Oh, boy. This is a huge undertaking and takes lots of careful planning and perhaps a bit of diplomacy! It’s important to help them reduce as many physical demands in their environment as they age, like removing clunky furniture, reducing trip hazards and improving lighting. But, it’s also critical that you help them to reduce their mental strain as well.
Sorting through files, streamlining access to important information and reducing the clutter of paperwork (bills, investment records, etc.) is helpful too.
Does your parent have a problem with letting things go that borders on hoarding? If the issue causes arguments within the family, there may be a serious problem. To keep peace and harmony, you might look into a professional organizer. They can act as a buffer and they know how to make the experience a positive one.
Here are some steps to get the process started:
Step One: Take stock. Assess your parent’s situation and put a plan together. Go through their home and identify potential problems. Is their attic, basement and/or garage overstuffed? Are their kitchen cabinets or pantry filled with expired cans of food?
Caution – keep your judgements to yourself. Even if your parent is driving you insane, try to be as accommodating as possible. Resist the temptation to just start throwing stuff away or forcing him/her to make decisions they are reluctant to make.
Step Two: Consider all Contingencies. Moving furniture and trip hazards such as throw rugs is a good thing. But you should consider acts of God-type events that can impact your less than spry parents. Make arrangements before an emergency or disaster occurs and if needed, assist them with that process. Some things to do:
- Exchange keys or key codes for easy access
- Create one spot for emergency supplies and keep it stocked
- Be sure to keep relevant emergency documents, evacuation plans and health information is in a location known by everyone in the family
- Practice methods for contacting each other in an emergency and don’t rely on telephones working
- Notify a personal support network when going out of town and when you’ll return
For more information about emergency preparedness for seniors, check out the Red Cross website.
Step Three: Try out the Four Box System. The PBS affiliated Next Avenue suggests creating four spaces/boxes to divide up the ‘stuff’ your parents have accumulated. Start small. Take one room at a time. Sort their possessions using the system. The boxes can be:
- “Keep Until I Die” for items with sentimental value like true family heirlooms, personal letters, photo and scrapbook albums and wedding china.
- “Appraise and Sell” for unwanted items of value.
- “Keep with Me” for unsentimental items like furniture and art.
- “Garage Sale/Donate” for unwanted items.
Step Four: Take it slow if you have the luxury of time. Unless you are challenged by a tight deadline like a serious illness or moving date, the process should be an ongoing one over a period of weeks or months. Not in a day or over a long weekend. Sorting, cleaning and eliminating a lifetime of stuff is an emotional exercise and can easily overwhelm everyone involved.
Step Five: When all else fails, call an expert. Craigslist, TaskRabbit and services like Home Helpers can assist. They are a great resource if you live far away from your parents and want to make sure they get the help needed.