Next Avenue Logo

Why You May Want to Declutter Your Life

As the new year arrives, get rid of unneeded attitudes and behaviors

By Patricia Corrigan

Ringing in the new year always feels like a new beginning, the perfect time to shed those behaviors, habits and attitudes we no longer need or want.

A woman swimming in a lake. Next Avenue, decluttering your life
“I set the bar so high for myself that I am always falling short of my expectations, and so rarely feeling a sense of contentment because there is always higher to climb."  |  Credit: Getty

This kind of decluttering takes many forms. A successful Realtor in her mid-60s remarked at a gathering I attended that once the sale she had in progress wrapped up, she thought she might retire. Asked what else she was ready to give up, Diana said, "Costco."

Nothing against the store — it's the bulk packaging she wanted to live without.

Maybe you are not ready to retire, and maybe you still like buying 40-ounce jars of mixed nuts, a six-month supply of toilet paper and body lotion sold by the liter. But as we get older, many of us do change our ways.

‘Ridding Myself of Self-Disdain’

"Around 50, we start to shift from externally-imposed pressure or guidelines to choices that are more internal, freer, unique to each of us," said Leslie Davenport, a Northern California therapist in private practice for over two decades.

Davenport also noted that obsessions about body image tend to fade over the years. "At a younger age, what we eat may be dictated by a clothing size or a particular weight," she said. "Older women tend to focus more on food that is enjoyable and feels healthy, and they let the dress size or number on the scale just be whatever it is."

Cheryl, 66, can relate to that. She had joined a gym in suburban St. Louis, and when asked about her goals, said she wanted to improve her balance, strength and stamina.

"Previously, the first thing out of my mouth would have been that I wanted to lose weight," Cheryl said. "I am ridding myself of self-disdain and loathing."

Embracing Free Advice When It Hits Home

Tuning in to our own wants and needs doesn't mean we can't still benefit from outside advice when it suits our larger purpose. Shannon, 55, is a freelance wardrobe worker in New York City theaters. Words from a boss just happened to be words Shannon needed to hear.

"A supervisor told our crew, 'If you are using this job as your life, I suggest you go out the door and get one,''' Shannon said. "That statement changed my life."

Shannon stopped thinking of work as a competition, and says she no longer cares whether she is in charge. "Now it's much more fun to go to work, do the job well, be a helpful and productive part of a team — and then clock out at the end of the day," she says.

Rekindling Relationships or Letting Them Go

Sometimes, as we consider more carefully what we want for ourselves, we find we are ready to give up long-held grudges.

"Maybe we've kept a family member or friend at arm's length, but as we age, we often let go of the belief that circumstances or people are supposed to be a certain way," Davenport said. "Letting go of rigidity in our beliefs can lead to a rekindling of relationships."

Or, in some cases, the opposite occurs.


Half a dozen people interviewed for this article reported that aging has given them the courage to cut ties, ending one-sided friendships and relationships that bring them no joy.

"I am more selective now about people I invest my time in," said Kevin, 63, who lives in North Prince George, Va. "I've also let go of trying to change people who I know are not going to listen to me."

Barb, 57, of San Francisco, Calif., said it bluntly: "I'm not taking crap anymore. In the past, I never could say 'no' to friends who take advantage of me, but that doesn't work for me anymore."

Giving Up the News? You Are Not Alone

Some of us are letting go of entirely different kinds of things. Personally, I revisited my longtime rule about not joining anything that meets. Then I renewed that vow. Here are other practices getting the old heave-ho, cited by people ranging from 50 to 82:

  • Watching the evening news
  • Being reluctant to ask for help
  • Regrets about the handling of situations that happened long ago
  • Inches and pounds that accumulated while working full-time
  • The sense of obligation to read boring books all the way through
  • A long-held fear of the world that ruled out travel
  • Guilt about good causes that go unsupported
  • A need for validation from external sources

"I am letting go of being so hard on myself, so judgmental," said Amanda, 52. "My gut instincts about what path to follow are fine-tuned at this juncture of my life, and I am listening."

Raising Self-Esteem by Lowering Expectations

Andrea, who lives on the Big Island in Hawaii, turned 50 in August 2015. She celebrated the big day by renouncing her role as Superwoman.

"Superwoman is coming back down to earth. She is slowing down. She is becoming a new kind of super: Super Being, instead of Super Doing," Andrea wrote on Facebook.

"I set the bar so high for myself that I am always falling short of my expectations, and so rarely feeling a sense of contentment because there is always higher to climb," Andrea said.

Andrea added that she had no intention of giving up on big dreams — just setting smaller, more achievable, goals while in pursuit of those dreams.

Trading Anger for Peace

Corey, 71, offered a litany of things he has given up, including believing that all of his physical ailments will heal or that he can still hike up to the top of Mount Lassen, the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range in Northern California.

At his doctor's insistence, Corey has given up pasta. And he has let go of the idea that "death is a concept, rather than a lurking reality."

Rosanne, 67, who lives in West Springfield, Mass., has a different take on this topic.

"It's not so much giving up as it is replacing," Rosanne said. "I've given up sleeping in for rising early to meditate; organized religion for spirituality; fast food for locally-grown organic and grass-fed; mindless television for workouts at the gym; complaining for laughing and carbonated beverages for water."

She added, "Most importantly, I've let go of old anger for peace."

Being angry at others was giving them too much power, she said. The reality that she was doing this "became so overwhelming that I simply had to let go of that anger so that I could move forward and continue on my path to what I needed to do to make myself whole."

Photograph of Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and also a book author. She has written for Next Avenue since February 2015. Read more from Patricia at Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2023 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo