Letting go of “stuff” isn’t so easy. As our parents age and we are busy with our families the accumulation of “stuff” can expand exponentially right in front of our eyes. Our aging parents accumulate stuff, for many reasons, and often times they need to downsize quickly. This usually means that during a time that is already upsetting, their life is further disheveled by the instant loss of their possessions. This significantly increases their anxiety and has a lot of lingering side effects including depression, memory loss, loss of balance and mobility, as well as the expected anger outbursts. In order to minimize the heart ache it is necessary to understand why they have the stuff and what the choices are moving forward.
As we age, we hold on to stuff for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is simply the inability to maintain the organization of items. It is a natural process that as we slow down it is not easy to “clean up” and when someone visits you don’t necessarily want to spend the time cleaning up either. So, how do we as children recognize when our parents need help? In all honesty, we need to acknowledge it and make a plan to help them. Sooner or later, it will need to be addressed.
Another reason why our parents or grandparents are stock pilers is because they were alive during the Great Depression. I cannot not even imagine how difficult it really was, but I know from watching grandparents cling to their stuff that they had a sense of ”safety” by having more stuff.
The biggest reason people hold on to stuff is because of their emotional attachment, or memories. Transitioning to a new chapter in life, even if it is by choice, still means that another chapter is ending.
Here are some steps to make this experience as easy as it can be:
First, acknowledge when your parents are getting overwhelmed by stuff. Although our parents may say they don’t need our help, they do. Set aside some time with the expectation to help them sort through stuff. Go through the memories together so you both can let go of the items in a healthy way.
Second, agree that there will be a keep pile. Don’t argue over the first “keep” pile. When you start the sorting process, it is a quick sift. Things that are easy to get rid of get tossed. The “keep” pile can be revisited when you need to decide how to keep it.
Third, understand the value associated with the items. Most of what you come across has a “value” to your parent. I’m sure at some point they paid money for it and it is heartbreaking to hear it called “junk”. Be respectful. If they agree they don’t want to keep it, but it is worth something, offer a solution.
Fourth, offer to Donate or Sell items. In today’s world there are many easy ways to sell something, especially if you have time. Take a picture and sell on Wallapop or Craigslist. Some local police departments even offer their facilities to be used for exchanges, so keep that in mind. Even donating items will reassure your parents that you respect and value their items, and it is a worthy cause.
Fifth, re-visit the “Keep” Pile. Discuss openly the options for how and where to keep these items. Maybe there is a better way to keep and organize them. Usually the second sorting will dwindle down the pile to the necessities. If it is not going well, take a break for a few days. Sometimes they just need time.
It is never easy helping our parents let go of excess things. The more time you have, the better. If you live out of state or if you just need additional assistance, consider hiring a professional. A CSHP, (Certified Senior Housing Professional) has the necessary resources who are vetted and proven to be effective for these specific purposes. The CSHP is trained and certified to provide you with resources that are safe, respectful and honest to protect our aging community.