Downsizing and Transitioning Your Parent Marla Stone
Have you discovered that your Mom and or Dad had or has an excessive collecting and hoarding behavior? You may have always known your parent had a propensity to collect, or perhaps recognized the collecting and saving behaviors after they become ill, during a move, or even after they have passed. Don't be surprised to realize that many adult children are faced with the task of reckoning with piles, boxes and loads of stuff that have been saved, stored and collected by elderly parents. You are not alone. Collecting and saving piles and piles of stuff which is in excess of "normal" is especially common as people get older. Many of the seniors today either lived as young adults during the depression or they grew up in the depression era. Holding onto items for a "rainy day" is sacred and justified by the very thought of going without.
Determining whether your parent actually meets criteria for a hoarding disorder or is just living in the past may be easier with a Professional Organizer specialist's help. Usually adult children, who get the opportunity to assist their parents, in clearing some space, or in moving them, may face a deep resistance, when the project gets started. The emotional ties between a parent and child can get in the way of accomplishing a clearing of clutter or the downsizing of a living space.
Many elderly parents believe many different things... about their things, as follows:
1. I will get to it again. Sewing projects, woodworking, scrap-booking, building, fixing, creating, cooking, exercising, baking, reading, boating, skiing, tennis etc. Even though, they actually are physically unable to do those activities any longer.
2. You or someone will need it some day. They are saving items for you, your children, relatives, a neighbor, someone at their church or temple, a friend or neighbor.
3. It is valuable. Grandma's old china, old telephones, old cribs, cookware, knickknacks, books, chairs, tables, lamps, old equipment, old televisions, rugs, pillows, sheets, pictures etc. yet when you look it up on ebay the item is not valuable and actually outdated.
4. It is sentimental. Sentimental items probably should be kept, but not stored. Usually when we store sentimental items, they are actually not that sentimental or we would want them around. If the sentimental item is torn, tattered, smelly or just plain old gross they may be tossed, but your parent would have to work through the anxiety that may result. Maybe, having a ceremony of sorts to say goodbye to the old friend. Many times sentimental items are either very positive memory items or very negative memory items. The items that make your parents feel positive should be displayed, and the items that bring on the tears can be worked through in order to let it go. Pictures can easily be downloaded to DVDs so everyone can enjoy them more often. Pictures can also be kept in beautiful storage boxes that are well labeled and reachable. You may even ask Mom or Dad if you could not take over the family albums, assuring them you will take care of them and pass them down generationally.
5. It's mine and you're not touching it. These items may be private, and may not be any of your business, or it may fall into the sentimental but negative category...still a sensitive item. Or it just could be private, and that you would want to respect and handle with care. If your parent becomes overly agitated, distraught or combative during clearing and sorting stop the activity at once. Call an experienced Professional Organizer with a background in working with Seniors for a free consultation.
6. You're just trying to take my things away from me. This cry of being cheated or preyed on is a defense mechanism. If you think that some of your parent's items would be better utilized in yours or another's space, before it is their time to let it go, discuss it with them and let them know how their belonging would enhance the life of another, especially if is not being used or it is being neglected. Each and every item must be categorized to determine the best possible home and use for it, and it must be agreed upon by all parties, unless the item(s) are unsafe, irrational or completely impractical. You NEVER just get to remove something, if it is useful, valuable ,sentimental or cherished, without permission. Mom still gets to keep the family piano, even if she never plays it, and your kids would benefit from lessons. We cannot just take what is not ours. It may not seem fair to you, but remember you did not purchase the piano. Also remember Mom sees that piano in her home, and it gives her a sense of happiness, and she associates it with fond memories of family togetherness. For Mom, the piano, is a beautiful and cherished piece she is not wanting to let give up. Dad gets to keep his old collection of stamps, tools, books or cars, even if he is unable to enjoy them, because they may give him hope for better days.
7. I will have to think about it. These are items that have to be assessed by you and your parent in a calm and easy going way. Are the items useful, valuable, heirlooms, sentimental or being saved for someone? If the items are useful or have a valid purpose it may have to be stored. Find a large clear plastic storage bin. Make a list of the items on a large label. Make two photo copies of the tag. Adhere the tag to the box. Store the box in a safe, clean, cool and dry place. Write at the top of the list where the box is stored. Lettering the box and the list keep them coordinated together. Keep a copy of the list and give your parent the other copy. You can call it a Keep or Give List. Tell your parent you are willing to pack and store the items until they can think of a use for them. Set a date for three months to go over the list with your parent. Let your parent know that in exactly three months, if they do not make a decision, about a place or use for the items, that the items will be donated to their favorite charity or person. Remind them that they are downsizing and transitioning. If your parent decides to give it to someone who doesn't want it, help them know it is not a rejection of them personally, and let them know someone at a local charity will be grateful for the item.
How do you cope with the rationale and defense mechanisms of your parent, when you know that something has to give and go? It may be that you are downsizing and transitioning them to a smaller home, Assisted Living, or to live with you. It is not an easy or fortunate task, to be the adult child who has to downsize or clear the way for your parents, yet it can also be a time to bond with your parent and show them that your are there for them. Just understand and realize you cannot control, harangue or insist on your parent's happiness and or their productivity. You are there to support your parents, give them autonomy, choices and unconditional love and regard, then the process of their life changing event may be easier on everyone involved.
Remember objects hold energy, time, memories, thoughts and feelings. Just think about someone coming into your home and telling you that there will be changes, things moved and removed. It is a daunting and scary thought to have your "stuff" in someone's hands other than your own.
When you find yourself hitting a wall because you can't walk through the hall it may be overwhelming. When you are realizing that it could take hours and hours to sort through piles of old papers, boxes upon boxes, books, phone books, your crib from 1972, your older brother's high chair, old magazines, mail, hoards of collectibles, clothing, and even garbage, take advantage of services that provide Professional Organizing. A Professional Organizer (outsider to the family system) can often be extremely effective, and save you and your family time, relationships and money.
Organizers who have a specialty in working with Seniors, and better yet, a background in Mental Health, will take a mounting ordeal and turn it into a manageable and successful transition.
Look at http://www.NAPO.net (National Association of Professional Organizers) for a Professional Organizer in your area.
Marla Stone, MSW, Professional Organizer
Orange County Professional Organizer helps you get your home, office, and business organized! We serve all of Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego. We also serve your area by special request.
Please call 949-709-7000 for a free 30 min. phone consultation.
Marla Stone Lifestyle Expert is featured in the Orange County Register as the clutter buster. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/stone-370146-says-carbone.html
Marla is known as the organizing clutter remedyTm expert. Marla earned her BA in Psychology and a Master's in Social Work and is the founder of I-Deal-Lifestyle, a Self and Space Organization Service.