Is Your Parent’s Clutter a Hazard?

November 6, 2009 at 1:17 am 2 comments

The holidays are a time we visit home. Are you dreading the fights about the clutter? Do you walk into the front door–and as far as you can see–there’s not one clear surface? Do you feel claustrophobic and worry about elder mom (or dad’s) safety? As caregivers and family members, we grapple with what to say or do to help our loved ones. When is it just personal preference–and when is it dangerous?

There’s a great new book out titled, “The Boomer Burden.” It delves into the subject of what it’s like to inherit all our parent’s stuff. How do we know what to keep and what to pitch? Should we really hold onto that ball of aluminum foil–and why do they balk when we suggest that they don’t need to keep every birthday or Christmas card they’ve ever received? Knowing what to keep and what to toss is a big caregiver bone of contention.

Sometimes, you have to make an executive decision. You have to step in and deal with the mess. Be sure to pick this battle with care. Hurt feelings can cause them to stick out a defiant chin and refuse to get rid of anything. Before you get all bossy, consider the following:

When is Clutter a Hazard?

  • When there are items on or near the stove or other cooking/heating appliances that could catch fire. They can say all day they don’t cook, but stoves get turned on. Nothing should be that close. This isn’t an option. Deal with it fast.
  • When there’s no clear path to the exits. No exit should be blocked. You never know which door you might need. No boxes or furniture should block a door. I know many elders are so afraid of break-ins they block or cover doors, but the fact is, the house is much more likely to catch fire and exits are crucial for firefighters. Create 3-foot paths.
  • When important and needed items can’t be found. Phones, medications, important numbers and papers, canes and other assistance items. If their eyesight isn’t keen and they tend to live in a dark home, it would be easy to mistake the wrong medication, or simply give up trying to find them. Make these items clearly seen. Use baskets, hooks, anything that makes them obvious.
  • When you start hearing excuse after excuse. They forgot their appointment. They don’t like their new medication. They didn’t hear the doorbell for the physical therapist. The neighbor hit their mailbox. Excuses are ways to avoid that something’s not right. Dementia, clutter, other factors may play into why important dates or items are falling through the cracks. Don’t fall for it. Start keeping track. Pay attention–it could give you the clues you need to figure out what’s really going on.

This is going to take your time and energy. It isn’t going to be easy and yes, it’s likely your mom or dad is going to fight you on much of this. Do it anyway. Get plastic bins and save anything you believe is really important, but get your parent’s house safe as soon as you can. Try to get them on board. Make it fun. Put on some music. Bribe them with lunch out, a new paint color, something, anything they can look forward to. Don’t discuss every item. It’s not up for debate. Move quickly and don’t let a pouty look stop you.

Also realize it’s only a matter of time until you’re going to have to look at other living arrangements. This may buy you a bit of time. Use it wisely–begin to research and ask yourself what will work–for everyone.



Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving. Tags: , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shelley  |  November 6, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Definitely the holidays are a good time to notice the changes that have occurred in our aging parents’ or loved one’s homes, but probably not the best time to deal with them. Keeping the holidays joyful and stress-free is important to all concerned.

    From my experience, children of aging parents don’t take action soon enough. It often takes a fire or a “Silver Alert” (a parent wandering away from home) to cause a reaction.

    Our generation has been put in the awkward position of having both parents and children to worry about at the same time. We probably need to accept that and make visits to our parents’ home more often than on holidays so that we can notice changes before it’s too late.

    One additional item that I would add to the great list above is * when foods are past their expiration dates or the pantry has nothing of nutritional value. Check the coldcuts, check the canned soups, the mayonnaise, etc. for outdated expirations. Our parents are from a generation that are not used to expiration dates and also this will give you an idea of how often they are shopping for groceries. Check that foods are not being left on the counter. My own mother felt that a chicken left out over night and well into the next day was fine because after all “it was going to be cooked anyway”.

    • 2. Steve  |  November 10, 2009 at 7:35 pm

      Thank you for stopping by, Shelley, and you brought up an EXCELLENT point. Old food is a definite indicator–and far too common.
      I had that happen with my mom–she had tried to open a can, pierced it, and then gave up–and when I came over to care for her, she’d asked me to open it. Of course, I said, “No, this is unsafe!”
      I realized she might have gotten one open after several attempts and could get food poisening–and that alerted me that my mom needed more supervision and soon after, she moved in with us.
      Great point–thanks for sharing.
      ~Carol o’Dell


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Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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