Have you ever experienced what you would consider extreme frugality in an elderly parent or grandparent? There are varying levels of frugality for each person, but what about things like saving aluminum foil, plastic containers, glass jars or re-using tea bags? It can be somewhat frustrating for those who have not walked the same roads on their journey to watch this process, especially if the saving of things progresses or worsens or becomes problematic because of the sheer quantity of items that are salvaged. But how did it get to this point? Why is there a compulsion to save as much as possible, or not spend, if possible?
For many elderly people this has come through years of experiences that we can only hear about through stories. Many have lived through the Great Depression, WWII, several recessions, not to mention the ups & downs of life that can leave people reeling & thankful that they made it through them. Lack of jobs & food during the depression, rationing of many items during the War, etc. can leave a lifelong impact on the psyche of anyone that has lived through them. If there has been great instability during their lifetime, it is more common for an older person to desire to hold on to things, “just in case”.
And what if you are the person that is slated with the task of helping them keep house, or to clean out their place to prepare for a move? There are a great many relationships that have been strained or broken over this issue. So the first thing to remember is to have grace for the person you are helping. They have been through more in their lives than we can imagine. Remember to treat them with respect & dignity in the process.
Talk with them about their past. Ask about the things that they've been through. Things that seem somewhat irrational to you might be very rational once you've heard their story. Some of them had large families & became accustomed to saving things in bulk because they would get used. They may feel unable to throw things out that have a use. Discuss with them ways that you could donate items so that others may have use of them. If they keep clothes that need to be mended, & are in good condition otherwise, consider hiring someone that could mend them, or ask at a local thrift store that has a mender whether they'd take them. If they have plastic containers, ask in the art department of your local school whether they might have use of them for mixing paints or other art mediums. Get creative in coming up with ways that the items might have real value to others. Yes, this process can be exhausting, and yes, it would be easier just to throw everything out, but it may be terribly offensive to some who have been through so much. What better way to honor them than to take the time to sift down the things of life with them?
If they are accustomed to having many things surrounding them, it may feel a bit frightening to them to have less around for rainy days. Assure them that you will be there for rainy days, because everyone needs assurance of these things. Above all, learn from them & offer them the optimism of brighter days to come!