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.