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Helping Seniors Get Organized

January 13, 2020

Nearly every year, the top New Year’s Resolutions are things like eating healthier, exercising more, and losing weight. Getting organized is barely mentioned, but haven’t we all heard people exclaim, “I need to get organized!” or have talked to older adults who need to declutter or downsize their homes, but don’t know where to start. As luck would have it, January is National Get Organized Month, so deemed by the National Association of Professional Organizers. In the spirit of the month, the following are some tips from experts on how to help your loved ones or friends, take small steps to organize better.
  • First, resist the urge to go into a house and try to whip it into shape in a couple of hours. Start with some smaller things such as asking if you can take some newspapers for recycling. Then work up to bigger items. Organizing is a two-step process: sorting and deciding what to do with an item and then disposing of an item.
  • Cheer small victories such as, even if all you’ve done is clear off a table, a chair or a room, celebrate the accomplishment together.
  • If your friend or loved one has 100 empty plastic containers, you can suggest donating some to a school for a painting project. If they are given to someone who needs them, they may not feel bad about letting them go.
  • Remind your loved ones that too much clutter can keep them from being safe in their homes, which could jeopardize their ability to stay there. They could trip over papers on the floor or lose bills and medications.
  • Agree. For example, agree to box up unused clothing or other items. Carefully list what’s in the box and track that for six months. If your loved one does not use the items at that time, suggest they donate them to a charity.
  • Clutter is all about control, but so is being the one to decide where stuff goes. Remind your loved ones if they don’t decide where something will go, down the road someone else will do it for them.
Another strategy is to deploy the Four Box Method proposed by Next Avenue. This is a system that can help make the process of de-cluttering and re-assessing much less daunting. The “Four Box” system boils down to creating four spaces (or literal boxes), where you divide up whatever’s been keeping your loved ones from organizing a particular room or space. The boxes are:
  • “Keep Until I Die” for items with sentimental value, such as family heirlooms, personal letters, wedding china, and photo albums.
  • “Appraise and Sell” for unwanted items of value.
  • “Keep with Me” for unsentimental items, such as furniture and art.
  • “Garage Sale/Donate” for unwanted items.
Then go room by room with your loved ones, sorting their possessions using this system. This shouldn’t be done in one day or over a weekend but rather is an ongoing process done over weeks or months. When all else fails, and you don’t have the time or energy to take on this type of assistance, know that many professional organizers can help you through the process. You can go to to find professional organizers in your area.