The national media focus on compulsive hoarding and its debilitating effects on health brings the issue to the forefront. Unfortunately, seniors fall victim to many issues related to clutter such as unsanitary conditions, fall risks and fire hazards.
A few years ago Houston fire officials noted that boxes stacked knee-deep throughout the home of a neurosurgeon and his wife hampered rescuers’ efforts in recovering the house fire victims.
If your loved one appears to have difficulty “letting go” of every day clutter, a better understanding of the reasons will help you both find a resolution. Vickie Dellaquila, certified professional organizer and author of “Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash”, helps identify 10 reasons seniors may not clear the clutter.
1. The sentimental attachment. A frilly prom dress represents the history and memories of the event; it’s not the dress itself. Save a piece of the dress for a quilt or shadow box display. Scrapbooking and converting photos to DVDs are great ways to save the memories and condense the clutter.
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. The Greatest Generation survived The Depression and are the original recyclers. Appeal to the desire to conserve by passing along items for a second life.
4. The fatigue. A household full of memories can be too much to handle. Help seniors manage clutter by getting them off of junk mail lists and buy a shredder to handle the paper load.
5. The change in health. A stroke or other mental impairment can prohibit a senior from carrying on household duties. Seek help through a professional organizer, a caregiver or volunteer your time to help with overload.
6. The fear. Seniors often fear what will happen if they give up their documents. Use facts and data to explain that a quarter century of invoices are no longer necessary.
7. The dream of the future. A closet full of clothes that don’t fit anymore may be stored in a box and revisited in six months.
8. The love of shopping. A large disposable income and free time may contribute to excessive shopping. Clutter may lead to duplicating purchases, thus continuing the cycle.
9. The history and memories. Keepsakes represent our history. Encourage seniors to share their keepsakes through family gatherings, museum contributions and sharing among the community.
10. The loneliness. Clutter and stuff may become a substitute for a lost companion. Encourage seniors to seek help with their emotions.
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.