Decluttering the Lives and Homes of Our Seniors – a Family Caregiver Role

Has your senior been saving a lifetime of belongings in the basement, attic and closet?

Have you ever moved them into a new location with box after box of stuff and wondered what they may need it all for?

Our seniors have collections, old magazines, books, clothes, memorabilia, photos, and a million odds and ends such as bags and rubber bands they have kept for years.

Each one is a precious object that is difficult for many of them to let go just because their caregivers think they should.

But what will you do when they need to move, downsize or leave this life when the house is bursting at the seams with ‘stuff’?

When ‘Stuff’ is a Burden

Helping your senior loved one find new homes for some of their precious belongings may be hard because our seniors don’t want to part with their things (who would, really).

However, it is important for them to work through this process with your help because for some seniors excess ‘stuff’ can become a safety danger. Walking through scattered items can be a trip and fall obstacle, attract pests or even be a fire hazard.

Unfortunately, family caregivers are often the ones who will have to determine what should be kept, who in the family should have this or that, and clear out what isn’t wanted when their senior loved one passes away.

For some caregivers, this is an overwhelming task.

Burden for Family Caregivers, Too

Many family caregivers will tell you that they worry about how they will cope with their seniors’ belongings in the future.

Excessive ‘stuff’ can hold back seniors who would do better in a more senior-friendly home or neighborhood because they themselves don’t want to struggle with sorting, packing, moving and downsizing their belongings.

Imagine what their caregivers are thinking.

Newer, safer and more livable options will be avoided because of the amount of stuff that would need to either be moved or find a new home.

That is a shame for seniors aging in place.

Decluttering their space will help them feel that they have avoided burdening caregivers with a pile of stuff to distribute after they’re gone.

Size of the Problem

Can you believe there are 50,000 storage facilities in the US? That equates to 2.3 billion square feet of storage room for ‘stuff’.

Worse yet is the fact that 50% of those using storage are simply storing what won’t fit in their homes despite the fact that average home size has doubled in that last 50 years.

Currently there are 7.3 square feet of self-storage for every man, woman, and child in the nation.

One in 10 Americans rents offsite storage. Perhaps your senior loved one also has some of their collections in a storage unit that will eventually get cleared out by you as their caregiver.

Storage within a home is reaching into every corner of the home, including the garage. 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them.

As a result, home organizers are quickly growing in number to help seniors and their caregivers negotiate the ‘stuff’.

Decluttering Senior’s Homes

Seniors who have collections and mementos stored in boxes are really not enjoying them, have little access to what is kept in boxes and may not even remember all the things they own anymore.

A good strategy to begin decluttering their homes is to begin slowly.

  • Start tackling an area of boxes or one room at a time.
  • Schedule a day for downsizing each week or month so that there are no excuses for not working on the collection.
  • Determine how much time each scheduled session is doable for your senior; it may be an afternoon, an hour or even fifteen minute blocks before they tire.
  • Ask family members if there are things they would like to have. Don’t assume they have room for the basement furniture or desire the old tea set. Let them tell your senior what has meaning to help them hold onto the the senior’s memory.
  • If money is needed, hold a garage sale to make some cash for your senior or take some items to a consignment shop to make a little on their value without the effort of a garage sale. If a tax benefit is important, find some worthwhile organizations who need your senior’s possessions and take the tax deduction instead of investing your precious time in a garage sale.
  • If your senior balks at your assistance, hire a professional organizer who will be impartial about helping them downsize.
  • Remember this as you help them get more organized – keep, toss, donate/sell. Making these piles ahead of time will help you and your senior focus on the task at hand.
  • Be aware that when you help your senior give up some of their possessions you are reminding them of their fate so they may experience emotional loss over this process. Giving away may mean giving up to some seniors who may not be fully ready for this change in their life. This may be even more difficult if they are grieving a loss of their spouse and giving away their shared memories may be tough.
  • Some of their lifelong possessions or objects they inherited may be valuable. You may want to get an appraiser’s opinion before you start the process. Selling valuable antiques or other items for their true value instead of garage sale negotiations may turn into a financial boost for your senior.

Benefits of Decluttering Process

Making room for new things or just to walk around the house without bumping into things will take a bit of work but, in the end, it will be a big relief for both your senior loved one and family caregivers.

Take your time, allow them to enjoy the memory once again and be mindful of the emotions that will surface with your senior and the process will certainly go more smoothly.

Look at the effort now as a way to spend time with your senior instead of a chore that consumes your time now!

You may learn something about them you never knew and create new memories of them you will hold forever!