Crawford Care Management

Creating a Safe Care Environment at Home

My 80-year-old father has been living alone since my mother passed away last year. He’s always been a packrat, but with Mom gone, he’s really gotten out of control. Every inch of the house is filled with clutter – newspapers, magazines, junk mail, you name it. The living room is so filled with junk, you can’t even see what color the rug is! I’ve offered to help him clean up the house, but he absolutely refuses. I want to get him out of the house long enough for me to sneak in there and throw everything away, but my sister says that this is a bad idea. Who’s right?

Your sister’s right. Your aggressive de-cluttering strategy is the wrong approach. Chronic cluttering is almost always a sign of some psychological struggle going on in the person’s life, such as grief over the loss of a loved one or a feeling of helplessness. Many lifelong packrats develop exaggerated cluttering habits in their senior years because they are attempting to exert a modicum of control over a rapidly changing environment.

Your father is probably still dealing with the loss of your mother - and he may even be experiencing a change in his ability to take care of himself. Your plan to simply go in there and throw everything out may represent what he fears most: a loss of control. That isn’t to say however, that you should do nothing. A cluttered messy house is a dangerous house. Objects left strewn across the floor are inviting a fall. Newspapers and magazines stacked near space heaters or radiators are a fire hazard. What you need to do is work with your dad to organize his belongings.

This is where a Broadspire care manager, teamed with a personal organization consultant can be a big help. As an objective third party, a care manager can allay your father’s fears while his house is tidied up and organized. We’ve worked with several clients in similar situations, and we’ve found that the best approach is to maximize storage space and, if necessary, create new closets and cupboards. Periodic follow-up visits can ensure that clutter is reduced to a minimum and stays safely stored away.