Sometimes I help empty out houses of deceased parents. The children left behind are often astonished at the amount of clutter left behind. This accumulation does not really fit with the mother or father they knew growing up. They wonder what happened.
Possible reasons for clutter in the elderly:
They are weaker physically
As parents age, they often develop physical difficulties that they might not share with their children. It is harder for them to move around. Putting things away may be difficult so they leave the items out on the table or counter “just for now”. They may think they are going to get better and they have visions of giving parties and entertaining again, so they continue to buy and keep cooking paraphernalia that they never will use. They may have difficulty doing laundry and when the laundry becomes overwhelming, they may just order new clothing. During the holiday seasons it is easier to just buy a few new decorations rather than pull down and use what they already have.
They don’t see the clutter
The buildup of clutter may come slowly over time. They adjust to what is in their home and stop seeing it as clutter. The same may be true of odors that have developed because cleaning is now more difficult. If they were shown a picture of their living area, they would probably be surprised.
They have mental issues
They may forget that they have items and so continue to buy more of what they already have in abundance. As dementia sets in they also forget to put things away, eat properly, and take care of other living skills. Things accumulate around them. Anxiety and depression are also common in the elderly. They may shop just for the social contact. They may worry about not being able to get what they need later so they overbuy now.
Fear of want
Because they are on a fixed income and no longer have a regular paycheck, they worry that their money will run out. When they see a good deal on canned food, light bulbs, soaps, paper products, they buy in bulk. There is not usually a good place to store all these products, so they are placed here and there, often on the floor. If an item becomes broken, they hold on to it with the idea that it can be fixed someday.
Perhaps the parent was once a great cook and loved to throw parties so still now they are gifted with cookbooks and cooking paraphernalia they do not need. They may get gifts of throws for the couch, scented soaps, or because they loved dogs, figurines, pictures, and books about dogs. The parent does not want to give away or throw away someone’s gifts, so they just accumulate.
There are many reasons why the clutter accumulates but the crucial point is that children should be in contact with their parents and go to their homes to visit. Having parents come to their home or going on a cruise with them will not tell the whole story.
Jonda S. Beattie Professional Organizer