Editors Note: This week, we will be featuring a guest writer, Paul Hogan co-founded Home Instead Senior Care with his wife Lori in 1994. The company has consistently been recognized as the world leader in non-medical senior care and has established more than 875 independently owned and operated franchise businesses in 14 countries spanning four continents. In November 2009, Hogan released his USA Today best-selling book, “Stages of Senior Care,” which is a comprehensive guide to the many senior care options available today with practical advice on how to finance senior care.
Do you enter your parent’s home and can’t believe the stacks of stuff that have accumulated on every flat surface: piles of newspapers and mail everywhere, the medicine cabinet overflowing with 10 years worth of hair spray, heaps of dirty laundry on the bed so there is no place for him or her to sleep? You wonder how it got this bad!
Experts say that seniors are prone to cluttering for a variety of reasons, including fear of loss, anxiety, depression, not knowing how to get rid of possessions, or even memories associated with specific items that hold no intrinsic value. And for seniors, the risks of living in clutter are many, from slipping on loose papers to the threat of fire to the health effects of mold and mildew. Clutter can also interfere with family relationships and leave adult children wondering if the only inheritance awaiting them is a big mess.
As the CEO and Co-Founder of “Home Instead Senior Care,” the world’s largest provider of in-home non-medical senior care, I worked with my staff to research this important issue to help alert families to this problem and offer tips for helping a loved one in this situation. Please see our findings below and call your local “Home Instead Senior Care” office if you require further assistance.
CEO and Co-Founder, “Home Instead Senior Care”
Co-Author, “Stages of Senior Care”
WARNING SIGNS THAT CLUTTER COULD BECOME A PROBLEM:
1. Piles of mail and unpaid bills.
2. Difficulty walking safely through a home.
3. Frustration trying to organize.
4. Difficulty managing activities of daily living.
5. Expired food in the refrigerator.
6. Jammed closets and drawers.
7. Compulsive shopping.
8. Difficulty deciding whether to discard items.
9. A health episode such as a stroke or dementia.
10 REASONS SENIORS HANG ON TO STUFF & WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT:
Following, from Home Instead Senior Care and Vickie Dellaquila, certified professional organizer and author of “Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash,” are 10 reasons seniors can’t or won’t give up their stuff and what to do about it:
1. The sentimental attachment. The beloved prom dress represents the 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 shadow box. Scrapbooking and converting photos to DVDs are other ways to save treasured keepsakes without all the extra mess
2. The sense of loyalty. Older adults who’ve received gifts from family and friends may be reluctant to part with them. Encourage your loved one to give unused gifts back to the giver or grandchildren.
3. The need to conserve. Seniors are the original green people. Appeal to a senior’s desire to help others. Counter a senior’s inclination to conserve by appealing to their desire to give back.
4. The fatigue. A home with a lifetime of memories can easily become too much for an older adult to handle. Help seniors manage clutter by establishing online bill paying. Also, get your senior off junk mail lists, which can put them at risk of identity theft, and buy them a shredder.
5. The change in health. Seniors who have suffered a brain trauma or stroke, who are wheelchair bound or who are experiencing dementia may no longer be able to manage household duties, which could contribute to clutter. If you see a health change, encourage your senior to visit his or her doctor and consider a professional organizer and caregiver to help your loved one.
6. The fear. Seniors often fear what will happen if they give up their stuff, like the older adult who saved three generations of bank statements. Use logic and information to help seniors understand it’s O.K. to let go.
7. The dream of the future. Those clothes in the closet don’t fit anymore, but your loved one is sure that some day she’ll lose enough weight to get into them. Ask seniors to fill a box with clothing they don’t wear much and make a list of the items in the box. Agree that if they have not gone back to the box in six months to wear the item, they will donate that to charity.
8. The love of shopping. Today’s seniors have more money than any other previous generation of older adults and they love to shop. Clutter can become so bad seniors can’t find things and they repurchase items they already have, contributing to the clutter cycle. Try to convince seniors to cut back and to say “no” to free stuff.
9. The 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 and library, or churches and synagogues.
10. The loneliness. Stuff can become a misplaced companion. Loneliness may also lead to depression, which makes it difficult for seniors to get organized. Consider the services of a professional organizer and caregiver. For more information, go to the National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net or visit www.homeinstead.com.
(Other experts contributing to these tips include Katherine “Kit” Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization; University of Kansas Professor Dr. David Ekerdt, who is coordinating a “household moves” project to determine the role that possessions play in older people’s housing decisions; and University of New Mexico Researcher Dr. Catherine Roster).
IF YOUR SENIOR WON’T LET GO…
Getting rid of stuff is actually a two-step process: sorting and deciding, on the one hand, and disposing on the other. That’s according to University of Kansas Professor Dr. David Ekerdt, who is coordinating a “household moves” project to determine the role that possessions play in older people’s housing decisions. But convincing seniors can be a challenge. Following are strategies if your loved one doesn’t want to let go from Katherine “Kit” Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), and Vickie Dellaquila, certified professional organizer and author of “Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash:”
1. Arrange and cheer small victories. Suppose you spend a short time helping your loved one clear off a table. Celebrate the accomplishment together.
2. Conduct an “experiment.” If your senior has 150 empty margarine tub containers, suggest donating 15 of those to a school for a painting project. Allow some time to go by and ask how she felt giving those up.. Chances are she won’t feel as awful as suspected.
3. Gently approach the idea of health and safety. Remind your loved ones that too much clutter can actually keep them from being safe in their homes, which could jeopardize their ability to stay at home. They could trip over papers on the floor or lose bills and medications.
4. Draft an agreement. Agree to box up unused clothing or tools. Carefully list what’s in the box and track that for six months. If your loved one does not use the items in that time, suggest they donate them to a charity.
5. Consider the control issue. Clutter is all about control, but so is being the one to decide where stuff goes. Remind your loved ones if they don’t decide where something will go, someone else will.
For more information, contact the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD) at www.nsgcd.org or visit www.homeinstead.com. For tips on talking to a loved one about sensitive subjects, go to www.4070talk.com.
*National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net . . . to find a professional organizer near you.
*National Association of Senior Move Managers at www.nasmm.org . . . for assistance helping older adults and their families downsize, relocate or modify their homes.
*National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization at www.nsgcd.org. . . for various resources on combating clutter. This non-profit organization features fact sheets, a clutter-hoarding scale for professional organizers to help assess their clients, and a questionnaire to determine if someone is a chronic disorganizer. Chronic disorganization is defined by the group as ongoing (chronic), interfering with the ability to get things done or with relationships, and a history of failed self help.
*Vickie Dellaquila, certified professional organizer and author of “Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash” at email@example.com.
*University of New Mexico Researcher Dr. Catherine Roster at Roster@mgt.unm.edu. Dr. Roster is a clutter researcher who serves as research director for The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. She is currently working on a clutter self-assessment tool that will help clutter collectors get to the root of their issues.
*University of Kansas Professor Dr. David Ekerdt at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Ekerdt is coordinating a “household moves” project to determine the role that possessions play in older people’s housing decisions.
*Katherine “Kit” Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization at email@example.com.
*To get seniors off of junk mail lists, go to . . . . www.dmachoice.org, www..catalogchoice.org, www.optoutprescreen.com.