Virus Quarantine and Too Much Stuff!

By: Mary Pat MacKenzie

March 2020 to April 2021 marked one of the longest stretches of time that kept us, our families and the country stuck in one place – our homes. One of the things I learned from this year is that my daughter might possibly be right when she says “Mum, you and Dad have too much stuff”! Out of the mouths of babes except she’s not a child and would, in fact, be the most likely person who would have to clear out our house if something happened to us. So – I have started looking around our home and realize that we should start getting rid of things: a job much easier said than done. 

We have moved many times in our adult lives and have lived in 4 Canadian provinces and 3 American states – a total of 10 big moves plus a couple of smaller ones. We accumulated stuff in every place we lived and, as the oldest grandchildren in our extended families, we have inherited a lot of family things. Our adult children prefer more simplicity so no multiple sets of dishes, no brown furniture, no old pictures of unrecognizable dead relatives and no “collectibles”. We are avid book collectors but our kids are not and have no clue what is worth keeping and what should be donated. It is finally time to ruthlessly spring clean and declutter. 



















There are countless articles on downsizing and here on the Cape there are many worthy places to donate excess stuff. Charitable thrift shops run the gamut from kind of junky to  high end  and, though  limited by the pandemic distancing regulations, they are starting to reopen and accept donations. Barnstable and Falmouth have many of these shops and some like the Falmouth Service Center’s Hand in Hand Thrift Shop (508-457-0770), the Cape Cancer Thrift Shop (508-375-0433), the Second View Thrift Store in East Sandwich (508-888-0653) and Cape Abilities Thrift Shop in West Yarmouth (508-771-4072) are more like exclusive boutiques than the old version of secondhand store!

Auction houses have not yet reopened for live auctions but are carrying out on-line auctions on a regular basis. If you have things that seem too valuable for a thrift shop you may want to consult them.  The two big auction companies here are Eldred’s Auction Gallery in East Dennis (508-385-3116) and Sandwich Auction and Estate Services in Sandwich (508 - 888-1926). Both offer advice and consultation on liquidating estates as do many smaller companies offering to run estate sales at your home. 

Once the decision is made to downsize/declutter/dump, the first step should be walking through every part of your house, including basements, attics, sheds and garages and really take stock of what is there.  Carry a notepad with you and write down the things that you can get rid of immediately, the things you love and don’t want to get rid of (just yet!), and the things you want to ask your family and friends about. This means opening drawers, looking inside boxes, going through closets and checking under beds. As you do this you may want to take pictures of certain items to show to family and friends.  One cannot do this in a day or even a week but once you start you may find yourself excited to clear the clutter. Long lost beloved objects may reappear that you might want to display again but you may also find  things you haven’t used in years and have long since replaced with newer versions –  two old crank meat grinders in our house come to mind. If you can’t decide whether to keep or pitch certain things put them in a box and write on your calendar to rethink in a year. 

Thrift shops frequently specialize in certain items and they are strict about condition. As one of the shops explained to me it is not worth taking donations that they have to throw out. The bottom line is the items- whether it is art, china, silver, table linens, books or furniture -must be “gently used”, clean and something you might buy yourself. The state of Massachusetts   has laws limiting the things you can donate for resale. Mattresses, box springs, sleeper sofas are not usually accepted by thrift shops due to resale regulations.  Certain electronics, old TV’s, old printers and computers are barely welcomed at the town dump so finding a thrift shop to accept them would be difficult. Your best bet would be to hire someone who does dump runs and pay them to get rid of these things. 

Specialized building materials, light fixtures and various types of furniture can be donated to the Habitat for Humanity Restore. The one in Falmouth (508-394-6400) is opposite the High School and they can even pick up larger pieces. 

We are fortunate to have good libraries here in Falmouth and all of them accept book donations – again they must be in decent shape and textbooks are not usually welcome. The ability to donate has been restricted by the virus so it’s worth calling first to check. The Woods Hole Library even accepts good wool and fabric supplies but, again, call first. Churches can also be a good place to donate certain items like holiday décor and old costume jewelry. Most of the churches in Falmouth sponsor annual fairs as fundraisers.

There is a women’s shelter in North Falmouth, The Carriage House (508-564-6485), and they often need household items and children’s things for young families setting up new living places. 

When it comes to the boxes of pictures of long dead relatives or “Picture Day” elementary school photos for each child it’s tough to decide what to do. Obviously, if the photos are dark, blurry or in duplicates of 3 or more you can just throw them out. The rest can be sorted, shared, disposed of, or put on a disc which takes up very little space. Making online albums is getting easier and grandchildren might enjoy helping with this task. You can a give a copy to family members and then it’s their storage problem!

The Neighborhood Falmouth website,,   has more information, including articles, phone numbers and websites, on where  to find help with donating what you no longer want. Just click on the Downsizing icon on the Home Page. In June we are hosting our (formerly) annual Shredding Event to help you get rid of boxes of old papers at the Cape Cod Church on Rte 151. Clutter free is the new freedom!

Silver Threads April 2021- Falmouth Enterprise