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'Possession Paralysis': Why Is It So Hard To Part With ... Stuff?


Are the majority of older adults hoarders? Not quite. Yet many do feel burdened by the amount of stuff they own, and it can be a major hindrance when it comes to downsizing.

The kind of "stuff" we're talking here hardly matters, says gerontologist David Ekerdt, who led the study.

"We hear somewhat about special, cherished things, but we hear more about just quantities of generic possessions," he said. "It's a problem of volume as much as sentiment."

Getting rid of it, however, is easier said than done. It's work that can be physical, mental and emotional all at once. Ekerdt's (ongoing) study currently includes data from 1,100 adults over age 60. Among the findings:

* 60 percent said they had more possessions than they needed
* 78 percent felt "very reluctant" or "somewhat" reluctant to move considering the effort it would take to transport or get rid of things they owned
* 25 percent said friends or family had urged them to downsize

When asked "In the last year, how often have you gone through your home or other storage areas to clean out or reduce the number of things that you have?"

* The majority (61 percent) said they'd done this "a few times"
* 13 percent said they'd done this "many times"
* 26 percent said "not at all"

"People who admitted to having too many things were only marginally more active in cleaning out," wrote Ekerdt in a newsletter about his research. "Consistent with the gendered nature of household labor, women were more likely than men to reduce belongings."

When it came to how people disposed of stuff, only 3 percent said they had sold "many things" in the past year. Twenty-three percent said they had donated many things to a charity, church or community group, and 14 percent said they'd given many things to friends or family.

Friday Quick Hits: 

  • American hunger. A new Gallup report finds almost one-fifth of Americans say they've struggled to pay for food this year. Mississippi had the most residents (25 percent) who said they lacked food money, while North Dakota had the fewest (9.6 percent). The Gallup report didn't break things down by age, but a 2011 AARP report found staggering levels of hunger among 50- to 59-year-olds.
  • Senior checking check-up. After analyzing "senior checking accounts" offered by four large banks and one large credit union, the Pew Charitable Trust concluded that most don't offer much advantage.

  • Does age really matter on the road? The risk of dying behind the wheel was similar for older drivers (over 70) and young people (under 29) according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Older adults still accounted for fewer driver deaths overall -- one in 10 driver fatalities in 2009 was over age 70, while one in four were under 29. The risk of dying as a pedestrian, however, was five times higher for older people than for the young.

Photo: Sean Murphy/Getty Images

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