Seniors have to relinquish so much – their youth, their eyesight, physical activities they enjoyed when younger and even dear friends and spouses. Often, they want to hold on to the treasures that remind them of the good times passed by.

But clutter has its price. It can interfere with basic tasks like cooking and cleaning, and often contributes to an environment more prone to falls. It can make it difficult to find needed items among all the memorabilia. It can cause mold and mildew, or simply collect dust. And, of course, it takes up space. So, it’s important for seniors to declutter.

Helping your loved one pare down their belongings requires diplomacy and a plan. If they are highly attached to their things, and the memories they represent, you’ll need to provide empathy and support.

Here are six considerations when helping an elder declutter:

1. Take Stock

Stuff has the exact value we assign to it. If something is very important to your loved one, it may be worth keeping even if it has no value to anyone else. At the same time, you won’t get any decluttering done if they deem everything important. Take a look at everything they have to get a sense of how much and what kind of items you’re dealing with.

2. Start One Room at a Time

Confucius said that even a thousand-mile journey begins with a single step. You may not be able to tackle it all, so start with one room and consider cleaning it up an accomplishment.

3. Use the Four Bucket Method

You can help your loved one part with things by adding value to their departure. Get four boxes and label them Keep, Friends, Donate and Trash. Divide their belongings into those four categories – things they cannot part with; things they want to give as gifts to friends and family; things that are no longer of use to them but might be of value to strangers; and things whose only value is sentimental but are otherwise junk. Encourage your elder to consider carefully in which box each item should go and offer guidance if they are inclined to dump junk onto friends, or avoid throwing anything away.

4. Give Them Time

Because some of the materials you encounter will have stories attached, give your loved one space to tell the stories and engage with the memories. It may not mean much to you, but it will to them.

5. Focus on Your Loved One

It’s critical that you monitor the physical and emotional toll the process is taking on them. If they are running out of gas, take a break or stop for the day. Even if they’re physically fine, keep a close eye on their emotional state. Don’t let it get to the point of overwhelming them.

6. See It Through with Them

Once you have everything categorized, follow through. Organize items from the Keep box to minimize the remaining clutter. Go with your loved one to give away the items to friends and family. Take them on the trip to Goodwill or the Salvation Army so they can see the donation completed. It will provide closure on those items and help them feel good about relinquishing things of value.

Nye Health Services offers seven communities in Eastern Nebraska and Wyoming, structured to meet the needs of their residents from independent living to skilled nursing care. A family-owned company with a rich history of connecting with the people they serve, Nye Health Services is open for visits anytime. Call 402.753.1400 to schedule an appointment at locations in Fremont, Lincoln, South Sioux City, Norfolk, or Jackson Hole, or visit NyeHealthServices.com for more information. 


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