Is clutter a problem? And accumulation of daily junk mail, bills and newspapers can quickly overwhelm a senior.
Issues such as stroke, dementia or even going into a wheelchair can make it much worse. The risks include tripping, fire and mold. Sadly family relationships do suffer.
Why seniors hang on to stuff?
For many there could be a sentimental attachment. Perhaps it’s a lifetime of things they collected. Perhaps a spouse who has recently passed away’s personal items and emotionally is too much to bare to part with. Could be a sense of loyalty. We must remember many seniors are of the Depression era where they had a need to conserve. Items were not disposable to the greatest generation the way they are to later generations. It could be something as simple as fatigue and the thought of having to go through it all is just too much. Perhaps there had been a change in health limiting their abilities.
For some, maybe fear. For others it could be a love of shopping, an activity with something to look forward to in an otherwise lonely world. For many the history and the memories their surroundings offer bring great joy of better times.
Failure to face the issue
University of New Mexico clutter research Dr. Catherine Roster says seniors often don’t want to face the problem. There is anxiety, stress, guilt and embarrassment. Clutter can lead to economic problems if seniors lose bills which can quickly turn into health hazards such as the power being shut off due to nonpayment. Not only does that mean no lights to creating fall hazards, in the summer it could lead to extreme heat within the home leading to dehydration, food spoiling without power to the refrigerator, lack of nutrition – I think you see where I’m going with this. A snowball effect even worse yet coupled with confusion can become disastrous very quickly for an isolated senior.
Signs of clutter creep
• Piles of mail and unpaid bills
• Difficulty walking safely through the house
• Frustration trying to organize
• Difficulty managing activities of daily living
• Expired food in the refrigerator
• Jammed closet and drawers
• Compulsive shopping
• Difficulty deciding whether to discard items
• A health episode such as a stroke or dementia and loneliness
While we are still sheltering in place it’s a great time for family caregivers to help a senior declutter for their own health and well-being. There’s a three step plan you can start work.
1. A bin for items to keep
2. A bin for trash
3. A bin for charity
If seniors won’t let go try to arrange brief clean ups and cheer small victories. Conduct an experiment and suggest they give up a few items and see where that leads. Gently approach the idea of health and safety with your aging loved one and let them know you are concerned for their wellbeing. Draft an agreement to give away unused items after six months. Consider the control issue could be at work here. As we age we lose control over much in our lives such as mobility, ability to drive etc. so what a senior surround themselves in their home could the little control they do have and that’s what they are exercising.
Come from a place of love and patience. Looking for help or a master organizer? Chucket Organizing and Move Management’s owner Kimberlee Foster is a professional organizer and senior move manager. Kimberlee can be reached at 707.560.1491 or email her at email@example.com.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.