’t worry, he has a very special and rather lovely way of making even the unwilling feel welcome. Come along on Saturday to find out how!
*Ryman Healthcare presents Downsizing with Peter Walsh, a free event this Saturday at 2pm. Peter is appearing at the Victory Centre at 98 Beaumont Street, Freemans Bay, Auckland.
Peter is the author of seven popular decluttering and organising books, including two New York Times bestsellers.
Born and raised in Australia, he moved to the US in the 1990s and started his first series, Clean Sweep, for Discovery’s TLC Network.
After 120 episodes of that show, The Oprah Winfrey Show put Peter under contract and he was a regular guest on her show for the final five seasons.
He’s currently working on the fourth season of his Australian series Space Invaders.