Getting rid of the clutter in a home can be a daunting task. The longer you live, the more it seems you collect over the years. But having lots of "stuff" and senior hoarding are two different beasts. There's nothing wrong with having lots of stuff, but for seniors who are experiencing difficulty staying in their own home, clutter is a real danger. Last week we talked about why seniors hoard; this week we'll discuss how to handle.
Many seniors will be resistant to letting go. Their possessions may represent the story of their lives to them. Giving them away may seem like giving up on life. Some compassion and empathy is called for - put yourself in their place and consider what you would want in their situation. Use that as a guide in your approach to the project so they don't feel like they are being run over by a steamroller.
Following are strategies if your loved one doesn't want to let go from Katherine "Kit" Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), and Vickie and author of .
For a caregiver who is trying to convince a loved one to clear out some of the mess, here are a few tips:
- Gently emphasize health and safety. Remind them that a cluttered home keeps them from being safe, which could jeopardize their ability to continue to live at home. The hazards are many: having the lights shut off because they lost the bill and didn't pay it, tripping over loose papers that fell to the floor, fire hazards from flammable objects piled up, mold and mildew growing in boxes and on walls in damp basements.
- Appeal to their better nature. Remind them that if they don't decide where their stuff goes, their children or other relatives will have to after they're gone. Do they really want to hand that burden off to someone else? If their better nature doesn't show up, play the control card - they get to choose where it goes now. After they're gone it's someone else's choice.
- Divide and conquer. Bring 3 bins or large boxes: one for items to keep, another to donate to charity, the third for trash.
- Celebrate progress. If the whole house needs a thorough clearing out, you won't be able to do it all at once. Start with a small area, say, the dining room table. When you've got it cleared off, sit down and have a cup of tea together at that nice, clean table.
- Keep a few items from a large collection. If several shelves in the garage are filled with empty Mason jars from her canning days, keep one or two in each size so she has them if she needs them. The rest can be given away so someone else can use them. If giving up 90% is too much, try donating 10% now. After some time has passed, ask how she feels now about giving those up. Chances are it wasn't such an awful experience, and she'll let the remaining 80% or 90% go.
- Try a two-step process. If there are items he can't bear to part with now, but is willing to consider for the future, box them up with a list of the contents and set them aside for a period of time, a few months at least to a year at most. Agree that if he doesn't use them in the specified time period, he will give them to charity. This works well for useable items like clothing, kitchen items, and tools that probably have less sentimental value than, say, photographs or memorabilia.
- Bequeath important family history now. Rather than waiting till after she's gone to hand out the family history, give them to younger relatives now so they can enjoy them while she's alive. This is great for things like furniture, antiques, and other pieces of family history. The items stay in the family and she can see them when she visits, so they're not really gone.
For more tips on how to convince your loved one to de-clutter, we recommend the book, Don't Toss My Memories in the Trash, by Vickie Dellaquila, a certified professional organizer. For more information, contact the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD) at www.nsgcd.org.