With the number of aging baby boomers increasing in retirement communities, "downsizing is a big deal right now," said Helen Volk, a professional organizer who heads a Cohoes-based consulting company.

Downsizing - getting rid of some possessions to move to smaller living spaces - "is still a barrier to a lot of people going through the process of moving," said Ms. Volk, who started Beyond Clutter in 1991 after retiring from a career in education finance law.

She describes herself as a former "pack rat" who managed to reduce her belongings enough to move from a 10-room house to a six-room condo and then again to a three-room apartment.

"I de-cluttered and I changed my mindset [of] wanting and needing to have a lot of things around me," said the author and speaker.

Ms. Volk, a Protestant, recently gave a downsizing and moving workshop for senior citizens at the diocesan Consultation Center in Albany, where she speaks frequently. She also addresses area businesses and general audiences on filing, preparing for emergencies, hosting garage sales and more.

Spiritual reasons, she said, can be the impetus for people to purge possessions.

"I chose through my spiritual path to live a more simple life," she explained. "People who changed the world [like Blessed Teresa of Kolkata and Mahatma Gandhi] had very little. Jesus told his disciples, 'Take nothing with you.'

"People fear letting go of possessions," she continued. "Sometimes the only way to break through that fear is to look at your spirituality and have faith. If you really need something, it will be provided. No spiritual tradition preaches that possessions are important in life."

Still, letting go can be especially difficult for older adults, Ms Volk said: "They've probably been in a house for 30 or 40 years and they have possessions and family memories. Starting over later in life is scary to some people."

Downsizing is "the opportunity to choose again those things that accompany you in your journey," she said. "It's a way of being free - freeing yourself of the house and all the work it takes."

It's also an opportunity to benefit others through donations, she noted.

Ms. Volk advises: "It's never too early to start, even if you don't know where you're [moving]. You start by finding as much stuff to throw out as possible," like expired food, outdated information and worn-out clothing not fit for donation.

Television shows on the subject usually recommend photographing items poised for discarding. Ms. Volk agrees, but with a caveat.

"You need to decide if you want the item, or just a memory," she said. Frame a photo collage of objects like sentimental gowns, furniture and large collections and hang it on the wall, she recommended: "They have the memories without the burden of the piece."