Many seniors tend to hang on to “stuff” they have collected over the years. Sometimes, the volume becomes overwhelming to the point of causing stress, anxiety and even safety issues.
In her 2007 book, “Don’t Throw My Memories in the Trash,” Vickie Dellaquila, a certified professional organizer, gives 10 reasons seniors can’t or won’t give up their stuff, and helpful tips about how to conquer the clutter.
Sentimental attachment: The beloved prom dress represents 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 memory box. Scrapbooking and converting photos to DVDs are other ways to save treasured keepsakes.
Sense of loyalty: Older adults who have received gifts from family or friends might be reluctant to part with them. Encourage your loved one to give unused gifts back to the giver or to grandchildren who might use them.
Need to conserve: Seniors are the original green people. Appeal to the 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.” Counter a senior’s inclination to conserve by appealing to their desire to give back.
Change in health: Seniors who have suffered a brain trauma or stroke, are wheelchair bound or experiencing dementia, might no longer be able to manage household duties, which could contribute to clutter. If you see a health change, encourage the senior to visit his or her doctor and consider hiring a professional organizer and-or caregiver to help them.
Fear: Seniors often fear what will happen if they give up their stuff, such as decades of bank statements. Use logic and information to help seniors understand it’s okay to let go.
Dreaming of the future: Some clothes in the closet don’t fit anymore, but your loved one is sure that one day she will lose enough weight to get into them. Ask seniors to fill a box with the clothing they don’t wear much and set the box aside. Agree that if they haven’t gone back to the box in six months to wear something in it, they will donate the box to charity.
Love of shopping: Today’s seniors have more money than any other previous generation of older adults, and many love to shop. Clutter can become so bad that seniors can’t find things or repurchase items they already have, contributing to the clutter cycle. Try to convince seniors to cut back on shopping and say “no” to free stuff.
History and memories: Keepsakes represent history and memories. Encourage seniors to take old photos to a family reunion and share with several generations. Let seniors know they can contribute to the history of their time and leave a lasting legacy by donating to museums and historical societies, a theater, library, churches and synagogues.
Loneliness: Stuff can become a misplaced companion. Loneliness might also lead to depression, which makes it difficult to get organized. Consider hiring a professional organizer and-or caregiver.
Rachel Carson is a Certified Senior Advisor and owner of Home Instead Senior Care, serving the Lowcountry since 1997.