It’s been said that fall is nature’s way of showing us how beautiful letting go can be. I like that.

Autumn is a wonderful opportunity to explore what we’ve been clinging to that might merit bidding a fond farewell.

With the passage of time, change happens. Possessions, activities, habits and even thought patterns that fit our lives perfectly before may no longer serve us well. They can be worth shedding.

As the decades roll by, possessions accumulate. Mementos, heirlooms, household goods and more can accrue far beyond the needs of a current household.

What served a growing family well may be far more than is needed, or even helpful, for a couple or an individual later in life.

In a literal sense, holding on to things can pose a risk. Too much furniture or clutter can cause a fall or make navigating spaces in an emergency difficult.

Cluttered medicine cabinets can be life-threatening. If a medicine cabinet is disorganized, it can be easy to confuse medicines and make critical medication errors.

Throw away expired or unneeded medications, and keep them organized to reduce confusion. Talk to your pharmacist, physician or sheriff’s department for safe drug disposal options.

While sorting through and decluttering our lives can be daunting, there are benefits to letting go beyond just general safety conditions.

A report by the National Association of Professional Organizers found we’ll spend an average of one year of our lives looking for lost possessions due to clutter.

Less things to clean and care for frees up more time and energy to enjoy the things we retain, and life in general. Passing on heirlooms, photos and other family treasures offers the opportunity to share stories and memories that go with the item with the next generation. Often the story means far more than the item. Share them now.

People with less clutter often enjoy health benefits of clutter-free lives.

Items in a cluttered space constantly compete for your attention. Decluttering can increase your ability to focus and may increase your productivity and memory retention.

Many people experience an increase in sleep disturbances as they age. Decluttering can positively impact the quantity and quality of sleep.

Adults of all ages report feeling noticeably more relaxed and ready for sleep after decluttering while those with more cluttered bedrooms have been shown to have more difficulty not only falling asleep but also staying asleep.

Reducing clutter may also reduce your overall level of stress. Studies of homeowners and their density of household objects (i.e. clutter) found the higher the density of household objects, the higher homeowners’ levels of cortisol – known as the “stress hormone.”

Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, and increase weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease.

Reducing clutter may help lower your levels of cortisol and potentially help you feel better overall.

If decluttering your life seems overwhelming, consider starting small. It took decades to accumulate all these things. You don’t have to sort through them all in short order.

If you have mobility issues or just need some emotional support, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Consider enlisting help from your children – chances are they would rather help you declutter and sort through your possessions now, with your input, rather than later when you might not be able to participate.

Or invite a friend, neighbor or grandchild to sit with you while you undertake decluttering. You can hand them items to sort into keep, donate and trash piles. Turn on some upbeat music to make it more fun.

You may find that this season of “letting go” frees up more than just space. Letting go of what no longer serves you well can result in more time, energy, focus and opportunity to fill your life with people and experiences that bring you new joy.

If you’re still not certain where to start, the Campus for Creative Aging offers a Rightsizing Your Life class to help you decide what to keep and what to let go of and craft a personalized plan.

The next session is from 10-11:30 a.m. Oct. 8 at Senior City at First Baptist Church, 1635 76th St., South Haven. More sessions will be scheduled later this fall.

To learn more, or to be notified of upcoming classes, call Amy at 982-7748, or email

Christine Vanlandingham is chief operating officer of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.