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The Time to Start Cleaning Up Mom’s House is Now

Along with being full of lots of memories, houses are also full of lots of “stuff” --- magazines, books, your old childhood school projects, toys, pots and pans that never get used, and a host of other things. If the clutter seems overwhelming to you, you can only imagine what it feels like to your mom or dad. This is their home after all. And it’s easier to bring things in than to take things out!

So when the time comes to consider making a transition for your parent to a smaller house, apartment, or a senior living community, it can be tempting to procrastinate. After all, what will you do with all his or her things? Where do you even begin?

We hear this often from sons and daughters who are reluctant to disrupt their parents’ lives, yet realize that some sifting through and “boxing up” needs to occur before a move can be made. Of course it’s easier if your parent can stay with a relative while you clean. But that’s not always feasible. And, as with so many things, when a parent has dementia, it is even more challenging. It becomes harder to reason with them and they may become more easily agitated. What can help, is to be as organized as possible.

Here are 6 tips we have found to be helpful.

  1. Create a schedule. Of course, this assumes you have some time. If so, try to set apart a period of time each month, or week towards organizing, cleaning and packing. Don’t “take over” the house and attempt to box up and do everything at once.
  2. If your parent must remain in the house, don’t ignore him/her. While it’s easier to clean with your parent out of the house, this isn’t always possible. Try to include them as much as possible. To what extent will depend upon your parent’s level of cognition. Try asking simple questions, such as “When was the last time you [looked at, used, wore, read] this?” That will help your parent better understand why you need to remove old items that are not being used.
  3. Keep noise levels and disruption as low as possible. There is nothing quiet about cleaning, sorting and putting things in boxes. However, unnecessary noise, boxes being rapidly pulled in and out, and frenzied moving about can cause undue anxiety for your parent. For those with dementia, the effect can be intensified.
  4. Take photos of special items. Your mom or dad may feel better about heirlooms and other special items being packed away if he or she can keep a photo of the item close by. It may even be easier for older hands to hold and look at photos than handle the items themselves.
  5. When crating items, use clear bins. That way you can see the items inside. If you can create categories of items and label each bin with its contents, better yet.
  6. Consider using the services of a professional. Your needs may be better served using the services of a professional who works specifically with older clients.

Follow these suggestions and you may be surprised at how much easier things get as you move along. Once you’ve boxed up a few things, the next round will go more smoothly.

Above all, however, remember to slow down the action when your parent expresses anxiety. Individuals with dementia may not remember recent events, but they often will remember old familiar objects. By slowing down and taking things one step at a time, you will find the process to be easier on everyone involved.