One thing that can cause strife between family caregivers and their aging parents is the issue of cleanliness. For many families, clutter is an issue that can quickly overwhelm their senior loved one. Having excess clutter around the home can significantly increase a senior’s fall risk. A senior who falls is at great risk for sustaining a chronic injury. If left unchecked these behaviors can lead to a hazardous home environment and even hoarding behaviors. It is important that we know how to help seniors remove clutter
Why does clutter happen?:
Over the years people tend to collect things that hold sentimental value. Because of this, seniors can be reluctant to let go when it comes time to sort through their homes and declutter. An item that might seem like clutter or trash to you might hold sentimental significance to your loved one.
Many seniors today grew up in the depression era. So many grew up with the motto “Waste not, want not”, and feel uncomfortable going against the saving instinct. Along the years of assisting seniors, our founder Mary Jo Dietrich ran into seniors who would save paper towels, toilet paper, and even diapers. Though it may seem illogical to you, some seniors feel very uncomfortable ‘wasting’ products by throwing them away.
There is a strong correlation between depression and cluttering behaviors. A study conducted by David Tolin, a psychologist who specializes in hoarding, talks about a link between hoarding and depression. Cluttering behaviors are especially common in people who feel as though they are losing control. In this case, it is not a tidiness issue, it is a behavioral issue.
Behavioral links to clutter do not end at depression, often those suffering with dementia can experience cluttering problems as well. This is because of a culmination of the above issues. Often those with dementia are depressed because they feel isolated. People suffering with dementia want to reclaim control and surround themselves with the familiar. These desires lead those with dementia to clutter and hoard their homes with unnecessary items.
How to Help Seniors Remove Clutter – 5 Tips:
Here are some simple steps to take that will help you gradually declutter your loved one’s home without coming across as too demanding. Remember, hold onto objects is likely a behavioral issue linked to losing control. So while you might be well meaning, being firm and asserting that change needs to happen will likely be met with further resistance. Instead try the following:
1. Take Your Time
Long lasting decluttering will not happen in one day, as you need to address the behavioral issue behind the cluttering. Furthermore, if you try to declutter all in one day you will likely distress your loved one and even damage your relationship with them. Talk with your loved one and take it at their pace. Ideally, you should have 4-5 major decluttering sessions, but every senior will have unique needs.
Take it one step at a time. During your decluttering sessions try to have an objective for the day. For example, let one day be for organizing all the old papers, and another going through old kitchen supplies. Let your loved one know what the day’s objective is so that they can prepare themselves. If possible, start early in the morning so that by midday you can treat your loved one to lunch. This is so they associate the act of cleaning with positive social attention. If you make the experience a pleasurable one you will meet far less resistance on your loved one’s end.
2. Be Reasonable
When talking to your senior loved one about decluttering, make sure that they understand the organizational efforts will be in their control. To someone who is clinging to objects to maintain control of their life, they might fear that you are trying to take that away from them. Set goals and limits for each cleaning session. For example, if your loved one has too many magazines but doesn’t want to get rid of them all, dedicate a basket to magazines. Whatever they can comfortably fit in the basket can stay, whatever doesn’t will be tossed. Be practical about your limits as well. Give them explanations. If you have 15 family members, make sure that they have just enough china and silverware to serve 15 people, and donate the rest to Goodwill.
Overall, It is important to emphasize that this is for their safety. Let them maintain control of the process so that they can feel comfortable.
3. Recycle When You Can
If your loved one is ultimately hanging onto things because they do not wish to be wasteful, you can negate that by recycling. Offer to donate as many of their items as possible. This will keep them from using wastefulness as an excuse to keep things around. For example, if they have too many towels and sheets talk to them about how nice it would be to donate the excess to an animal shelter or pet hospital. When you tie a good deed to the decluttering process it will make everyone feel better.
4. Label and Track Everything
Your seniors are worried about forgetting things, and when they do forget something it can cause a great deal of anxiety. If their cluttering is caused by dementia, this can be a major concern. When you alter your loved one’s environment it can cause them to be unfamiliar with their newly organized belongings. Many seniors want to avoid this embarrassment altogether and avoid cleaning up for this reason. Some seniors with dementia desperately attempt to hide their memory loss from their loved ones.
If you are careful to label everything when you go about organizing this situation can be completely avoided. Let them know that this is the plan so that they can be reassured. Additionally, remind them on the day of decluttering that you will track every belonging so that nothing will get lost. To further comfort them, remind them that it is normal for people of any age to be initially disoriented when they reorganize their environment.
5. Call a Professional Organizer
Sometimes the situation is a bit more involved than simply throwing away a few old magazines, or donating old clothes. For some seniors decluttering can verge on hoarding. For those situations we advise that you call in an expert to help you clean.
Fortunately, the services of our partner, Steri-Clean, are always an option. They do both commercial and residential organizing and have been in the business for well over 10 years. They are always happy to discuss what the right choice is for you regarding the cleaning of your loved one’s home.
Do you feel comfortable decluttering your senior loved one’s home?
A clean home is a happy home, and we want to make your loved one’s golden years some of their best. If your parent wants to live in their home with independence but needs a little help, At Home Senior Services a call. We would be happy to discuss the best care option for you and your family.