We see it all the time – some of us don’t have to look very far at all. As aging in place professionals, we are aware that people collect and hold onto things as they go through life. We are in essence “stuff magnets” – stuff is just attracted to us. It’s part of our human condition. We go through life with a collection of keepsakes to remind us of our past and provide comfort in the present.
Not all stuff that people (us included) retain is bad. Some of it is excessive, some of it is disorganized, and some of it is just plain junk – by anyone’s standard.
The key to living a successful aging in place lifestyle, especially well into one’s seventies and beyond, is having a home that does not present mobility challenges. It should not have stored items here and there – on the floor, in the corner, perched on shelves where it can fall, or in closets (garages, attics, basements, or sheds) where it is occupying space that something else – or nothing at all – could reside.
Having and holding onto stuff presents a real conundrum for us as aging in place professionals. We are bordering on affecting people’s mental and emotional health when we tell them that they have to cut back on what they are keeping because it is affecting their well-being in the current home. This makes for great entertainment to see a de-cluttering TV show where bags, boxes, and dumpsters worth of materials are tossed or sorted for reassignment (to a thrift store, another home, or a much smaller footprint in the home). We are amazed that someone could acquire that much stuff and then pretend that it’s not taking up that much s[ace in their home. Isn’t it obvious that it’s taking over? Not always.
Some people recognize that they need help. Others push-back and deny any issue. Look at the preponderance of de-cluttering books, webinars, and seminars that have been released in the past two-three years. Still, people have to want to change. This is not something we can make people do.
Assume that we had the ability to go into someone’s home and toss out or pack up for reassignment anything that seemed excessive or unnecessary to us. We are disconnected from the “stuff” so, while it might be insensitive, it would a relatively easy call for us to just begin cutting back on what’s there. For our clients, it’s personal and thus a whole other matter. Almost anything can be rationalized as to its importance and why it needs to still be retained. Whether it was an outfit that was worn on a momentous occasion, ticket stubs or program from a big event, a souvenir of some type, a note that can hardly be read anymore, or dozens of other types of items that we hang onto, they had their significance at the time. For many people, that importance continues to this day.
People – even though few would argue that they have a lot of stuff (even too much of it by their own admission) – do not want to read, watch TV shows, or be told that they need to de-clutter. It’s a little like being scolded for allowing it to get so bad. They didn’t get into this situation in just a few days, and it’s not going to go away or reverse itself in short order either.
When clutter becomes a safety issue because it interferes with proper lighting of a space by blocking the light or creating shadows, competes for passageway space by taking up space where people need to walk and maintain their balance without stepping over or on objects, or occupies furniture or cabinetry causing them to be less functional, this becomes our issue. People can retain whatever they like, but when we are selected to help them create an effective living space, we have to look at the clutter and how it affects their home.