“Do you work with hoarders?” The caller was the son of an 80 year old woman. “John” was concerned that his mother was at risk of falling in her very cluttered home. The hallways were lined with bookcases, bags and piles. Antiques filled every space, brought from the family home when she moved into a smaller condo. In my line of work as a professional organizer, I hear his question frequently. I set up a meeting with John and his mother, “Elaine,” to explore the situation.
While Elaine turned out not to have true hoarding tendencies, she did have a lot of stuff and was unable to manage it well due to her fatigue and declining health. She was willing to do some organizing, but did not want her children to participate. She had her concerns that I would “make her throw things away.” I assured her that she was in full control and I had no interest in whether she kept or tossed anything, only that we would find a way to meet her goals.
I often hear from adult children who want outside help for their parents’ de-cluttering needs. Family history invariably creates emotional baggage. Children are concerned for the health and safety of their older parents, particularly worried about home accidents. The parent, like most people, does not want to be told what they should do, how to live or what they must part with. A professional organizer brings an objective perspective to the task, being goal oriented and non-judgmental, gently helping the senior through decisions that will yield a favorable outcome.
In Elaine’s case, I provided physical support by emptying containers for review, setting up donation boxes, taking trash and recycling out of the house. We prioritized areas to work, especially where walking was more risky. When she had trouble with decisions, we talked about the history of a possession and where it fit in her life now. It was easier to part with things that had a destination, such as to a grandchild, a museum, or a school. Clothing that no longer fit but were in good condition would go to a women’s shelter.
We worked together to weed through the excess, filter out the useless and pass down the heirlooms. Elaine set the goals to clear her hallways and floors and to make her bathroom items easily accessible. Over several sessions, we met those goals and set more. She said it was a wonderful journey down memory lane to tell the stories as she let things go. It was also empowering for her to make the decisions on the things she had accumulated during her life. While it was her son that had brought me to work with Elaine, it was my relationship with her that made the work so enjoyable.
Joan McCreary is a Professional Organizer working with clients across the Santa Clara Valley. She has earned several certificates of study through the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, focusing on chronic disorganization, mental health, ADHD and seniors. Joan is a member of NAPO and the NAPO-SFBA chapter. www.JoanMcCreary.com email@example.com