Get the New Year off to a clean and organized start by tackling any neglected rooms, closets or basements filled with boxes of long-forgotten items in your home or that of a loved one.
Whether it’s an extreme case of hoarding, too many holiday decorations to stash, or chronic disorganization, there are professional resources, books, tips and advice to help clear out the clutter.
“It is estimated that up to five percent of the population has hoarding disorder,” said Valentina Sgro, President of the Institute of Challenging Disorganization. “Hoarding tendencies can be identified in pre-teens through adults. Because people in the elder population may have experienced a greater number of traumatic—or triggering-- events and because they have had a longer time to accumulate possessions, hoarding behavior may be more noticeable in the elder population.”
Causes of Clutter
Although hoarding has been recognized as a mental disorder, there can be many reasons that people are not maintaining a clean home. “Clutter, even extreme clutter, can result from many causes in the elder population, not just hoarding disorder,” Ms. Sgro explained. “Reduced eyesight or mobility, a desire to hold on to sentimental objects, dementia, or any number of other causes can cause clutter. The reason for the clutter can often help determine how to help the elder loved one with the clutter.”
Not only is clutter unsightly, it can be dangerous—especially in the elder population. Reducing clutter can also lower the risk of falls, fire, and the ability of safety services to reach someone in need. “These are all important goals and usually the easiest for the elder adult to understand,” said Ms. Sgro.
For in home caregivers assisting a loved one with cleaning up their home, it’s important to find out what is causing the messiness before diving in to help. As Ms. Sgro pointed out, there are many mental conditions that can lead to disorganization. In addition to Hoarding Disorder, she also lists ADHD, depression, traumatic brain injury, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. “If an elder loved one has a mental health condition, the family should work toward getting their loved one a therapist who focuses on that condition,” she said. “Many professional organizers who work with clients in these situations will collaborate with therapists so the patient/client receives both treatment for the mental health condition from the therapist and hands-on assistance with the clutter from the professional organizer.”
Ms. Sgro offers tips on how to approach decluttering with a loved one and other solutions:
- “Someone with hoarding disorder will have more difficulty being able to let go of the stuff even in the face of safety issues, and it is important for family and friends to understand that forcing the removal of items can cause more harm than good,” she said. “A primary rule for professionals assisting those with hoarding disorder is to do no harm.”
- “If the loved one is receptive to help, then the reduction of clutter is much easier than if the loved one is resistant,” she said. “Sometimes it is easier for people to reduce their clutter if they can pass the possession on to another good home, whether that be a loved one who would treasure it or a favorite charity or other people in need.”
- The "Find an Organizer" tool on the ICD website, www.challengingdisorganization.org, provides the public the ability to find a trained professional organizer by geographical area. The ICD also has publications and free fact sheets available through its website, including the widely-used ICD Clutter–Hoarding Scale.
When helping a loved one clean out their possessions, it can be well received to create different piles for things that are going to be given away, things that will be kept, and so on, keeping in mind that these distinctions may change as the each stack grows during the cleaning process.
Sometimes a book about the joy of a clutter-free environment can be a conversation starter with a loved one. Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project and Happier at Home books both provide useful inspiration for decluttering and organizing at home. In addition to the tips offered on home organization each month in Real Simple magazine, there are Real Simple books about having a clutter-free home.