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10 Reasons Seniors Hang On To Stuff

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And What To Do About It

Following, from the Home Instead® network and Vickie Dellaquila, certified professional organizer and author of Don't Toss My Memories in the Trash, are 10 reasons seniors can't or won't give up their stuff and what to do about it.

  1. The Sentimental Attachment
    The beloved prom dress represents the history and memories of the event; it's not the dress itself. Save only a piece of the dress to make a quilt or display in a shadow box. Scrapbooking and converting photos to DVDs are other ways to save treasured keepsakes without all the extra mess.
  2. The Sense Of Loyalty
    Older adults who've received gifts from family and friends may be reluctant to part with them. Encourage your loved one to give unused gifts back to the giver or grandchildren.
  3. The Need To Conserve
    Seniors are the original green people. Appeal to a senior's desire to help others. "You went through the Great Depression, now it's time for you to let go and help someone else." Counter a senior's inclination to conserve by appealing to their desire to give back.
  4. The Fatigue
    A home with a lifetime of memories can easily become too much for an older adult to handle. Help seniors manage clutter by establishing online bill paying. Also, get your senior off junk mail lists, which can put them at risk for identity theft, and buy them a shredder.
  5. The Change In Health
    Seniors who have suffered a brain trauma or stroke, who are wheelchair bound or who are experiencing dementia may no longer be able to manage household duties, which could contribute to clutter. If you see a health change, encourage your senior to visit his or her doctor and consider a professional organizer and caregiver to help your loved one.
  6. The Fear
    Seniors often fear what will happen if they give up their stuff, like the older adult who saved three generations of bank statements. Use logic and information to help seniors understand it's O.K. to let go.
  7. The Dream of the Future
    Those clothes in the closet don't fit anymore, but your loved one is sure that some day she'll lose enough weight to get into them. Ask seniors to fill a box with clothing they don't wear much and make a list of the items in the box. Agree that if they have not gone back to the box in six months to wear the item, they will donate that to charity.
  8. The Love of Shopping
    Today's seniors have more money than any other previous generation of older adults and they love to shop. Clutter can become so bad seniors can't find things and they repurchase items they already have, contributing to the clutter cycle. Try to convince seniors to cut back and to say "no" to free stuff.
  9. The History And Memories
    Keepsakes represent history and memories. Encourage seniors to take old photos to a family reunion and share with several generations. Let seniors know they can contribute to the history of their time and leave a lasting legacy by donating to museums and historical societies, a theater and library, or churches and synagogues.
  10. The Loneliness
    Stuff can become a misplaced companion. Loneliness may also lead to depression, which makes it difficult for seniors to get organized. Consider the services of a professional organizer and caregiver. For more information, go to the National Association of Professional Organizers at, or visit

Other experts contributing to these tips include Katherine "Kit" Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization; University of Kansas Professor Dr. David Ekerdt, who is coordinating a "household moves" project to determine the role that possessions play in older people's housing decisions; and University of New Mexico Researcher Dr. Catherine Roster.

Download this list, 10 Reasons Seniors Hang On To Stuff (PDF 254K)

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Last revised: December 15, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. February 20, 2020 at 8:28 pm | Posted by Christel

    wohh precisely what I was searching for, thankyou for posting.


  2. October 23, 2019 at 4:48 pm | Posted by Jo

    I am 78 years old and want to clear out clutter. Due to health issues, I don’t have the strength and stamina to do it alone. I have one daughter that is a clutter keeper herself and no help, but my other daughter indiscriminately discards every thing. What I need is someone to come in and work WITH me to declutter, but can’t afford that. Have any suggestions?


  3. July 3, 2017 at 1:42 am | Posted by Rex

    This advice is all well and good, but it seems to assume that the senior citizen in your life is sane and logical. My mother has saved everything given to her since she married my father over 60 years ago. Now she's in assisted living, but refuses to let go of her belongings at her house. She tells me, "I don't mind letting go of the stuff that doesn't have value, but all of this has value to me." It may be a gift that given to her by a student of hers in 1975 or a a yearly calendar from 2004, but to her it has immense value and she refuses to part with it. Just explaining the logic behind the need to turn loose of a notebook from 1974 is useless. Take this from someone who is living this reality.


    • March 11, 2019 at 2:46 am | Posted by Violet Turner

      I understand your mother, Rex--especially if she was a teacher. I too have old calendars related to people I love who have passed. She may have more logic as to what the possession means to her, than the logic to throw it away. Previous generations did not go out and buy things with the fervor today's generations do, and so imbued in those objects may be intangible gold.


  4. January 20, 2015 at 1:10 am | Posted by Caryn

    Thank you for sharing and shedding light to those who may not understand the complexity of this topic. Often it is taken as a "cleanliness" or " lack of organization" .....when it is a result of multiple issues.


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