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Organization is Key to Helping Seniors Manage at Home

Home Instead CAREGiver helping a senior woman clean and organize.
Resist the urge to try to whip the house into shape in a couple of hours, but pleasantly ask if you can help with a few seemingly insignificant things.

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A lifetime accumulation of possessions—combined with a daily influx of junk mail, bills and newspapers—can quickly overwhelm seniors who already may be struggling physically, mentally or emotionally. Go slowly on the cleanup and consider providing a helping hand each week.

Q. I just drove 800 miles to help my mother celebrate her 78th birthday. The minute I stepped into the house, I was floored when I saw stacks of newspapers, things such as empty egg cartons and stuff pulled out of cabinets that she hasn’t used in years. I’m careful not to criticize Mom because I don’t want to upset her, but what do I do now?

Resist the urge to try to whip the house into shape in a couple of hours, but pleasantly ask if you can help with a few seemingly insignificant things. Perhaps you can say, “Mom, I know you always take those newspapers to the recycling bin near the mall. Can I do that for you?” Then work up to the bigger items. Getting rid of stuff is a two-step process: sorting and deciding, on the one hand, and disposing on the other.

These tips, and other resources can help:

  • Arrange and cheer small victories: Suppose you spend a short time helping your loved one clear off a table. Celebrate the accomplishment together.
  • Conduct an “Experiment:” If your senior has 150 empty margarine tub containers, suggest donating some to a school for a painting project. If she agrees, perhaps Mom will allow you to distribute the rest to other schools, daycare facilities or family homeless shelters. Chances are, she won’t feel as awful as suspected.
  • Gently Approach the Idea of Safety: Remind your loved ones that too much clutter can actually keep them from being safe in their homes, which could jeopardize their ability to stay at home. They could trip over papers on the floor or lose bills and medications.
  • Draft an Agreement: Agree to box up unused clothing or other items. Carefully list what’s in the box and track that for six months. If your loved one does not use the items in that time, suggest they donate them to a charity.
  • Consider the Control Issue: Clutter is all about control, but so is being the one to decide where stuff goes. Remind your loved ones if they don’t decide where something will go, someone else will.

You might want to consider a Home Instead CAREGiverSM who can help your mother with light housekeeping and keep an organized, safe environment. Is your mom bored, and therefore pulling unneeded items out of storage just for memory’s sake? A CAREGiver also can provide companionship while helping with meal preparation, medication reminders, errands and shopping.

Last revised: February 27, 2012

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