The Importance of Organizing in a Senior’s Living Space
It’s common knowledge that we as humans tend to accumulate stuff in our living space throughout our lives. The more the years go by, the more the piles of stuff seem to grow. Although a some of these items we keep have sentimental value, a lot of the stuff we tend to hoard really are things that we no longer need. Decluttering and organizing is a great way to free up the space in our lives! And for the elderly, it’s actually very important. Having things laying around or not in the best place can really increase the risks of falls and injuries to the elderly. Helping your aging loved one go through their belongings is a great way to bring up memories and to get rid of things that might be putting them at risk. When you are moving your loved one into an assisted living home, it’s the perfect time to do this! Here are some ways to help your aging relative to downsize and declutter.
Make sure that you are being patient and understanding.
It actually can be very hard for the elderly to go through and get rid of their old belongings. Not only does going through the loads of stuff feel overwhelming, but it actually can be a grieving process for them. Getting rid of items from your past is kind of like saying that you are shutting the door on one season of life, and needing to accept the next. This can be a scary thing for seniors to do. So make sure you are sensitive to their feelings as you help them go through their memories. Do not say things like “Why have you always kept this?” or “This is junk!”.
Have Keep, Toss, and Maybe boxes.
If your loved one is hesitant to get rid of something, don’t try to force them to. Just put it in a box that they can decide on later. Trying to force them to decide in the moment might aggravate them, and slow down the process even more. Just take a step back and say “I’ll put it in this box so that you can decide later if you want to keep or get rid of it.” This will help them feel like they have a sense of control over their lives. I also do not recommend just throwing something away when they aren’t looking. I have seen this happen before. It does not help the relationship between the aging parent and their child and it can lead to bitterness.
Suggest that they donate their items to people in need
This could be a good way to give your loved one some incentive to get rid of things. If your family member loves helping people, they might be more willing to part with their stuff if they know that it’s going to a family who is really in need.
Get the layout of their new room from the assisted living center ahead of time.
When you do this, you can figure out how much furniture and other items would be the best for your loved one to bring. It’s best to have the center of the room open, so that there won’t be any obstacles if they wake up in the night to go to the bathroom. Also use good organizational boxes to make sure everything has a place, whether it’s in the closet or their dressers. Also make sure to keep things off of the floor, that would be a fall hazard. Another way to help prevent falls is to put some sort of grippy tape and motion sensor lights near their bed. That way when they do get up at night, they can see where they are walking.
Have a special place where they can store sentimental memories.
This can be anything from a box in the closet to one of the drawers in their dresser. Wherever you decide to put this spot, make sure that it’s in a place where it’s easy for them to access. That way they can go through those memories whenever they would like. Having it to high can make easy to fall on them, and having it to low can make them lose their balance.
Above all, try to make the “going through” process fun and enjoyable. Make conversation with your loved one about memories as you come across them.
De-Cluttering & Other Free Gifts To Give to Your Children (and Grandchildren)
Let's face it, minimalism is trendy right now. Everyone is wanting to de-clutter, streamline, cut back & clear things out. Perhaps it is a commentary on our culture of “too much”. Over-abundance is creating extra stress & the more we accumulate the more stressful our lives become. There is so much that we cannot see what is truly important. The table is so cluttered that we cannot find our keys. So, in the spirit of minimalism, here are a few thoughts about what seniors can give to their children & their children after them without increasing the amount of stress in their lives (and perhaps help to decrease it a bit!)
De-cluttering your own space. Instead of waiting until the day when you may be forced to move into smaller accomdations, think about beginning to go through your things now. Get rid of things that you would not feel comfortable gifting to donation centers. Yes, they may have worth, or may be useful, but if they've not been actually used in years & are not donation ready, perhaps it is time to let them go. Gather important items, like family heirlooms, and photograph them. Make a small booklet with the story of each item & why it is important to your family so that when it comes time to move, you can show it to whomever is helping you & they will understand the things of value. Lastly, DONATE! If there are specific items that you know your family members could really use, feel free to ask them if they'd like them. If not, choose your favorite donation center & start hauling! Remember, your gift to your children is that they will not have to spend weeks wading through your belongings, trying to sort through the things that matter versus the things that don't. Anyone in that situation is bound to start throwing things out willy-nilly because they just CANNOT take any more sorting! Gift them with the task already finished & a home cleared of unnecessary clutter.
Another amazing gift to give to your children is a family health history. Take a few sessions to write as much as you can remember about your own health issues over the years. Also include as much as you can about your spouse's health history & that of your extended family. If you have it all bound together in one spot, it will be a great resource for them & their children. It can give them an idea of things they can do to prevent health issues in their own lives (dietary changes for pre-diabetics, for instance). It can also help them to understand what may be going on with their current health (if they notice post-partum depression listed or described by other family members). This resource would be free to give & could end up saving them tons of money in unnecessary tests if family health history could point in the right direction for a particular cure. It can also save them from unnecessary anxiety.
A will. While it may not be exactly free, making your intentions known is certainly free. Make a proper will if you can. Include everything important. Before you even get to that step, though, just having a written document that lets your family know your intentions can be a gift of itself. Let them know if you'd like to be buried or cremated, if you have already taken care of the funeral expenses or burial plots. Let them know if there are specific items that you'd like to go to specific individuals or charities. Having all of that planned is a wonderful gift to give, and while they may think it a bit morbid if you bring it up, they'll be terribly thankful when the time comes and they don't have to make all of those decisions on their own.
A memories book. Writing a book of memories will be a joy for those who come after you, especially grandchildren & great-grandchildren. Write down things that you remember from your childhood, your first job, your first car, how much you earned at said job, etc. The mundane things of life will be terribly interesting to those in future generations as they try to piece together what your young life must've been like. Of course, also include important events, dates, etc. Just be sure that there is a record of your life somewhere. It is something that everyone always says they want to do. Phrases like, “I should really record Aunt Mildred talking about the family history,” but rarely actually gets done. Gift your memories to those after you so that they do not have similar regrets.
Memories WITH your loved ones. If you haven't been with your children or grandchildren regularly, begin making opportunities for you to get together. Even if it is simply to invite them over for coffee & cookies. The occasion need not be grand, simple is best. If you live far from them, open correspondance via phone, email, or even (gasp) the old fashioned postal service. Connection is a gift that ties many generations together.
There are probably hundreds of things that you could give as gifts to your family that do not require a shopping trip or any money exchange. I'm sure you'll think of more. These are gifts that will be long term & will pay lasting dividends of peace of mind in their lives, and in yours!