Helping an Elderly Parent Declutter
Your mom or dad is now living alone in their own home. Each time you visit you see more and more clutter build up and less and less cleaning going on. You want to help but don’t want to embarrass or upset your parent. This has been the situation with a couple of my clients. The plan:
If possible, invite someone to the home with you who can get a fresh look at the situation. Because this clutter has grown over an extended period of time, you are probably missing some key components.
Analyze why certain areas are cluttered. As parents get older it takes more effort to pick things up from the floor. If something gets dropped or spilled it just may stay there. They may do most activities from one or two places as it is more difficult to move around. They may not see the clutter.
When you start to attack the clutter, keep the parent involved. Get permission before moving things around or getting rid of anything. Talk it out before doing any work.
Work in small bites. Don’t overwhelm the parent by doing a lot at one time.
This past week I was invited by my client’s dad to come into his home. I came as a friend who had helped his daughter with some organizing. Her dad had noticed some of the work his daughter and I had done together when he was at her home on a recent visit. My client had shared with me that her dad was now having back pain and some headaches. He had fallen this past winter. She was very concerned about his environment but did not want to disrespect him or overwhelm him.
He is an artist and likes to look through magazines for ideas. When he works from his chair in the den, pieces of paper drop to the floor. Magazines are stacked up waiting for his attention. Some food wrappers are dropped. His studio shows signs of things having been stacked but are now toppled. We chatted together about getting a sorting system set up for his cut-out pictures and a trash can by his chair. He liked the idea and his daughter will get those items for him.
After the visit, my client and I brainstormed other tasks that could be tackled over time. With permission she could remove a couch that is now blocking the bookcase and is never used. She might find a basked to hold the waiting to be worked on magazines. A huge fire extinguisher (still in the box) could be replace by a smaller kitchen sized fire extinguisher. Another day she could hang the pictures that have been leaning along a wall for years (surprisingly neither daughter nor dad really noticed the pictures or had thought of hanging them). Then later still, remove the exercise bike that has never been used. The idea is to let her dad get used to each change before adding another. When the clearing of the den is complete, a day could be spent cleaning. Then they could move on to another area.
While each case is unique, I feel the most important premise is to respect the parent and make them a part of the decluttering experience.
Jonda S. Beattie Professional Organizer