Deteriorating motor skills as a result of old age is a serious concern for seniors who live with hoarders, clutter prone individuals or are hoarders themselves. An excess of junk around frequently walked areas can easily trip up even spry youth, let alone elders with poor vision and response time. Not only do one third of Americans over the age of 65 fall each year, those falls are the leading cause of both fatal injuries and nonfatal trauma-related hospitalization among seniors (according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The CDC also warns that falls may present a considerable financial toll on the elderly, to the tune of $34 billion annually, a number that is expected to rise steadily. Amidst the gloom of these statistics there is hope, however, as the recent and unprecedented amount of attention paid to elderly care has manifested a substantial fall prevention movement. A justified amount of the focus has been placed on creating a safe and manageable environment, and that means reducing hoarding tendencies and clutter.
Hoarding and Clutter Solutions for the Elderly
Address the Root Problem
Hoarders suffer from difficulty in letting go of possessions and an insatiable urge to acquire and save items. This affliction can develop from an endless number of personal circumstances revolving around emotional connections, fear of loss or a general insecurity. Whatever the root of your hoarding tendencies, resolving the problem begins with introspection.
- Discuss the affliction with friends, family or psychiatric professionals. Research testimonials from hoarders who have overcome the problem.
- Your Primary Care Doctor should be involved in the conversation as they can help determine if a medical condition is at play.
- Set Parameters of Necessity so that you can honestly evaluate what you can get rid of.
- Not Everything has to Go, just enough so that walkways are safe, and all emergency or health related items are easily accessible.
- Identify if Guilt or Obligation are playing a role in your emotional connection to clutter to help determine if you really need to keep something.
- Pass Down Family Heirlooms or Antiques to children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews to keep them in the family. You won’t be tossing it away, but they will be out of your way.
Stop the Incoming Flow of Stuff
After the root causes of hoarding have been identified, you can come to terms with the new lifestyle ahead of you, but to commit to a safe and clutter free home you must first stop the flow of stuff coming in. Decluttering your home for safety is pointless if you’re going to replace the old stuff.
- Are You a Collector? Many hoarders keep their mountains of stuff simply because they enjoy the hobby of collecting. If so, then you’ll want to discriminately prioritize the things you want to collect the most. In this manner you’ll be able to continue your passion for collecting without having it consume your life.
- Create A Detailed Spending Budget to identify where the clutter is coming from and you’ll be able to trim away at the unnecessary.
Make a Plan
Once you’ve readied yourself to get rid of the unnecessary, and have seriously halted the influx of more clutter, it is time to plan out the cleanup effort. It can be daunting to just begin picking up and moving stuff without having set short and long term goals.
- Concentrate on the most important walkways that you must access for your daily needs.
- Consulting a family member, caregiver or organization professional can help a lot.
- Set Daily Goals for yourself that are realistic according to your abilities. If you’re living in a house with small rooms, try to organize one room every two days or so.
- A Disposal Plan is necessary for recyclable items and excess trash. Larger items like furniture may require a dumpster rental.
It is common practice to prepare 5 boxes or bags for every room or area of the home. This will make it easy to stay organized and transport the items to their new destination. Label the containers as follows:
- Keep Forever - For necessary items like furniture or items of sentimental value like personal letters, artwork, family heirlooms or certain collectibles.
- Keep On-Hand - For useful items like cookery, tools and medicinal equipment.
- Appraise and Sell - For unwanted items of value, or collectibles and artwork of low priority.
- Give Away - For items like clothing, jewelry or family heirlooms to be passed down to descendants, friends or charity.
- Recycle - Old letters and bills, electronics, clothing and plastics that you no longer need go here.
Decluttering can be incredibly stressful for non-hoarders and hoarders alike. It is a good idea to pace yourself and not expect the mess to clear up instantly.
- Declutter the easy stuff first
- Declutter at least one item a day.
- Make it a regular practice, but set attainable goals.
- Clean the walkways you have prioritized first.
Instead of keeping stacks of dusty photo albums and bulky VHS home video cassettes in your way, you can now opt to digitize all of those photos and videos and store them in a hard drive so you can easily access them on your computer or television.
If you find that you are having overwhelming difficulty in your decluttering effort then the best idea might be to seek help. Luckily, the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) are experts in helping people like yourself improve your living situation and avoid in-home accidents. You can interview members in person, or on the phone, to find a specialist that you are comfortable accepting help from.
Fix Hazards Around the Home
Once you have successfully cleared up the frequently traversed areas of your home, it is time to check for any hazards that may have been hiding behind piles of clutter.
- Broken or Uneven Steps must be fixed.
- Loose Rugs can cause tripping, and may have to be relocated.
- Electrical Wiring should be tied up and tucked out of the way.
Why stop at a tidy and safe home? That are other measures you can take to prevent a dangerous fall.
- An Eye Exam can identify problems with your vision that can be easily rectified.
- Strength and Balance Exercises may help you regain agility and motor skills.
- Install Grab Bars and Rails around walkways, stairs and in the bathroom.
Unexpected accidents and falls around the home are all too common for the elderly, and while the deteriorative effects of aging can’t be stopped, a lot can be done to make your home much safer. It’s important to remember that nobody expects you to make these changes immediately, but once you have begun you will be actively taking steps to better your quality of life. That goal should help you to keep the momentum going as you continue to reduce clutter and hazards from your home.
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