The Women's Journal

The Complications Of Clutter For Seniors

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By Frank Demarinis


For some of us, looking around our house and saying “Wow, I need to de-clutter” is a common occurrence. It’s easy to say but hard to do. The possessions we accumulate through the years often represent more than material items; some have emotional ties. Often, we don’t really understand just how much we’ve accumulated until we’re ready to move. We end up trying to consolidate everything into a limited number of boxes and can’t figure out how we ended up with so much “stuff.” 

Now put yourself in the shoes of someone who is faced with the prospect of having to deal with decades of “stuff” that has accumulated in their home, and they’re a senior. What seems overwhelming to the average person becomes monstrous and potentially debilitating to the senior. Items that represent memories of the past, and an unwillingness to part with them, can create unforeseen issues in the future. The confusion and stress associated with having to battle this “monster” could result in physical or psychological issues which, to the outsider, may be perceived as simple uncooperativeness or as complex as hoarding behavior.

Seniors often become fatigued more easily and may put off doing housework; but they may still be able and willing to spend their money. The convenience of online and TV shopping has made it easy to accumulate items, even for those who are housebound. As a senior ages and health issues become more prevalent, performing household duties becomes more challenging. That can increase feelings of losing control and clinging to material goods represents a sense of control. With a higher risk of sudden health issues, it may change the ability to perform basic household upkeep, including de-cluttering. 

While clutter isn’t always hoarding, it’s important to understand that dealing with either can be a significant challenge for both seniors and those who care for them. For some seniors, hoarding may be clinical in nature– pre-Alzheimer’s patients and those vulnerable to anxiety may hoard as defense mechanism against future loss. Clutter can quickly take over living space. It poses threats to seniors: falls, fires and unsanitary living conditions. It can even cause isolation as a result of shame and embarrassment. You must be careful as you assess the situation and the amount of clutter accumulated by your loved one. What may seem like a simple fix for you may not be so easy for them. The mere suggestion of organizing or disposing of things they value can cause feelings of distress and anxiety for your loved one.

There are some steps you can take as a caregiver to help your aging loved one. Focus on the happy memories and not the physical item. Point out the ways in which the clutter threatens their physical safety and ability to remain independent. If you suspect the clutter is related to a mental health issue, talk with his/her healthcare provider. In some cases, you may need to hire a professional to organize and clean up a loved one’s residence. You will most likely meet the most resistance with this option, but sometimes it’s just too overwhelming for you to take on yourself. It can be difficult for your aging loved one, physically and mentally, so you should make sure you don’t push them, give frequent breaks and, most important, allow them to talk and share stories and memories. This can help make the experience a special time for both of you. You may learn something new and interesting about your loved one that you didn’t know before. Although it may seem like a monumental task to help a loved one de-clutter, make the most of these moments together, as you are actually creating memories of your own. 

In some cases, seniors don’t have family or friends to help them with the burdensome chore of de-cluttering—whether for relocation, downsizing or simply out of necessity to enable living independently. This is where we, Advanced Directive, LLC, and our board can help. We assist those who cannot navigate the process alone. We have helped many clients sell properties, automobiles and other possessions in order to move forward on a healthier, safer, and happier way of living. If you know a senior in need of such services, please have them contact us so we can discuss our ability to help them.



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