How to Declutter Your Home for Aging in Place


June 15, 2015

After accumulating a lifetime’s worth of belongings, it can be difficult to cut down and decide what can be discarded. It can be even harder to stick through this process until the end. However, a clean, organized home can reduce tripping and fire hazards and make it easier to stay in your house longer. This week, Staying Put at Home has come up with a few tips to make decluttering your home a more manageable mission.

Start Small

It is tempting to begin with the area you think is most cluttered. Put all your energy into the most cluttered area of your home and pluck out the root, right? This method can exhaust someone quickly, leaving much of your home untouched while you need to relax. Beginning in one area that you know you can clean quickly can let you build up energy to move on to the tougher tasks.

Stick to a Schedule…

Organization can make a big difference when tackling a major project like decluttering. Without a schedule, your attention can drift. Distractions can quickly pile up, eating up your time and foiling your efforts. Also, make sure that your schedule is realistic. One professional home organizer estimated that it takes 20 to 30 hours to fully declutter a home.1

…But Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Break

Don’t think that you need to get through decluttering hastily. In addition to being time consuming, it can also be emotionally draining. If you need to recharge, then take some time to rest.

Use the Three Box Method

As we mentioned, hesitating and putting off a decision to dispose of something often lets the problem remain unsolved. Using the three box method can reduce the time it takes to decide. For this, designate one box “Keep,” one box “Donate” and one box “Sell.” For each item, as you encounter it, judge which of the boxes it can go in. By having a physical and visual method of categorizing your clutter, you will be able to go through the process with fewer pauses to assess and reconsider throwing something out.

Keep the Memory, Not the Object

At that crucial moment of deliberation whether to keep an item, a memory associated with it is frequently the deciding factor. There is nothing wrong with being sentimental. Maybe it’s a souvenir from a vacation you took several decades ago. Perhaps it is a rarely used gift that came from a loved one. Whatever the case may be, it can be hard to part with the object.

One way you can preserve that memory is by photographing the item. This allows you to hold on to the memory attached to the item without letting the object take up space in your living room.

Contact an Outside Agency If You Need Assistance

Getting all the details right when decluttering can be a tedious, stressful burden, but you don’t have to do it alone. An outside agency can help you draw up a plan and provide advice as to what areas need the most help. The extra pair of hands can also cut down on the amount of labor. These agencies often have information about what charities and organizations will accept your donations, thereby saving many of your items from going to the trash. You can also enjoy the tax write-off benefit of a donation. While it might seem unnecessary to involve an agency in your home, a professional can make all the difference.

Outside agencies can also help if you decide to have an estate sale. Not only can this help your wallet, but the agency’s expertise might be able to show you the true value of that vase or painting.

When to Get Help for Hoarding

It’s important to remember that accumulating items is not the same as hoarding. A person who hoards will compulsively collect something, believing that these items will be necessary or valuable in the future. People with hoarding issues will often avoid inviting friends or family to their home, as they are afraid that they will be judged or shamed for their living condition. This frequently makes the person feel isolated, which can lead to depression.

Hoarding can be especially dangerous for seniors, severely limiting mobility and making it harder to stay in the home. One study found that 45% of older adult hoarders could not use their refrigerator, 42% could not use their kitchen sink, 42% could not use their bathtub and 10% could not use their toilet.2 Hoarding also increases in severity over time,3 meaning that seniors who hoard will be affected more and more as they age.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is hoarding, then treatment is available. Removing the amassed objects from a home will usually not eliminate the root of the problem. Certain medications are considered effective treatments. Another method is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help people dispose of items without feeling stress. Consult a doctor about what treatment would be the best course.

An organized, decluttered home doesn’t need to be a fantasy. Having a schedule and knowing the basics can make this task surmountable.

  1. AARP: Declutter Your Life — Now! | Return to Text
  2. Types of Hoarding | Return to Text
  3. Age of Onset and Progression of Hoarding Symptoms in Older Adults with Hoarding Disorder | Return to Text

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