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Helping Seniors Tackle the Clutter

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The weather is warming up, and many of us have started thinking about spring cleaning. For those caring for an older loved one, the thought of spring cleaning their home may be a bit overwhelming. Decades of memories and their physical reminders may have left Mom's home cluttered. But what if she can't or won't give up all the stuff?

First, it helps to understand why they are holding on to the items.

There may be a sentimental attachment to the item, or they feel obligated to keep things that were given as gifts. You may not be able to convince her to give these items away, but perhaps she would consider regifting an item to a grandchild or dear friend.

For many older adults, there may be a fear that they may need the item someday.  For those who lived through the Great Depression, conserving items and reusing them became a staple. Reassure your loved one, that someone else may need this right now, and that you'd be happy to let them borrow yours when they need it.

Believe it or not, loneliness and fatigue can be reasons seniors hold on to items. Unneeded objects can become a companion for lonely seniors. Loneliness may also lead to depression, which makes it difficult for seniors to get organized. Consider the services of a professional caregiver. And if there is just too much stuff for your loved one to go through, or their health makes it difficult, consider hiring a professional organizer, helping them establish online bill paying, and getting them off the junk mail lists.

So how do you go about getting all the clutter in its place? Make a game plan.

Understand this likely won't be a one-day event. Take a quick inventory of the house and list what needs to be done. Are the areas your loved one can do on their own like a linen closet or a cedar chest? They can try to organize these areas on days you may not have time to work on a bigger project with them.

Go through your list of areas that need to be organized, and tackle them one by one. Be sure to have three containers: keep, donate, and trash. Also consider bringing some paper grocery bags. These come in handy if Mom wants to give something as a gift – simply put the item in the bag, write the recipient's name on it and get it delivered.

Keep an eye on your aging loved one through the process. Beyond the physical toll of the work, the emotional toll may be difficult. Take breaks when you need to, but try to push on the best you can. It's also important to remember that your aging loved one needs to make the decision on each item. You can keep the project going, but ultimately, they need to have the control of deciding where items go.

After you've gone through everything, put the keep bin items away, toss the trash, and take the donate bin to a local charity.

And do remember that many of the things you'll be going through have a special memory for your loved one. Don't get too caught up in the organizing that you forget to take a little stroll down memory lane. You might be surprised at the stories you'll hear.

Find more resources for senior clutter issues, including how to get of those junk mail lists here.

Comments

Posted by Patti Bunston (May 16, 2015)

My Mum has been diagnosed with frontal temporal dementia and has been suffering the symptoms for a while now. Of course memory loss & confusion being the biggest issues. During the last year, my brothers and I have been clearing out the basement of stuff Mum hasn't used in years. I was very careful to save all the items that I thought would have special meaning to her. Mum really didn't care about the stuff and only kept a few things with the remainder going to family members. I thought Mum was ok with it all. Well, now my 89 year old mother's mental acuity has returned to almost what it was before the dementia worsened and she is now asking for these items as she doesn't remember them being cleared out. Simple items like the iron and ironing board which were donated to charity has caused her to fret and wonder what else is missing. She hasn't ironed in years BUT ironed for years and years. That iron was a very important part of who she was and I am sorry it is gone. She knows we can use mine at any time but it is not hers. I can only reassure her that nothing of sentimental value left the family. You see, I was 100% positive she would remember doing some of the clearing with us - but she doesn't - that is dementia & it makes all this very hard for her and rather sad for me. I simply encourage her now to refocus on other things and enjoy each & every day! No one said this would be easy but it is very important to not brush off their concerns lightly and be as open and honest as can possibly be.

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Posted by Raghu (February 01, 2016)

thanks for sharing :)

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