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Hoarding and the Elderly: How to Help Them Declutter

Mary in Waltham, MA
Aug. 2, 2018

Try these small steps for letting go.

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.

Get help: Find a senior caregiver for your loved one

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. A┬áprofessional 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.

For more ideas, check out these 15 Tips on How to Declutter Your Home.

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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