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.