Declutters Laura Maines (left) working with Jeri Cordoza attempting to "reclaim the kitchen table." Photo: Richard Bermack
Declutters Laura Maines (left) working with Jeri Cordoza attempting to “reclaim the kitchen table.” Photo: Richard Bermack
Declutters Laura Maines (left) working with Jeri Cordoza attempting to “reclaim the kitchen table.” Photo: Richard Bermack

By Karin Evans

Who hasn’t been there? We stack a few papers and bills and books on the dining room table, get behind, and before we know it we can’t see the table. Or, we look at what our grown children have left behind in their childhood rooms and can’t bear to throw out their artwork, their school papers, or the deflated volleyball signed by all their team mates. Or we have a particular passion — for cookbooks, say, or statues of dolphins. But one day we realize we haven’t looked at a cookbook in years, the shelves are sagging, and we have no energy or desire to dust the dolphins.

In short, too much stuff can become a burden. But, what can you do?

Enter a new breed of hero — the local Ashby Village Decluttering Team, headed up by Jean Goldman and Jean Hoehn.

Ashby Village is a national leader in a volunteer-driven care model, the ‘Village Movement,’ whose goal is to enable aging adults to receive the services and social support they need to live active, engaged lives in their own communities. Members pay an annual fee, which gives them access to a wide variety of services and support. Launched in July 2010, the village now has about 350 members over age 60, nearly 200 volunteers, and scores of donors and others active in the community. Among the many services offered to members — rides to medical appointments, gardening and minor house repairs, and lots of community activities — is the new decluttering service, led by Jean Hoehn and Jean Goldman.

Ashby Village decluttering team. Photo: Richard Bermack
The Ashby Village Decluttering Team got to work on this laundry room. Photo: Richard Bermack

Jean Goldman has been working at the downsizing business for some time, with her company Goldman Transitions. Jean Hoehn got involved with the idea after listening to her children and their contemporaries, people in their 40s, who were sharing their concerns about parents who were growing older and clinging to a lifetime’s accumulation of material things.

“Older people are warehousing their children’s memories,” said Hoehn, “when the children have no place to put them and a lot of the stuff the parents are attached to don’t fit their lifestyles.”

An active Ashby Village member, Hoehn realized a lot of people she knew were in the same boat. Yet paring down belongings can be an overwhelming prospect, both emotionally and physically, and few people can tackle it alone.

So the two Jeans (“We’ve decluttered our names and use the same one,” quips Hoehn) put their heads together and came up with a plan. They developed workshops for Ashby Village members, “to help them embrace the idea of decluttering.” They trained volunteers to be “Decluttering Buddies” and last year they launched the project.

Ashby Village decluttering team. Photo: Richard Bermack
A closet tackled by the Ashby Village Decluttering Team. Photo: Richard Bermack

Here’s how it works. A member calls, and spells out a need. Paring down a beloved collection of books, say, or clearing out the kitchen, or deciding what to take and what to leave when moving to a smaller place.

The Decluttering Team visits, clarifies the member’s objectives and figures out a plan. They return, sleeves rolled up and get to work. The come with a long list of verified businesses and agencies which can help with moving items, arranging to sell them, or finding appropriate approved charities which would appreciate donations. Usually a project involves four or five two-hour visits by the team. If more is required — and there may be cases that are too big for the volunteers — the group can refer a member to a professional agency that can help.

The program has been so successful that more volunteer buddies are needed. If you are interested, see the contact information below. Team members need to go through the regular Ashby Village Volunteer application process and training. Once cleared, new volunteers attend a decluttering workshop. These are given at various locations around the Bay Area, and are open to Ashby Village members as well as others. Then prospective volunteers meet with Jean Hoehn, to get a sense of what the decluttering program entails, and then are guided through the first project by an experienced member. After that, they can join a team and guide others.

If you are interested in working as a volunteer on the Ashby Village Decluttering Team, hearing about upcoming volunteer training, or if you are interested in this service and others available through Ashby Village membership, please call the Ashby Village office, 510-204-9200, Or email us at

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