Clutter is not unique to seniors, but some age-related conditions may make it worse. An accumulation of daily junk mail, bills, newspapers and magazines can quickly overwhelm seniors who are struggling physically, mentally or emotionally. Even seniors who simply don’t know how to part with their possessions are vulnerable. The risks are many, from slipping on loose papers to the threat of fire to mold and mildew. Clutter can also interfere with family relationships.
Following are 10 reasons why seniors might hang on to stuff and what to do about it:
1. Sentimental attachment. That prom dress represents the history and memories of the event; it’s not the dress itself. Save only a piece of the dress to make a quilt or display in a shadow box.
2. Sense of loyalty. Older adults who’ve received gifts from family and friends may be reluctant to part with them. Encourage your loved one to give unused gifts back to the giver or grandchildren.
3. The need to conserve. Seniors are the original green people. Appeal to a senior’s desire to help others. “You went through the Great Depression, now it’s time for you to let go and help someone else.”
4. Fatigue. A home with a lifetime of memories can easily become too much for an older adult to handle. Help seniors manage clutter by establishing online bill paying.
5. Change in health. Seniors who have suffered a health episode may no longer be able to manage household duties. Consider a professional organizer and caregiver to help your loved one.
6. Fear. Seniors often fear what will happen if they give up their stuff. Use logic and information to help seniors understand it’s O.K. to let go.
7. The dream of the future. Those clothes in the closet don’t fit anymore, but your loved one is sure that some day she’ll wear them. Ask seniors to fill a box with clothing they don’t wear much. Agree that if they have not gone back to the box in six months to wear the item, they will donate that to charity.
8. Love of shopping. Today’s seniors have more money than previous generations and they love to shop. Clutter can become so bad seniors can’t find things so they buy them again.
9. History and memories. Keepsakes represent history and memories. Encourage seniors to take old photos to a family reunion and share with several generations.
10. Loneliness. Stuff can become a misplaced companion. Loneliness may also lead to depression, which makes it difficult for seniors to get organized.
Family caregivers can become just as overwhelmed as seniors. Spring is a great time to help seniors de-clutter for their own health and well-being. We suggest a three-step plan where the family caregiver brings three bins — one for the stuff the senior wants to keep, one for donations and the other for trash. Sometimes seniors just need a little help. Convincing them to let go can be another challenge.
For more information, please contact your local Home Instead Senior Care at 541-734-2700.