October 21, 2019

Growing up, your mom and dad were quick to remind you to put your dishes away, and make sure your room was always organized and tidy. Now, as they get older, you can’t help but notice that your elderly loved ones are having some trouble keeping their own living space organized. 

If you’re starting to notice cans piling up in cabinets, towering piles of books, cluttered up coffee tables, or a swampy mess of bills in the entranceway, it may be time to help your senior loved one get their home organized. 

Organization is remarkably important for seniors – and for the family members who love and support them. For older adults, living in a clean and organized space can help to: 

  • Decrease stress. Studies have shown that living in an environment that is full of clutter can increase stress levels, decrease productivity, and contribute to depression and anxiety. The more organized your senior loved one’s home, the better they’ll feel! 
  • Improve overall health. As clutter piles up, it can become a health hazard. Loose piles of paper on the floor or poorly arranged furniture may contribute to falls or other accidents. Tottering piles of books or overloaded shelves can fall, injuring your senior loved one. On a day to day level, piles of clutter can also be a breeding ground for dust, mold, and germs, which can irritate your loved one’s allergies or contribute to illnesses. 
  • Increase independence. A cluttered environment can be a draining and dangerous one. By helping your loved one get organized, you can empower them to live more independently. A few small changes can make a world of difference. For example? Your loved one may be more inclined to cook or work on art projects if everything they need to use is within easy reach. 
  • Prepare for the future. Helping your loved one get their household organized can make it much easier to adapt and adjust down the line – whether that means making it easier for them to welcome in a senior companion, or making sure that all of their most important documents and records are easily accessible in the event of an emergency. 

Now, with all that being said, helping an elderly person get and stay organized is often more easily said than done. Many older adults can be resistant to change, in any form. Many seniors also tend to hold onto items because they have a sentimental attachment to them, or believe they’ll need to use some object or another in the future. For some seniors dealing with the challenges of loneliness and social isolation, physical objects can also be comforting to have around. 

As a loving family caregiver, it’s important to find the right balance between letting your senior loved one enjoy their favorite objects, while also making sure that they can live safely and independently at home, for as long as possible. 

What can you do to help out when the clutter is starting to become overwhelming, or even dangerous for your elderly loved one? Here are five key home organization tips to keep in mind: 

1.) Plan Ahead, and Think Strategically.

You know the old saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day?” The same goes for your loved one’s household clutter. As you get started helping your senior declutter, remember that they likely have a lifetime’s worth of stuff around the house – and it’s going to take some level-headed planning to tackle it all. 

Start by exploring your parent’s home, and taking note of the biggest problems that you see. Try to work up a “to-do” list in order of priority – for example, a kitchen full of expired food may be more important to deal with than an overloaded basement which your loved one never uses. Be sure to keep an eye out for potential safety hazards, such as overburdened shelves that may topple over, or loose clutter on the floor that might lead to falls. We’ve got some thorough guidelines for assessing the safety of your loved one’s living environment available here. Once you’ve gotten to know the problem areas around the senior’s home, you can move forward and start coming up with a plan, alongside your loved one. 

2.) Make Sure the Senior Feels Included.

Remember that household clutter may not just be stuff to your loved one. A bulky piece of furniture could be a reminder of an old friend or relative; a book laying on the coffee table may be a connection to their childhood. Throughout the organization process, it’s important to work with your senior loved one – not against them. Try to not be critical or judgmental of your loved one’s home, and instead approach each new task with the mindset of being helpful, and enriching your loved one’s life. 

You may need to be creative when it comes to getting your loved one onboard with the decluttering process. Try to avoid being forceful or pushy. Instead, look for ways to get your loved one on your side, and engaged with the organization process. It may help to bring up the safety issue, and remind your loved one that they’ll feel more empowered and independent in a safe, tidy living environment. It may also help to share your perspective, so that your loved one sees how serious this chore is to you.

Other ideas? If your loved one is resistant to getting rid of things, suggest donating as much as possible. They may be more willing to part with items if they know they’re going to a good home. You may also get the ball rolling by starting small – perhaps by tackling a task as simple as boxing up old clothes, or straightening up the coffee table. Your senior loved one may be inspired by this simple step, and feel encouraged to move on to the bigger tasks around the house. 

Throughout the process, be sure to check in with your loved one, to make sure they’re feeling alright. Remember, sorting through clutter can be emotional and draining. It may help make things easier if you take time to understand your loved one’s connection to a certain item. Who knows – you may even learn some fascinating new stories about your family along the way! 

3.) Carve Out Plenty of Time.

Household organization is not something that you can tackle in a few hours, or even a long weekend. Your loved one likely has decades’ worth of objects to sort through. Along the way, you’ll also likely be sidetracked, whether by new cleaning chores (like sweeping up the dust that gets picked up by emptying out the attic), unexpected projects (like organizing a filing cabinet or chest of drawers), or long, interesting conversations with your loved one. This is all a natural part of the process! 

Instead of trying to cram everything in quickly, be prepared for this to be an ongoing project, one that may be tackled in stages for days or even weeks at a time. Start getting the ball rolling as early as possible, so you don’t feel burdened by the time crunch of a big move or a visit to the hospital looming overhead. Work through rooms by order of importance, and be sure to check in with your senior loved one regularly to make sure they don’t feel worn down or emotionally spent. 

4.) Pick an Organizing Method.

Before you start helping your loved one tidy up, look into different organizing methods and philosophies, and see if there are any that may work for you! 

One popular practice for seniors is known as the “Four Boxes” approach. Essentially, this process is about working from room to room, sorting items into four major categories – “keep forever” (for important items, or those with true sentimental value), “appraise and sell” (for unwanted objects that may be valuable), “keep with me,” and “trash/sell/donate” (for all other unwanted items). 

Another popular method is a Swedish practice called döstädning, or “death cleaning.” Here’s how the Chicago-based professional organizer Kelly Brask defines this approach:

“Basically, it’s the long term action of de-owning your belongings while you are still alive to make the decisions of where they will end up.”

As Kelly explains, döstädning can be a “meaningful” and “liberating” way to get organized. It can give people of all ages the opportunity to reminisce, while making their homes easier to clean, allowing them to learn about their habits, and granting them control over where their things end up. 

5.) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help.

Finally, remember that the twin tasks of decluttering and reorganizing can be a lot to tackle alone! There’s no shame in reaching out for help. 

A professional organizer like Kelly can be an invaluable resource, helping you and your loved one determine what you have, and where you have it – so that you can organize it all thoughtfully and effectively. You may also need to engage local groups such as charitable organizations that will pick up donations, and movers to help you get rid of furniture and other bulky items. 

Moving forward, it’s also important to keep your senior loved one’s home organized and functional. A professional senior companion can help! A companion can provide a variety of services to help your senior live comfortably and safely at home, including helping with light housekeeping and assisting with activities of daily living, to help minimize your senior’s risk of falling or experiencing an accident. 

Companions for Seniors: Your Chicagoland Home Care Resource

Have any more questions about supporting an elderly parent, or finding ways to help them age in place with confidence and peace of mind? Do you have an aging loved one who could benefit from the companionship and support of a trained professional caregiver?

Locally owned and operated in Chicago, Illinois, with clients in the city and suburbs, Companions for Seniors is a home care company like no other.

We offer a variety of services designed to help our clients remain in the comfort of their own homes, while ensuring that their needs are met. Our trained and bonded Companions are available on a full- or part-time basis, and can offer driving services in the comfort of a company car.

Our services are flexible, convenient, and it’s easy to get started. Companions for Seniors provides a free in-home assessment of your senior family’s current situation, and in most cases we can be up and running in just a few days. We understand that every situation is unique, so we provide a personalized care plan that’s modified to meet each client’s specific needs. As a client’s situation changes, so does our plan of care.

Have any more questions about all things home care? Ready to get help for your loved one? Don’t hesitate to reach out online today to get the conversation started, or give us a call at 866-910-9020.