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Senior Hoarding Issues

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Breaking Point: Decoding the Problems of Seniors and Hoarding

Leading Senior Care Company Advises Family Caregivers to Help Older Adults De-Clutter During Spring Cleaning to Avoid Household Hazards

You enter your dad's home and can't believe the stacks of stuff that have accumulated on every flat surface: piles of newspapers and mail everywhere, the medicine cabinet overflowing with 10 years worth of hair spray (despite his being bald), heaps of dirty laundry on the bed so there is no place for him to sleep. You wonder how it got this bad.

"A lifetime accumulation of possessions combined with a daily influx of junk mail, bills and newspapers can quickly overwhelm seniors who may already be struggling physically, mentally or emotionally," said Home Instead Co-Founder Paul Hogan.

Experts say that seniors are prone to cluttering for a variety of reasons, including fear of loss, anxiety, depression, not knowing how to get rid of possessions, or even memories associated with specific items that hold no intrinsic value.

Senior clutter diagram

"It's sort of the elephant in the room," added Dr. Catherine Roster, a University of New Mexico clutter researcher. "People don't want to acknowledge there is a problem, which creates an underlying anxiety, stress, guilt or embarrassment that can have a negative effect on their mental health and productivity. There are a lot of issues including economics. When there is general disorganization, people lose important documents and can't find bills and then miss payments. So some serious issues start affecting them. All the research shows that people are slow to recognize the problem."

And for seniors, the risks of living in clutter are many, from slipping on loose papers to the threat of fire to the health effects of mold and mildew. Clutter can also interfere with family relationships and leave adult children wondering if the only inheritance awaiting them is a big mess.

In order to identify potential trouble, the Home Instead network is alerting family caregivers to watch for the signs in a senior's home that indicate clutter creep could become a problem including:

  • Piles of mail and unpaid bills.
  • Difficulty walking safely through a home.
  • Frustration trying to organize.
  • Difficulty managing activities of daily living.
  • Expired food in the refrigerator.
  • Jammed closets and drawers.
  • Compulsive shopping.
  • Difficulty deciding whether to discard items.
  • A health episode such as a stroke or dementia.
  • Loneliness.

"Family caregivers can become just as overwhelmed as seniors," said Home Instead's Hogan. "Spring is a great time for family caregivers to help seniors de-clutter for their own health and well-being. We suggest a three-step plan where the family caregiver brings three bins -- one for the stuff the senior wants to keep, one for donations and the other for trash. Sometimes seniors just need a little help. One Home Instead CAREGiver helped her client go through a basement full of newspapers and clipped the important articles that he wanted to save, enabling him to throw away the bulk of the clutter. That was a relief to both the senior and his children."

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Last revised: December 15, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. September 21, 2018 at 4:54 pm | Posted by Denise

    This is exactly what I'm experiencing now. She's 82. I believe she's been doing this for a while while my father was alive (and keeping things away from him so he wouldn't throw them out), but now he's dead and I want to move her to a house without an upstairs and better neighbors (living with me). Everything is "Oh we could use that." "oh you could sell that." "Oh that could be worth money." Let's go through these magazines "No I have papers here that's more important to sort." Let me take these magazines out of here "No I wanted to look at those before you get rid of them." "No I need to look at them and then you can give them to Aunt M." This is never ending. Everything involves me selling or me taking it someplace to donate. It's all my time and energy to get rid of things in the way she wants to do it. I cannot clean a room because her stuff is all piled up. I cannot remove smelly rugs because she doesn't want her stuff disturbed. I cannot pack anything because she doesn't understand the issue of renting storage space is what needs to be done to sell a house. I want to sort cupboards but something else is more important to do. I wound up having a meltdown at work at the beginning of the summer about the problems living with her at home (with her health, hospital and using FMLA) and they used it against me to fire me.


    • December 17, 2019 at 11:36 am | Posted by Debbie Coon

      Hi Denise, My 88 years old mother and is exactly the same as yours. Except for one other excuse I get is I haven't had time. I am at my wits end and not sure what to do. I have two sisters that just ignore the situation and really it's time for my mom to either live with one of us or go to an assistant living. My mother has been a hoarder all her life but when my dad was alive he kept it at bay. I am looking for any suggestions so I am writing to see what have you been able to do and how you may have done it? Thanks


  2. December 29, 2017 at 8:46 am | Posted by Ann

    I live with elderly parent who hoards, but she has help from my sister. It is difficult to navigate around our house. We don't ever have company and there is just no peace in our home. Just tired of trying to clean and organize.


  3. September 13, 2016 at 7:50 pm | Posted by KatLady

    I am in the middle of trying to declutter my parent's home and get them to assisted living, but have fought with my mother the past three days. I am completely frazzled. I have pulled two all-nighters in the past week, because that's the only time I can work on problem areas without her trying to get involved and keep everything. Old food stored in plastic containers were full of pasta, lentils, raisins, mouse droppings, and even dead scorpions. But I think the most frustrating part is when my mom goes back through the stuff and pulls things out to keep that have already been trashed. I feel helpless when that happens. I tried finding a helpline by calling a local hospital when I was having a near-breakdown. They referred me to a suicide hotline, but I wasn't suicidal...I just needed to talk. I ended up posting something on facebook about my situation, and friends came out of the woodwork with supportive, kind posts. I learned I was not alone, and that many of my friends are going through the same thing. Nobody ever talks about this, though. I think our eldercare agencies need to set up a hotline for caregivers.


  4. September 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Posted by VICKI

    My mom is a hoarder. I was shocked when I recently saw condition of her home. Do you have any advise? Such as do you need a permit to hire a dumpster in Lynchburg? Is there anyone in Lynchburg to help me get her house in livable shape?


  5. September 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Posted by addressourmess

    Some seniors may suffer from Diogenes Syndrome, or Senile Squalor Syndrome. This happens when seniors can no longer move themselves to take care of their bodies or their surroundings. This very serious condition can be learned about here:


  6. August 25, 2012 at 1:35 am | Posted by nettie

    My husband a 60 year old man have a difficult time remembering things and it has caused many overflowed sinks of water and he does not remember turning the water on. He leaves the doors open and gets angry when I tell him to close the door. He gets angry when I tell him things to do because he forgets nd he doesn't like for me to tell him what to do and I am trying my best to help him. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


  7. February 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Posted by Vikki

    what do you do if your elderly parent will not allow you to help organize...she get's hysterical if I even suggest to help? She won't allow you to help with anything in her home. SO I have to try and clean up wen she is not looking. It is terrible.Very stressful. She even got mad after she found out I dusted her room. She goes on and on...Something is very wrong here. help!


    • July 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Posted by Navi

      You need professionals to step in with this problem. It can be overwhelming and stressful for you to try to deal with this alone.


  8. October 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Posted by jamie

    my dad forces me to hoard and i get in trouble with my apartment manager - he brings stuff here and if try to tell him no he will not shut up until give in and if he catches me even wanting to throw stuff in the trash then he starts in on how i should keep stuff since i might need it some day - i get in trouble with my apartment manager trying to make dad shut up and i get dad always on me about how throwing stuff in the trash is a bad idea if i try to make my apartment manager happy since a 400 square foot apartment is not big enough for free stand furniture and not allowed to attach to walls so room organizers is not allowed and free stand furniture is designed for 5 room houses - i do not have the money to buy a 50000 square foot building to make dad shut up but i want to make him shut up and leave me alone about all this just keep stuff crap - there is no true hoarder help in my area only places that think they know all and really know less than nothing - i have no problem with the idea of using the trash but i hate dad always yelling at me for throwing a desk away that takes up half a room


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