Is Clutter Blocking Your Parent Care Efforts?


I stopped by to tackle my latest parent care responsibility of paying my parents' bills. Was it just my imagination or were things getting messier at my parents' house?  I'm not a neat freak but finding folded paper towels, unpaid bills and an unopened brokerage statement in a stack was upsetting.  In my case, the strange piles of stuff were a symptom of my mother's growing dementia.

In most situations, clutter is not a sign of dementia. Clutter may reflect your parent's poor overall health and lack of energy.  It can be a sign of depression. It may reflect the loss of a partner who helped keep clutter under control.

Hanging on to unused possessions may be misplaced loyalty. Your parent might think "how can I get rid of this vase when it was a gift?"  "These old clothes remind me of my son's childhood."  The items are a memory bank connecting your parents to happy memories.  Give your parents permission to give away any gift that you have given them.

Before tackling clutter, ask yourself:

Is clutter the problem or a symptom?

Is the clutter a new problem? If not do you need to address it now?

Is the clutter creating an unsafe eldercare environment?

Help your parent contain clutter

  • Don't add to the clutter.  Give your parent consumable gifts, food or gift certificates for services.  One of my favorite recent gifts to my Dad was gift certificates for car washes.
  • Be sensitive to the deeper meaning of your parent's stuff.  Allow plenty of time for your parent to share stories as you declutter.
  • Keep your decluttering sessions short.
  • Confine your efforts to one room or one section of a room so you and your parent can see progress.
  • Take it slow. It took a long time to accumulate all your parents' stuff.
  • Take away items that the elder is giving up when you leave.

6 Responses

  1. Janice, this is a really helpful article for day to day care. It also inspired me to spend the day cleaning my 'own' closets all day yesterday!
  2. Sometimes it's hard to let go of our belongings, I think this is something we all deal with no matter what age we are, but seniors have just accumulated so much throughout their long lives that sometimes they do need a little help, so thanks for this great article and sharing these tips. Here's a few more to check out if you're looking to tackle the task of helping your loved one with a little spring cleaning. Best, Tuesday
  3. Your Message<a href="#comment-873" rel="nofollow">@Tuesday:</a> Hi Tuesday, Thanks for your link. Great suggestion to consider our senior relatives and friends on limited incomes when we declutter our own space. Janice<a href="#comment-873" rel="nofollow">@Tuesday:</a>
  4. Your Message<a href="#comment-865" rel="nofollow">@Mary:</a> Hi Mary, There's an expression "we teach what we need to learn". Writing the post inspired me to do some summer cleaning of my own. Janice
  5. There are also professionals available who are sensitive to the needs and thought processes of the elderly. Many of them work on an hourly basis and would be happy to schedule regular appointments to help keep the clutter in check. For a professional organizer in your area go to Professional move managers are good for clutter-busting and downsizing. For a senior move manager in your area go to Lori Salzman Room To Improve Senior Move Management
  6. Your Message<a href="#comment-951" rel="nofollow">@Lori:</a> Hi Lori, Thanks for the links to professional organizers. Sometimes the best gift we can give ourselves and our parents is a dispassionate, professional helper to clear the clutter, in other words a professional organizer. Janice

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