Posted by: Bert Copple | June 23, 2010

Help Seniors Get Rid of Clutter

Home Instead Senior Care is the best answer when it comes to helping seniors keep a clean and organized living space.

“A lifetime accumulation of possessions combined with an influx of daily junk mail, bills, newspapers and magazines can quickly overwhelm seniors who are struggling physically, mentally or emotionally,” said Mike Melinger, owner of the Skokie-based division of Home Instead Senior Care, which serves seniors on the North Side and the North Shore. The provider, which has independently-owned branches in 15 countries, offers non-medical in-home care services including: companionship, meal preparation, medication reminders, light housekeeping, errands and shopping.

Seniors who simply don’t know how to part with their possessions are vulnerable, Melinger said. The risks are many, from slipping on loose papers and potential fire hazards to the health effects of mold, mildew and dust. Clutter also can interfere with family relationships and leave adult children wondering if the only inheritance awaiting them is a big mess.

To identify potential trouble, the Home Instead Senior Care network is alerting family caregivers to watch for the signs in a senior’s home that indicate clutter creep could become a problem — piles of mail and unpaid bills, difficulty walking safely through a home and frustration on the part of a senior trying to organize.

“Family caregivers can become just as overwhelmed as seniors,” said Melinger. “We suggest a three-step plan where the family caregiver brings three bins — one for the stuff the senior wants to keep, one for donations to resale shops and nonprofit groups, and the other for trash. Sometimes seniors just need a little help.”

Here are some other tips on senior de-cluttering from Home Instead Senior Care and the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (

• Kitchen: Go through pots and pans in cupboards and organize them or discard those items that aren’t needed. A senior can fall trying to get to things buried deep within the cabinets.

• Refrigerator: Discard old and expired food and condiments to eliminate potential health problems and food poisoning.

• Bathroom: Throw away expired medications and old makeup. Organize shelves so that items are easily accessed.

• Bedroom: Confusion and disorganization may be caused by too much clothing in the closet. It’s also a potential fire hazard.

• Stairways: Make sure nothing is on the stairway to cause tripping.

• Basement: This is a catch-all place for everything, including rodents, mold and mildew. Clean it up and throw away items not being used.

• Cheer victories: Spend a short time helping the elderly do minor chores like cleaning the kitchen table. Then celebrate the accomplishment.

• Experiment: If a senior has, for example, 150 empty margarine tub containers, suggest donating some of them to a school for an art project.

• Gentle approach: Remind seniors that too much clutter may jeopardize their ability to stay in their home.

• Agreement: Settle on boxing up used clothing or tools. Carefully list what’s in the box and track that for six months. If a senior doesn’t use the items in that time, suggest they donate them to charity.

• Control: Clutter is all about control, but so is being the one to decide where stuff goes. Remind seniors that if they don’t decide what to do with clutter, someone else will.

SOURCE: Chicago Sun-Times


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