by Monte Schwartz
Stuff, stuff, and . . .
We all want it. We work to accumulate it. We even judge and compare ourselves to others based on the amount of stuff we have.
When we run out of room, do we get rid of some of that stuff? Nope. Not usually anyway. We’ll store it away. Why wouldn’t we? After all, it might get used or looked at again sometime in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years—or whenever.
And once we run out of storage space inside the house, we can always fill up the garage (do the vehicles really need to be in there anyway?). Speaking of vehicles, why not fill the trunks up with all kinds of stuff? Presto! Problem solved!
Let’s face it, given the opportunity, stuff will accumulate anywhere and everywhere: attics, closets, yards, under decks, etc. Not only that, if someone has exhausted all of the possible storage space on their own property, there is yet one more option: yep, one of the storage units in town.
Regardless of how much stuff you have and how much space you have for it, what happens when the stuff you have exceeds the amount of space for it? Clutter. And given a lifetime to accumulate, clutter can get to be quite overwhelming for any individual or family.
To be fair, there is certainly no age-discrimination when it comes to clutter. Consider many youngsters rooms and play areas as proof of that. We even know of a mom who recently helped her own adult daughter do a fair amount of decluttering, because things had gotten so bad that they daughter didn’t really know where to begin or end.
Having said that, in our work with seniors and their families, we have seen firsthand the burden that years of accumulated stuff and clutter can be on a family.
This can take many forms. In one instance, we worked with a family where neither the senior nor the adult child could find important documents in a timely manner through the avalanche of stuff. In another example, adult children needed to “declutter” the medicine cabinet, pantry, and refrigerator to get rid of all of the expired food and medications.
Of course when many people think of clutter they think of that house that provides a barely perceptible walking path through all of the stuff. Those places are out there. However, any amount of excess clutter in walking areas could create a tripping hazard for a senior and should be avoided.
As with many things in life, the hardest part of decluttering is usually getting started. Therefore, experts generally recommend starting small. Don’t become overwhelmed looking at the totality of the situation. Start with one drawer if you have to. Another suggestion is to create a checklist or plan of things to do. Again, depending on the situation, it doesn’t have to be an aggressive plan. Be satisfied with slow but steady progress.
Finally, consider getting help from a friend, relative, or even a professional organizer. This is a daunting task that is made all of the more difficult when faced alone. One mild word of caution especially to adult children: don’t push too hard. Remember, those things are there for a reason and probably hold a lot of sentimental value. While it’s a job that eventually needs to get done, we’ve seen situations where the adult child gets too far ahead of the parent and the whole process comes to a halt, which is the last thing that you want to have happen.
We know it’s not easy, but as you get into your spring cleaning, don’t just dust off some of the stuff and clutter. Take the time to make a plan and start going through some of it.