Clutter Creep Can Pose Challenges for Seniors

This image is no longer available


You enter your dad’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 (despite his being bald), and heaps of dirty laundry on the bed so there is no place for him to sleep. You wonder how it got this bad.

Experts say that seniors are prone to clutter 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.

Signs of a potential problem include:

  • Piles of mail and unpaid bills.
  • Difficulty walking safely through a home.
  • Frustration trying to organize.
  • Difficulty managing activities of daily living.
  • Expired food in the refrigerator.
  • Jammed closets and drawers.
  • Compulsive shopping.
  • Difficulty deciding whether to discard items.
  • A health episode such as a stroke or dementia.
  • Loneliness.

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.

Tips to Clear Out the Clutter
One way to tackle the clutter problem is with three bins: one for the stuff you want to keep, one for donations and the other for trash. Set aside a morning or afternoon to go through the house room-by room. Be open to hearing your senior loved one’s memories associated with the items you’re sorting. Look for ways to honor those memories while accomplishing your goal of cleaning out. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Save only a piece of a 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.
  • Give unused gifts back to the giver or grandchildren.
  • If your family doesn’t want old photos, give them to a museum, historical society, theater, library, church or synagogue.

Depending on your availability to help with the cleaning and organizing, you may want to consider the services of a professional organizer or caregiver. CAREGiversSM from your locally owned Home Instead Senior Care® franchise office can provide home helper services such as cleaning and organizing, as well as companionship. A little assistance each week can help your senior loved one keep on top of household responsibilities.