Aging in place is easier for the elderly, and their caregivers, when the home is clutter-free.
- Posted on Nov 25, 2019
When it comes to seniors, a cluttered house is not just an embarrassing eyesore—it can be downright dangerous. Falls are the leading cause of death in the elderly. When you combine that with all the other negative effects of clutter, including poor sleep and more stress, it’s no wonder it’s such a cause for concern.
Caregivers also benefit from a clutter-free environment; it allows them to focus more on their loved one, both when they are in their home and if the time comes when they need to be moved into another living situation.
Still, many seniors have a hard time clearing the chaos. And of course since they’ve lived for a long time, they tend to have more belongings. “I don’t think people appreciate how overwhelmed seniors are,” says Colleen Ashe, of Ashe Organizing Solutions in Poughkeepsie, New York, whose practice focuses on helping seniors get organized. “They know they need to declutter but they are just frozen with the idea of even getting started.”
Ashe offers several practical solutions to clearing the clutter.
1. Start Small.
What’s the best way to begin decluttering? “Start in a room that they use all the time, like the kitchen or bedroom,” says Ashe. “But then you can make it even smaller: In the bedroom, you might just start with the nightstand, or the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Once they start, they often have the motivation to continue.” Or simply set a timer. “Even half an hour will work, schedule it in once a week; a little bit has a compounding effect.”
2. Buddy Up.
When it’s time to tackle the basement, garage or attic, Ashe says most seniors require assistance. “These tend to be more challenging spaces, not only is there a great volume of stuff, there are often steep and precarious staircases” says Ashe. “So buddy up with adult children or a neighborhood kid or work with a senior move manager. Another hint: be cognizant of the weather. “I had a client ask me to clean out the garage with his 88-year-old mother in August. I said, ‘No way, it’s usually brutally hot in the Northeast in August and that’s not good for seniors.’”
3. Make a Decision: Keep, Donate or Trash
Clothing is one of the easier things to deal with, according to Ashe. “Maybe they have a bunch of high-heeled shoes and grandma can’t wear that kind of footwear anymore. You can have those weeding out discussion which can make the process go pretty quickly,” says Ashe. But if you are looking at collections—dolls, fishing poles, anything—the first thing is to do your homework and find out if there is any monetary value to the collection. “Google it,” says Ashe. “Is there anything similar on eBay? Is it worth something? Check with auction houses, too, but make sure you are being honest about the condition.”
4. Take the Middle Road
Ultimately, notes Ashe, you can opt to keep one or two treasured mementos, while still reducing the volume of stuff. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” she says, noting that she worked with a senior who had a doll collection. “I gently remind them that although the collection is still displayed, it is now covered with dust and not really being enjoyed by anyone anymore. But I ask if there is a favorite one or two; then we can display them prominently and keep them in prime condition. ”
5. Tread Lightly
Ashe cautions family members to remember that this is a difficult process for many seniors. What looks like junk to them, may have strong sentimental appeal for their loved one. “Don’t come in like a bull in a china shop,” she says. “Don’t say: ‘We’ve got this, we’re going to clean you out in one weekend; you just go sit and watch TV. Don’t mind the dumpster in the driveway.’ Those kind of approaches are often met with a huge amount of resistance or even anger or regret. It’s important to give them the opportunity to weigh in and make decisions about their stuff. And you have to really, really listen to them. They deserve that respect.”