Feb 16, 2023

Decluttering for Seniors: Step-by-Step Guide

Manny Cominsky

Your senior years are filled with so much time to walk down memory lane and admire all of your unique treasures, but these treasures can sometimes pile up a bit. Many elderly citizens move to smaller homes or senior living communities as they age, making it challenging to keep all their possessions with them. Because of this, many seniors want to think about ways to declutter their lives. Follow this easy step-by-step guide if you or your senior loved one are planning on decluttering and getting rid of some old possessions that have started to become a burden.

Step 1: Preparation

A) Setting Goals:

Setting a realistic goal about how much you want to get rid of or how much work you want to do is a great way to get started. Think about what areas of your home you need to declutter so you can figure out which one to tackle first. 

Decluttering expert Dana K. White has said, “Making a list is a great idea, but you can also walk around with a pad of post-it notes and stick them in the spots you need to clean, so you get a visual idea of what likely needs to be worked on first.”

Many seniors do much better with a visual cue, and some areas might need to be worked on before others, so this is a good idea if you have quite a bit to deal with.

B) Making a Plan:

Decluttering isn't just moving things from one messy spot to another, you need to have a plan in place before you decide where everything goes. Figure out where you will store everything when you are done so you can use that space to plan where everything is going to go. 

If you are moving into a smaller space, it's a good idea to try and figure out the measurements for the storage area you'll have. There's no use in trying to keep a giant antique chair if you only have a small space to work with! Use some tape to lay out the approximate measurements so you can plan things out a little easier.

C) Inviting Help:

Decluttering can be time-consuming and overwhelming particularly if you are a senior, so consider asking some friends or family to help you out. Make sure you let them know your process and plan ahead of time so they don't end up touching items you'd prefer to stay put. 

You can also consider hiring a professional organization service to come to help you out, and this is an excellent option for anyone who feels like they have too much to deal with. There are plenty of different types of organization companies, and some even specialize in memorials, and special items, so have a look around to see if there is a local company that will work well for you.

Step 2: Room-by-Room Approach

A) Start with the Easiest Room:

Choosing the easiest room is excellent for a few different reasons. You will feel much more adept at tackling the rest of the home if you complete one room, and you will be less likely to quit the decluttering process entirely. 

Bathrooms and kitchens are often the best places to start but don't forget about closets, cupboards, and drawers. These areas are well known for being "junk spots," so make sure you assess the entire area before deciding which one is going to be the easiest for everyone.

Kitchens are often full of old (possibly expired!) items, and getting rid of these is pretty easy for most people to do. For this reason kitchens are an excellent place for starting your decluttering process

B) Make Decisions about what to Keep, Donate and Trash:

This is one of the simplest and easiest ways to tackle large chunks of clutter in your home, and many people have started to call this method "the three-box method." Simply give yourself three areas (or boxes) where you can place items to get rid of and keep, and it will allow you to see how much (or how little!) you are getting rid of. 

Many people like to integrate a 4th box called "sell," which is full of items of high value that they prefer to get some money for. Selling items might take a while, so you should discourage this idea unless you have the time or you are willing to do the "selling" part for them. If you are trying to help the seniors in your life by selling the designated items for them, make sure you both discuss a final price that they are willing to part with.

Follow these steps to have an organized and painless decluttering, whether you're moving or not.

C) Organize What's Left:

Organizing your items is the best way to ensure you don't get stuck with another pile of clutter in a few weeks. Once you give everything a place to go, stick with it and make sure it goes back there, so you don't end up with piles of items all over the place. 

Labels will be your best friend, but you need to make sure you are using a label that senior eyes can read. Eyesight is one of the first things that tends to decline in your older years, so make sure you use a large print with plenty of contrast (skip the fancy cursive and bright colors) so anyone can easily see them. Label the container's top and sides so you can figure out what's inside, no matter how it's stored.

3) Dealing with Sentimental Items

A) Understanding Emotional Attachment:

Clearing out space can be difficult if you start to find items that bring back memories. If you are helping a senior loved one with decluttering, let them take as much time as they need with each item and let them decide on their own whether or not they want to keep it. "This is one of the most cathartic parts of the process for [seniors], so give them space and time to tell you the stories they might have," says Seth Williams of Reference Real Estate.

Make sure you never get rid of anything without asking your senior loved one first, as even the smallest piece of paper can still be necessary to someone. Give your senior loved one a comfortable place to sit and allow them to sort through the items themselves. This is a process that should not be rushed, and you should make sure to enable the person to express their emotions before deciding whether or not to keep the item.

B) Making Decisions About Sentimental Items and Honoring Them Creatively:

When it comes to sentimental items, it can be hard to think about them being trashed or used by another person when you consider the years of memories that have become attached to them. If you are helping a senior loved one make some decisions about sentimental items, you should always consider offering alternatives. 

There are many unique and interesting ways that things can be restored, preserved or kept close by, so make sure to do a bit of research before approaching the senior loved one in your life. A large pile of fading photographs can be easily scanned and put into a digital frame so they can live forever in their home instead of in a box.

Step 4: Maintenance and Prevention

A) Establishing a System for Staying Organized:

We mentioned earlier how a system for labeling is great for keeping things in their place, but there are other ways you can make sure the area stays clutter-free. Look for a system that works the best for the senior loved one you are working with.

Some people work well with labels, but others work well with color coding, symbols, or photos of the item, so make sure you are choosing a system that is built for the person using it. Ask the senior you are working with what they prefer before committing to an organizational idea.

B) Keep Up With Regular Decluttering To Encourage Independence and Self Sufficiency:

If you think the areas might get cluttered again, you should establish a routine for when the area gets cleaned. This will all depend on whether or not the senior in your life has help for their day-to-day needs or not, but you might want to set a day and time with them when they can go through their closets and drawers. 

Make it fun for both of you by turning on some music and getting relaxed before you start, so it doesn't feel like a chore. Offer them help if you want to make sure they are getting it done but don't be offended if they prefer to try and keep it updated themselves. It can sometimes be great to encourage your senior loved one to do things themselves so they can feel better about the accomplishment. 

Seniors often have a difficult time letting things go, but if they are comfortable with the organization system, they will be more likely to follow through with keeping everything clean. Try to find a good balance between things that are kept out and things that are stored to make sure that everyone is happy. Helping the seniors in your life with the decluttering process is a great way to keep their space organized while keeping their most precious items nearby. 

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