Hoarding and the Elderly: How to Help Them Declutter
Small steps for letting go.
Mary Carlomagno, Contributor
Articles> Hoarding and the Elderly: How to Help Them Declutter
elderly hoarding

We inherit a lot from our parents, their traits, their looks and even their stuff -- perhaps too much of their stuff.

Clutter is a growing problem today among all populations, including the elderly. To help your parents pare down, downsize, create more room in their home and/or make it safer to age in place, it is important to note the difference between hoarders and clutterers. Hoarders are obsessive about their stuff and will often need a trained professional specializing in obsessive compulsive disorder to let go. Clutterers, the more common type, are more apt to let go with a little encouragement and support.

Dr. April Benson, the founder of stopovershopping.com, says that "letting go reminds them that they are closer to the end of their lives and many older people want to hold on. Explaining that letting go does not always signal loss but can also mean making space for something, is a good way to ease anxiety."

Keeping in mind that items people don't want to let go of represent history and legacy, you can try the following suggestions to get people to part with them:

  • Find out how much the heirlooms are worth. Consult a local antique dealer. For the money motivated, resale can be a great inducer to declutter the home. A common mistake is that just because something is old, people assume it is "Antique Road Show" quality, so be prepared for some disappointments.
  • Be satisfied with slow, steady progress. Rome was not decluttered in a day. Even though you are dealing with their things objectively, your parents may not be. For many, starting is the hardest step, so be prepared to put in the extra time.
  • Consider hiring an objective third party. You might be too close to help. An professional organizer or housekeeper might be more effective at navigating the emotional terrain. Consult the National Association of Professional Organizers to find one near you.
  • Get family support. Letting family members take a remembrance or keepsake is a great way to preserve the legacy, especially if the elder family member can see something valued and put to use.
  • Make a list. A good way to start for the very clutter challenged is with a small step in letting go, such as making a list of whom they want to give their things to when the time comes.

Mary Carlomagno is the owner of Order, which specializes in clutter control and shopping addictions. She has written two books on the subjects, as well as several articles for Care.com. Visit her website at orderperiod.com.

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(3) Comments
Mark Leach
Mark Leach
Cluttering can be a real problem for the elderly. I love your idea about hiring an objective third party to come in and help de-clutter everything. I think emotion can really come into play for a any member of the family.
March 12, 2015 at 4:16 PM
Carol R.
Carol R.
I'm a 57 year old woman who initiated the adult-proofing of my mother's house about eight years ago. She'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's at that time, and my life's emphasis since then has been to maintain her safely withn her home until she was no longer safe there. My mission has been accomplished, but I've neglected myself and live in a hoarding situation. My children have watched the television show Hoarderes, and they want to SNATCH this array of my neglect from me in the style of the show -- within two days. I won't talk to them because I find this URGENCY and that show disrespectful to the need to deal with this mass with more sensitivity. Most of my clutter has come from my displacing myself to accommodate a child's need for more space. Until recently, I had becomespending more than $200 a month from my modest salary on storage spaces to tuck away these concessions from myself and my family. Well money has become shorter, and I determined to bring all of this stuff home for ME to deal with.

Much like my Mom's situation, I see the need for third party intervention/assistance. The squaller is ominous! I am grateful for this article which suggests a respectful, slow approach to this need. It took me ten days and two huge trash bins to help my Mom. She fussed and fumed about my every move, so vehemently that I began to work overnight while she slept to prevent her thwarting my progress. The end result was her praises of gratitude and renewd comfort within her home.Thank you for this article which I am forwarding to my children. I'm akin them to remember their grandma's situTion, the before and after and to turn off that show from the bowels of Hollywood hell!
September 23, 2011 at 11:37 AM
Chelsea
Chelsea
A great way to sell a large amount of possessions is to hold an estate sale - our site http://estatesales.org is a great resource for finding local estate sale companies to both appraise and sell!
March 12, 2011 at 11:02 PM

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