Bring up the topic of de-cluttering in a conversation with older adults and you’ll get a variety of responses. For some, getting rid of things is easy; they may even respond with something like “I love throwing things away!” On the other hand, you have people who can’t seem to throw anything away. You can actually see them shift into a state of panic at the thought of discarding their belongings. The majority fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. You can confidently identify what is clearly trash, yet there are just some things you can’t seem to let go of. We are here to help.

Why Is It So Hard to Let Go

Clutter is common in the lives of so many. There is only one factor that makes the clutter of an older adult unique: time.

The older you are, the longer you’ve had to accumulate things. As time passes, you attach meaning to those things which in turn provoke certain emotions. Long story short – you become attached to what might be referred to as the physical form of nostalgia. Frequently, the longer you’ve been attached to something – the harder it is to let it go.

If you are in your senior years, de-cluttering can feel less like you are getting rid of things you don’t need and more like you are discarding the memories that go with them. You can rest assured, this is not the case – and getting rid of clutter will be far more beneficial than keeping it.

Risks of Clutter

Increased risk of falling

Many people experience a noticeable decrease in their ability to balance as they age. As a result, they are more prone to falling which can be detrimental to a senior’s health. Having clutter on the floor increases fall risk because one must frequently try to maneuver around things.

Confuse medications

Cluttered medicine cabinets can be life-threatening for seniors. De-cluttering your medicine cabinet is critical, especially for those with decreased vision. If a medicine cabinet is disorganized, it can be easy to confuse medicines one’s life is dependent on. Throw away expired medications and keep them organized to reduce confusion.

Limits mobility

Excess furniture can lead to many challenges for seniors with limited mobility. Not only can they have more trouble getting around on a daily basis, but this trouble can be serious if disaster strikes and they can’t get through certain spaces.

Health Benefits of Decluttering

The benefits of having an organized space extend far beyond general safety conditions. Those with less clutter enjoy many health benefits as well.

Improved Concentration

One of the most noticeable differences you may experience after you de-clutter your living area is an improvement in your ability to concentrate. Although you may not realize it, the items in your space are constantly competing for your attention. When you are in a cluttered environment, you are essentially forcing your brain to multitask by giving it extra stimuli to filter through as you try to focus on your task at hand. As soon as you de-clutter your space, you will likely notice an immediate increase in your productivity.

Better Sleep

Many older adults experience an increase in sleep disturbances as they age.

Another great reason for seniors to declutter their space is that it can positively impact the quantity and quality of their sleep. You are probably familiar with the feeling you have when you get into your bed after you just cleaned your room. You feel noticeably more relaxed and ready for bed than the previous days.

Interestingly enough, those with more clutter have been shown to have more difficulty not only falling asleep but also staying asleep. Those with clutter often have more sleep disturbances.

Reduced Stress

Another good reason to get rid of your clutter is to reduce your overall level of stress. Many studies have shown a negative correlation between those who keep their homes clutter-free and those who reside in well-organized homes. There are many reasons for this.

As mentioned, having many items in your space places additional work on your brain as you force it to constantly work at filtering out irrelevant information so you can focus on what’s important.

There has been a study conducted that identified a relationship between homeowners and their density of household objects. They found that the higher the density of household objects, the higher their levels of cortisol tested – thus indicating higher stress levels.

Improved Positivity

Walking into a room where there is a lot of clutter can do more than increase your stress, it can also cause you to feel like you don’t have your life together.

If you think about it, looking at a pile of papers can easily remind you of all the things you haven’t completed yet, directing your attention away from everything you have accomplished. You know the phrase, “out of sight out of mind.” Well that is certainly the case with a pile of papers, along with all other clutter.

Using The Four Box Method For De-Cluttering

One of the simplest strategies for de-cluttering your home is one referred to as ‘the four box method.’ This method works great because it forces you to make decisions about everything you own.

To use this method, you are simply going to take four boxes (trash bags can work too) and label them as one of the following.

  • Keep/put away
  • Donate/sell
  • Toss
  • Storage

One room at a time, you will use these boxes to help you categorize your belongings.

For example, let’s say you have made the decision to organize your home. And let’s say you decided to start in your living room. You figure this is not only where you spend the majority of your waking hours, but it is also where you entertain your guests.

When you are ready to begin, you will bring your four labeled boxes into the living room. You will then go through each item in the room and make a decision as to whether you need to keep it, donate it, throw it away, or store it.

The Keep/Put Away Box

The keep/put away box is designated for items you want to keep. Ideally, this should be the smallest box. If the item you want to keep belongs in the room you are working with, you are going immediately put it away. If the item you want to keep belongs in another room, you are going to place it in the box. This is going to help ensure you have enough space for all the items you want to keep.

For example, there might be piles of magazines and miscellaneous papers on the table in your living room. In this case, you might want to sort through the pile. You may decide to keep the current magazines on the table and place the important papers in the keep box to be filed away.Any papers deemed unimportant can be placed in the trash box.

The Donate/Sell Box

The donate/sell box is going to be designated for items you want to donate or sell. These items should be in good condition. Ideally, they should be items you no longer find valuable but that may be valuable for someone else.

You might have furniture in your living room taking up space. You might want to consider selling or donating it. You can even give it to someone in your family who would make better use of it.

Also, take a look at unnecessary “knick-knacks.”

The Toss Box

The toss box is for items you decide to throw away. This should be anything you don’t want anymore that is unworthy of selling or donating. Think about damaged items or broken items you intended to fix but never got around to.

The Storage Box

Refrain from thinking of storage as a place for items you don’t know what to do with, but think of it as items you don’t currently need.

Seasonal items are a great example. Think about seasonal decor or holiday-specific decorations. These are items you don’t need out at all times, only during the particular season or holiday time. Place the out of season items in the storage box.

Clothing may be another item you may want to store. If you live in a seasonal area, you will have little to no use for a winter coat in the summer. This would be something you want to keep for the cooler months, but you don’t need to have it handy in the summer. Place it in your seasonal box.

At the end of the day, de-cluttering should be about letting go of the things you have weighing you down for the benefit of your quality of life.

“Why Seniors Have A Hard Time Letting Go Of Clutter,” Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.