One of the most significant challenges we have as aging in place professionals is helping people get organized and deal with their stuff. Most people have a need to be able to store items that really aren’t needed at all – or at least very infrequently.
As people get older, they generally have more stuff accumulated because they simply have had more time to acquire it than younger folks. Of course, some individuals desire and retain less stuff than others, but the amount of stuff that people typically have in their homes is significant. Often, the stuff occupies more space than the people living in the home.
People retain mementos from their childhood – report cards, photos, printed programs, schedules, memos, artwork, souvenirs from sporting events, uniforms, ribbons, trophies and medals, toys, and even clothing. They have similar items – only more of them – from their children and grandchildren. They have broken and obsolete tools, small appliances, and sporting goods. Then there are items purchased at garage sales, department store sales, online sites, and elsewhere that may never be used but were just too good to pass up at the time. Sometimes there is more than one item that was purchased at a great price and never used – still in its original packaging.
There are seasonal clothing items, items that may never come back into style, items that are a size or two too small or too large, extra towels and linens, and holiday decorations. Stuff!
Organizing that stuff so that it neatly can be stored in closets and on shelves is one way that we can help people live with their stuff. Helping them to actually get rid of some or much of it is a greater challenge but more advantageous to their general well-being. The stuff that people have should not be competing with them for living space in the home.
When there is less stuff kept and stored in the home, the home seems less cluttered and more open – easier to get around in and easier to access the important items that are stored for ready use.
People often don’t think of the impact of retaining so many items in their homes, but we know that storage is a constant consideration. When people shop for a new or different home, they are keenly interested in closet, cabinet, and other storage space. They often decide against a home because it doesn’t offer enough storage room for them.
It seems easier for people to look for more places to store and retain their items that they are amassing rather than go through some of what they have kept and begin thinning it. We can only help so much. While we understand how excess items in the home can affect how people live in and navigate their homes. They need to be willing to do something about it. Until that happens, we have to lean in the direction of helping them to organize and store more of it rather than actually keeping less of it.