Real Life Clutter Clean-Ups

Spring is a great time to help older adults get organized for their own safety and well-being. As a matter of fact, June is Home Safety Month, a good reminder that too much clutter can lead to safety hazards in the homes of older adults. Professional CAREGivers from the Home Instead Senior Care® network know all too well the dangers that clutter can pose for seniors. They also know how to help clean it up.

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Piles of mail and unpaid bills may signal a clutter problem that could endanger an older adult.

So I’m helping her do that; we’re still in the process.

Omaha, NE (Vocus) May 21, 2010

Seniors hang on to their possessions for a variety of reasons from sentimental attachment to health issues that stand in the way of home upkeep and even safety. CAREGiversSM from the Home Instead Senior Care network have witnessed why seniors don’t want to give up their stuff, and they’ve offered solutions for what to do about it.

The advice is timed appropriately both for spring cleaning and Home Safety Month in June, sponsored by the Home Safety Council; an observance that focuses on how to help keep homeowners safe in their homes.

CAREGiver Betty Collins remembers the half a dozen strips of yarn she found on her client’s rug. When she bent down to pick up and discard the yarn, her client stopped her with a resounding “no, no, no.” “She told me that her daughter, who has since died, played with the yarn when she was little,” Collins said. “She had to see that every day.

“In addition, older adults are often set in their ways and everything to them becomes important,” Collins said. “Junk to us is their life. That builds up, and some seniors just don’t know what to do with it. A lot of older adults walk with a walker and live by themselves. They just set things aside and then become overwhelmed.”

Clutter can creep up on seniors before they know it, said Paul Hogan, co-founder and CEO of the Home Instead Senior Care network. “Piles of mail and unpaid bills, difficulty walking safely through a home, frustration trying to organize and difficulty managing activities of daily living are all signs that clutter could be posing a danger to older adults and driving families to the breaking point,” Hogan said. “That’s when it may be time for family caregivers to offer help and support.”

Sometimes, there’s no obvious reason for accumulating possessions, and health hazards can result. Home Instead CAREGiver Karen Reymore said that one client had collected so many boxes of food, she could no longer walk safely in her home.

Helping seniors de-clutter is often a matter of time and patience, Reymore noted. “I took time for this client to get to know and trust me then I explained how dangerous it was for her to have so many boxes. Also, much of the food was outdated. So I sat everything in front of her, we went through that together and she decided what to keep. It took a year. We could do nothing in a hurry because some days she didn’t want to sort.”

Physical limitations can get in the way as well. One client packed many of her things in 10 plastic containers for a temporary move while her apartment was being renovated. When she moved back, it was too much for her. “For three years she couldn’t unpack,” Reymore said. “So I’m helping her do that; we’re still in the process.”

Some de-cluttering projects become a poignant trip down memory lane. When Lisa Barr Kazmierczak’s client sent her downstairs to retrieve a newspaper, she found 20 years worth of papers and magazines neatly stacked in rows. The client was dying and worried about the mess he could be leaving his family. So Lisa offered to help. Over the next four months, she hauled out the newspapers and magazines while her client told her what to save and what to toss.

“The articles he wanted to save I clipped and put in a folder for him by date. Many were stories about family members, so it was a history of sorts. Before you knew it, we were down to one stack of papers. We finished, and two days later he died. I presented the folder to his children. They were blown away.”

For more resources on dealing with clutter and information about how to help seniors let go of “stuff” and de-clutter, link to the Home Instead Senior Care Breaking Point public awareness campaign.

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