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Clutter, hidden or otherwise, needs removing

Need help in getting rid of sensitive papers

Need help in getting rid of sensitive papers securely? Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in East Hills is holding "Shredding for a Cause" in the center's parking lot from 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday. For information, call 516-484-1545. Credit: iStock

Your house may look neat and clutter-free, but your closets, drawers, spare bedroom, garage and attic may be concealing a secret: You are living amid a glut of old, unneeded items.

"People have a potential problem with possessions," says David Ekerdt, a professor of sociology and director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Kansas. Ekerdt recently published a study concluding that after people hit age 50, they become "progressively less likely to divest themselves of belongings." This includes personal items they no longer use or need and documents that no longer serve any purpose. The study made adjustments for the frailty of age that would limit a person's ability to get rid of possessions.

One of the main reasons older people retain an abundance of unneeded possessions is because many are aging in place. "If you don't move from your house, you don't really have much of an incentive to downsize things," Ekerdt says. "It's a ton of work to deal with." These old items typically are put in "backstage" areas of a home, where they are out of sight, out of mind.

The problem is not frivolous. At some point, someone will have to deal with piles of documents and mountains of personal effects if you don't. "The big irony is you have this stuff called 'private property,' and it ends up being kind of a public matter, or at least a collective matter among family members," Ekerdt says.

For those who may need guidance from a professional, Ekerdt notes that the National Association of Senior Move Managers helps older adults downsize their possessions, even if they intend to stay in their own home. You can find a local move manager and get information about fees at

In the case of documents such as old tax returns, bank statements and health records, many people don't throw them out because they worry about identity theft. "And then they're perplexed about how to shred them," Ekerdt says.

If you have sensitive documents you've been afraid to throw away, you can get rid of them securely this Sunday. Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center is holding "Shredding for a Cause" in the center's parking lot in East Hills from 2 to 4 p.m. For a tax-deductible donation of $18 to the Jacobson JCC, you can bring three kitchen garbage bags filled with documents and have them securely shredded by Deer Park-based Quality Shredding. The shredding will be done on-site while you watch. For information, call 516-484-1545.

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