Clear Your Mind and Your House for Spring

Seniors clutter free
Elders need help to clear clutter

Seniors need to keep their homes clean to help calm and clear their minds.

Help them with a plan of action to get their home back in order after living in their house for 20+ years! As we age our minds take in clutter in different ways. Many elders have slight to moderate dementia and clutter around them takes their brain away from relaxing. Even as they sit in their favorite chair and watch TV…they are looking around and telling their self they have to sort this or that pile of newspapers.

Dear Francy; Mother is still in her home; she has fallen twice so we have a helpline service. She has a heart condition and she gets very tired. I go over every other day and do her basic shopping and other needs to keep her in her home. But, she will not let me touch a thing in her house. It is filled with old lady junk and really getting dingy and dirty. How can I get her off the dime and the house clean again?

You know I always have to be the bad guy with this situation…because dirt and junk equals health concerns and falls. You have to sit down and tell her that its just time for spring cleaning. If she wants to stay in her home, she will have to do a clean-up and keep it safe. You cannot go over and watch her sitting in the middle of clutter and worry about her falling.

 Sounds good…but you need a plan. So figure out how you would clean the place before you have your family chat and make the time period for the plan of action after the talk very short. You chat with her on Thursday and show up to clean on Saturday!

I would pre-plan a weekend that family, friends, or hired help can do a complete clean of two to three rooms. I always choose the living room and bedroom first. Then the next cleaning is in a couple of months and is the kitchen and bathroom. When I say the living room…it might be your mother’s family room, it’s the room she lives in the most and has the most stuff to sort and clean out.

Get a group of helpers in line and pick a weekend so they all have it on their calendar. Then call them to remind them, or you’ll be standing there all alone. Do the plan in your mind and keep it on paper so when they arrive you can give everyone a job.

Things you will need to help you:

  1. Someone with a truck or van that can take things to the charity shop or dump. It has to go out the door and off the property that day. Give them money for gas even if they say no…gas is too expensive these days.
  2. Have some young people to lift and to carry boxes. Get boxes small from the liquor store. You can pack and move them easier than big fancy moving boxes. Since this is just a clean, you don’t have to go way out on the boxes and packing up old things to give away.
  3. Have a plan for the recycle. Newspapers and magazines are usually the biggest part of an elder’s out of control home. Know where to take them and have a map of the drop off so the driver can get there and back again.
  4. Get water bottles, cold drinks and I a good frozen lasagna to put in the oven and feed the crew. You can have a purchased salad and French bread. Have a box of cookies or cupcakes from the store and just let them munch as they work.  
  5. Plan for 3 hours of work for everyone. That’s why you need your notes and to be really organized.
  6. Have good, sturdy, plastic bags to use for throw away. Have wipes for the cleaning and take over a good vacuum. Often elders have very old vacuums that will not work to get the dirt out of the house. Get a good duster and a can of furniture polish.

Planning is the key. If you tell yourself you will pack up and carry out the junk one day and then come back the next day and do a steam clean of the carpet…or mop and wax of the floor. That way the job is cut in half and the action is fast and has a real impact over one weekend. And it limits your mother’s fuss and worry over the whole project.

Get a friend, or relative to take your mother for the full day and she will not be there to be nervous and upset over the clean and people in her home.

Be very kind. If you know your mother likes knickknacks, do not think your design style will remove them all. Cleaning them and arranging a few on shelves and tucking the rest in a box for the closet will work. You do not want to give away things that are family treasures to her. Take down the huge collection of grandchildren and great grand uncles. Take the pictures to your home and pick out just a few to re-frame and re-hang.

The magazines, books, catalogs, newspapers and other clutter do go. Old silk flowers can go or be cleaned and rearranged. (They just get a bath and drip dry.) I always tell the senior that “it was all donated to a charity so others can enjoy it.” It will allow her to relax and know they have a home. Take note; if the magazine subscriptions are doubled…be sure to save a few address labels and notify the publisher. Magazine sellers often confuse and take advantage of elders.

Have a special big basket that you will put bills, mail and other paperwork into and take home. At the end of the day, you personally go through it and sort the information. This way you can tell if your mother is still doing well with her paperwork. If so get an expandable file folder and return the information with labels on it. If there are too many old and unpaid bills…keep the information. In the future, you will have to sit down and have a chat with her about her finances. I would wait a few days for her to adjust to the changes in her home before I had a serious talk about her finances.

Furniture that no longer works in the room needs to be given to the local charity. Keep throw rugs out of the room- they are a high fall risk. Furniture that clutters the room and keeps her from walking directly to and from the kitchen and bathroom, should be removed. If she is not now, she will one day have a walker – leave room. Just try as hard as you can to think ahead.

Look at the room ahead of the clean and see what can be done to upgrade it. Can you buy a slipcover for the couch and new throw pillows? Buy it ahead of the clean, so the room is a nice surprise for her.

If your dad used a special chair and he is no longer there, in the home…do not remove it without her knowing about it. That can cross over to a sentimental action that could really put her in a depression over a simple misunderstanding.

If the room looks sad and dirty, plan the next weekend to be the painting weekend. Give the rooms a quick coat of fresh paint. You want the new “green” paint that has a low odor factor. It will let her feel like she has new things. At the same time, she will still have the feeling of safety around her with her things back in their place.

No putting off projects on your part. If you make a commitment to do this project, do it right and on time. Elders need their safe places…don’t leave her without her home in working order.

Her bedroom will need new linen, bedspreads and drapes. Go and buy the “Bed in a Bag” ahead of the clean and give her a nice uplift with new colors and new sheets. Her closet will need new hangers…buy 50 skinny hangers ahead of the clean.

Bedrooms are always two steps to clean:

  1. Clean the room and re-dress her bed in new linens and her windows in matching drapes or blinds. Clean the rug or floor. Make sure she does not have a throw rug to trip on, by the bed.
  2. Return in the weeks after the clean and sort the closet with your mother. Get it cleared and re-hung on all matching hangers so it looks great when it’s done. (Ready for new clothes, too)

Keep something in your mind as you clean. This home will be up for sale in a few years. If you paint the home use a very neutral tone and if you need to shine the floors do it… they will look good for the future home sale. That is why taking down old drapes and putting up fresh ones…is wise. Your mother will enjoy them now and it will aid in the sale of the home later.

The idea is to go over the process in your mind and have it all scheduled out. That way your mother has little discomfort. Then the next time you come to do the clean for the rest of the house, she will be more relaxed about it

This project may seem like a pointless action that will just get your mother really mad at you. You may be right. But keeping her in her home and safe is your goal…and that requires you to be the strong one sometimes. If you do a good job, she will secretly fall back in love with her house again…and you will wind up the good guy in the end!

Thanks for all you are doing…care giving is a special gift that rarely is appreciated ….