"I just went through my closet, took a bunch of clothes off the hangars, folded them and put them on shelves", said my elderly client. "So now I can keep everything and you don't need to help me sort through my clothes". Having just moved her from a very large single family home, this darling lady was having trouble finding space for all of her clothes in her new apartment. I had offered to help. I had also recently asked her Assisted Living Community to reinforce her overladen closet poles for fear all would come crashing down.
What I really understood was this: It really wasn't about the stuff. It was really about her sadness and realization that she had left behind a part of her life. Now in a walker and on heavy meds for a variety of ailments, getting rid of her Bridge clothes and her Ladies Group wardrobe was more than she could bear. She would never wear her high heels again or the fancy suits either. Having just given up her beloved sewing machine too, there were also rows of beautiful dresses and suits she had made for herself. They held memories;they were treasures.
Yes, it was a unreasonable amount of clothing and stuff she would never wear again. But who cares? If she now had room for it, I would accept her request and back off getting her to sort through it. Perhaps sometime in the future, when she had settled into her new apartment, had made friends and was ready to think forward and not so much into the past. If not, it was really OK with me.
Family members and friends often express to me their frustration with loved ones who can't part with stuff they don't need. I understand and confess that sometimes I get frustrated too. But then I remember that I have a 30yr old cub scout leader's uniform in my closet, right next to the costume I used to wear at bible camp when my kids were little. I'll never wear either of them again - but they remind me of very happy times and since I have room in my closet - I'm keeping them!
Be patient and understanding. Seniors live with continual loss - from losing driving privileges, to losing a life partner, to health issues, to familiar surroundings and a sense of hone. Depression or extreme sadness over losing happier times can manifest itself in many ways. Some people become pathological hoarders, whose clutter can turn unhealthy or dangerous necessitating intervention. Others just keep too much stuff, overwhelming closet poles and filling their garages and storage units with ancient baby furniture , teaching supplies, records from old jobs - remembrances of the best years of their lives. It would be nice to get them to get rid of all that stuff. But if you can't and they've got the room and it isn't endangering them, I say, let them keep it. You can always call me later :)
Marilyn Ellis, Author,Speaker,Professional Organizer, Life Coach and Senior Move Manager loves helping Seniors in the SF Bay Area move forward in their lives. A member of both the National Association of Professional Organizers and National Association of Senior Move Managers. She also helps families understand and cope with the delicate process.To learn more,visit http://www.lighthouseorganizers.com or call 1-866-379-6440