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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Q&A Corner: What to do About the Clutter?

Question: My mom has a lot of “stuff” in her home that she has accumulated over the years. The piles inhibit her free movement, and I’m afraid she’s going to trip. I’ve tried to throw things away, but she just gets angry with me. What’s a son to do?

Answer: While some people see “stuff” as clutter, others attach feelings to items – which makes downsizing difficult. The first step in the de-cluttering process is to understand and address those emotions.

For example, people who have grown up during periods of hunger may overcompensate by buying too much food. Those who have lost a loved one may hold on to their belongings as a way to hold on to the person. Those who like to remember themselves at a different point in their lives – perhaps thinner or more active – may hold on to items that they connect with those times.

By disposing of items, you discard the feelings attached to them. Your mother may need to resolve the feelings of attachment and recognize that there are other ways to express those feelings. You may also want to acknowledge your concerns for her safety. This is very difficult to accomplish while maintaining your relationship with her.  Consult a mental health professional or your mother’s primary care physician to get some help. This service may be covered by insurance or Medicare.

Professionals can help downsize, and I’m sure you’ve seen this on TV. Once your mother understands the need to eliminate the clutter, you can help by having her organize items into the following categories:

Toss – This pile or box is for items that have no value to others and are truly garbage. This includes old newspapers, receipts and files from 15 years ago, and food beyond the expiration date. Be sure to shred any personal identification information. Get the garbage out of sight quickly; you may need to dispose of it in your own trash if your mother is inclined to bring it back after you’ve gone.

Donate – This box is for items that can be repurposed and reused to benefit someone else. Giving items new life – while helping someone else – can be a great motivator to donate. Consider calling The Salvation Army or any of the thousands of organization that have resale shops or rummage sales.

Keep – This box is for items that you have used in the past six months or which you know you will use in the next six months. If the item is not in good condition, if it will cost too much to repair, or if the repair will take significant time, consider moving the item to the “donate” or “toss” pile.

Not Sure – As a last resort for someone who just cannot decide, items not easily placed in one of the other categories can go here for further thought. This unknown disposition should be small and, when revisited, will require a quick decision to toss, keep or donate.

Good luck!

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Sandra Crasko
Research & Community Education

Chicago Skilled Nursing
Chicago Senior Living

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