How do you deal with the "clear out" of clutter in an elder's house?

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I know just about everyone on this forum has dealt with clutter, and cleaning out an elder's house, apt or whatever. How have you done this without totally losing your mind. I am very organized and like minimal surroundings, not too fond of many knick knacks, etc. It makes me crazy, and I just don't know where to begin. When I first came back to my mother's house, I was gob smacked, I was so upset with the state of her and the place, it has been just over six months, and I feel like I am just orienting myself to this country and all of it, but this house needs work, and I am an apartment dweller and not used to maintenance of any sort, no idea how to take care of this place, but heck, I guess I will learn. Bungalows for dummies.

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The basic premise is to start with three bags or boxes; one for "toss", one for "keep", one for "donate". Start small, one corner of one small room. Make a list and break the house up into smaller areas, i.e., NW corner of master bedroom. As you finish east small area, line it out on the list. Find a way to reward yourself for each area accomplished (a nice lunch out, a new book, etc).
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I will send in a more comprehensive suggestion list, but wanted to take a quick minute to offer this: make the de-cluttering about the result, not the process. Focus on your Mom's benefit. Speak of the results you are looking for in terms that matter to HER ie: it will be safer (eliminate tripping hazards, etc), her things will be carefully quantified and arranged so she will be sure her treasures have not gone astray. It is okay to remind her that she will not live forever, and you want to help her have control of what happens to her lifelong collection of stuff. Tell her you have nightmares worrying that after she passes, you might do the "wrong thing" with her things and would rather do it "with her" than "to her" or "for her". In other words, turn her fears against her, and use them for good. Hoarding is about fear and control, so use that to your advantage.

And, most importantly, take photos before you start. Print them and give them to her in a little album. Leave every other page blank. As you complete an area (even if its only the table top), take another photo and put opposite the "before". She will be able to appreciate the improvement, together with having the assurance that nothing significant was "lost". Good luck, I will write more later.
Linda
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This is definitely not a easy situation. Remember this is her house, not yours. Elderly usually like consistency. You start throwing things out or packing them up, is going to be a problem. Taking care with her feelings and memories is very important. Don't move in and just take over. If I was that age, I would really have a problem. Go slow and make sure she is okay with this or that being packed away. Even though you are a minimalist, don't come in like you own the place. Realize there is more than yourself to think about. Give her time to adjust to you wanting to make changes.
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Madeaa,

I had this same situation with my mom. My mom is one serious pack rat and I came back for 6 months to help her clean up and do some repairs around her home. That was almost 2 years ago.

I will be happy to tell you what I did and it is tough very tough because you want to be comfortable, but it is after all her stuff.

What we did was give pile boxes by my mom's chair. You see my mom couldn't walk, she can't go upstairs or to the basement so we had to work with her disability. We let my mom go through the items.

The first thing I did was sit down with my mom and tell her now was the time for her to go through items and give them to the individuals she wanted to have them before she died. Her will did not say who got these items so she needed to give it out now otherwise it would have to be sold according to her will. So this conversation helped a little.

Then if there were things she wanted to keep, we cleaned out a draw and called it a keepsake draw. She knew then that is where it would go if she wanted to keep it. We took her bedroom and created it a place for her to keep things.

We gave her a say in what stayed in what went. I had open and honest conversations with my mom. Now I had challenges with outside forces that wanted to just throw it away behind her back. I had to watch them because I knew if I set back what my mom wanted for a bit and presented it later on, she would probably not want it. This happened on numerous occassions she had forgotten it and so then we could get rid of it.

Believe me we have spent a lot of time going through things and we have made great progress. The knick knacks I left on the shelf and I refuse to dust, that doesn't mean I like dust, but this was my compromise to her. The clutter is finally down and 2 rooms that were full of boxes are now empty, we were even able to turn one into a spare bedroom.

Believe me my mom's house was a mess, we have evicted bats, one large raccoon and numerous mice on top of all of her boxes, bags, and stuff sitting around. The worst and hardest part was where my mom lives they have trash limits and then you have to pay to take it to the dump, so once a year they had a free dump trash day. So we would spend our time preparing for that.

The one area we have left to go through is the basement. Her next free trash time for large items is the first week of June, so we will spend the 2 weeks before going through everything to get more outside.

To give you an idea of our trash piles, they were about 20 feet long, 10 foot deep and about 5 - 6 feet high. We have done it two years in a row, this year will be our 3rd. With some new living room furniture, some paint and a few repairs my mom's house is now in better shape than it has been in years.

My dad passed away 14 years ago. My oldest sister and brother-in-law were suppose to be assisting my mom in caring for her house. What I walked into would amaze most people, so from our standpoint and several witnesses we have accomplished more in the past 2 years than my sister has in the past 14 years.

So have faith it can be done, just be honest with your mom and think about it as a way to give an inheritance or family heritage a chance to continue before any fighting can begin. Good luck!
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Try these tips for De-Cluttering your parents' home:

◦Avoid tackling the whole house in one go.

Though it’s more efficient for you to plow full steam ahead, your parent is apt to be stressed emotionally, if not also physically. When organizing a parent’s move, it’s better to think in terms of months, not days.

Tackle one room or area at a time. About two hours at a stretch is ideal for many older adults, says Margit Novack, president of MovingSolutions in Philadelphia and founding president of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.
◦Frame decisions as yes-no questions.

Open-ended choices put a reluctant mover on the spot, raising stress. Avoid asking, “Which pots and pans do you want to keep?” Winnow them down yourself first, then present a more manageable yes-no option: “I’ve got your best frying pan, a large pot, and a small sauce pot. Does that sound good?”

“Couching questions for yes-no answers provides the opportunity for the parent to feel successful so you can move on to the next thing,” Novack says.

Items that exist in abundance work especially well to presort: clothing, kitchenware, tools, and anything else you know the person has way more of than he or she will have space for.
◦Use the new space as a guide.

Measure exactly how much closet or cabinet space the new place has (assisted living communities will provide this information if you ask), and fill an equivalent amount of space as you sort. Mark off the comparable space so your parent has a visual guide.

Beware of excessive multiples. In assisted living, your parent only needs one frying pan, one or two sets of sheets, one coffeemaker, one or two coats, and so on.
◦Banish the “maybe” pile.

Relocation experts call it the OHIO rule: Only handle it once. The less decisive you are about what to do with an item, the more attached you (or your parent) risk becoming to it, Hayes says. Moving things in and out of “maybe” piles is also takes time.

Tempting as it is to set aside tough sorts for later, unless there’s room to “hold” them at a relative’s house, it’s not generally worth paying storage-rental fees (unless it’s a very large estate and time is tight). That’s because once they’re boxed, your parent isn’t likely to look at the items ever again. (Out of sight, out of mind.)

Exception: Save time by boxing piles of paperwork, which doesn’t take much room. Papers are time-consuming to go through and present an unpleasant task for many disorganized people, casting a pall on your packing.
◦Encourage your parent to focus on most-used items (and let the rest go).

Be patient and follow your parent’s lead — what seems old and useless to you may be a source of great comfort and joy and therefore worth moving. “Don’t go by the newest and best; go by what they use,” Novack says. “You may think Mom should pack her pretty cut-glass tumblers for assisted living, but the reality is that those ugly stained plastic ones are what she uses every day.”

When facing especially hard choices, ask for the story behind a dubious object — where it came from, when it was last used, whether a young family might put it to good use. This takes time, but the payoff is that once your parent starts talking, he or she may have a clearer perspective and feel more able to let go, Novack says.
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Me and my 3 sisters have gotten rid of tons of stuff from my parent's house. My mom had a lot of knick knacks so they started with those. I gave them a curio cabinet from my husband's aunt because she had passed away. My sisters started by throwing away any knick knacks that had pieces broken off of them. They put all the ones they kept in the curio cabinet so they didn't have to be dusted very often. Then we threw away any obvious trash and collected together any recycle. That got rid of a lot of stuff right there. Their generation went through the depression so they don't like to throw things away. My husbands parents were the same way. We spent 2 years cleaning their house out so we could sell it and move them closer to us. That was 4 years ago and I am still going through their stuff stored in our garage. I want to get rid of enough stuff that I can at least fit one of our cars back into the garage. Next they emptied a book case and moved it to the attic. They went through the ton of books they had and donated them to the library and Goodwill. The ones they kept went into one bookcase in the living room where they could see them and they told them they were storing the rest of them in the attic and my parents were accepting of this. It takes a lot of time and a lot of your time goes to every day chores and taking care of them.
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Yes, I do remember it is her house, but I came from another country here to take care of her, I think that was thinking more about her needs than myself, I need to be comfortable also. I don't consider myself a minimalist, but rather I am not a hoarder, she is. I do respect her things, but I do not appreciate garbage, cluttered garbage.
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I found with my mother-in-law she felt more comfortable as time went on. Also, if you can sell some items, they like the idea of money as they are usually on a limited income. Finally, she was happier when items could be donated to the church for their yearly sale or if someone in the family wanted the items. With computers today, family albums can be scanned and saved in many ways or just photos of items they once had.
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Old sheets and towels can be donated to a local animal rescue. They always need these items. Donation seems to work w/ my mom to help her eliminate household clutter. Salvation Army and Goodwill stores except many clothing shoes and household items. Am-Vets has a drop- off semi-trailer in our local Walmart parking lots. My mom likes this because we go to Walmart for our shopping but stop off first @ the Am-Vets semi- trailer w/ items to donate. They will give you a list as to what items they will and will not accept. This is a very convenient way to eliminate clutter, a little @ a time so the elderly person is not so upset and it becomes a good "habit"! Now mom says "Do we have our bags to donate? ". It does work and is less upsetting than a massive clean-up. Time is on your side. Keep @ it and you will see items going and more areas of space in the house and garage.
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this is where you need a wood stove. when my kids were younger i kept a close eye on the toys that they actually used. hell, this finishes writing itself..
i dont like clutter much either..
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