Reader question: Helping mom unclutter

Reader Misty sent us this question:

I want to help my mom do some uncluttering. The entire house is in need of some help. My sister passed away three years ago — she was a collector and many collections there are! Do you have any ideas on how to deal with packed closets and chests of drawers, etc.? In order to clean, one must have a place to put things away. The answer might be simple, except that mom isn’t ready to do a major cleansing of clothing, shoes, etc. Do you have any ideas on beginning with baby steps? Mom has lost great deal of her vision and has had three strokes. I’m the one to help her clear out and make safe where she is walking.

First of all Misty, thank you for being willing to help your mom with such a project. It’s obvious that you are concerned about her safety and well-being and it is important to emphasize this when you start your project. It will be a challenge for both of you but working together to make your mother comfortable can bring you closer.

We’ve written before about strategies to use when helping someone else unclutter and this advice may be useful to you as you proceed. Remember that forced clean-outs are rarely successful and can create a lot of resentment between family members.

Her health issues indicate that she may not be as mobile and active as she used to be. She may feel that removing items from her home amplifies her belief that her world, and her ability to influence it, is shrinking. She may struggle against this loss of power by refusing to let things go. Remind her that you are not uncluttering to “get rid of her stuff,” you are uncluttering to keep her safe and independent for as long as possible.

Consider doing many mini-projects. Even just one drawer, cupboard, or surface per day may be enough. Choose a time of day that works best for your mom, when she has the most mental and physical energy — maybe first thing in the morning or perhaps just after lunch. Keep your sessions short and always end the project on a positive note sharing your successes over a cup of tea or some fancy chocolates.

Keepsakes will be important to your mother. While many of us may select certain aesthetic features when keeping and displaying memorabilia, these may not be practical for those who are visually impaired. Objects with bright and/or contrasting colours and those that have a unique, distinctive structure that can be felt rather than seen, may be a better choice. Consider keeping one or two items from your collections that meet these criteria and let the rest go.

When it comes to clothing, help your mother decide on easy-wear/easy-care pieces. Build a colour coordinating wardrobe that will make it easy for her to be independent.

All the best of luck to you Misty as you work together on this project. For more helpful tips on whole house organizing, check out our Organizing Jumpstart.


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4 Comments for “Reader question: Helping mom unclutter”

  1. posted by Odette on

    As someone who has lost an adult child, I would not be happy with someone trying to “declutter” the only physical things I have left belonging to my son. I’d save these for the very last, even if it’s years before she’s ready.

  2. posted by Dorothy on

    “… mom isn’t ready to do a major cleansing of clothing, shoes, etc.“

    I can only go by what you’ve written, but it sounds like you’re driving this train. If so, butt out. Make sure your mom knows you’re there when she wants help but don’t try to control her or the process.

    If she’s ready to do SOMETHING, focus on that. But don’t bother “tidying up” stuff she’s not ready to get rid of.

  3. posted by angie on

    I would suggest start with collections. It might be difficult to your mom and you, but my suggestion is to see if you can donate them to a local library/school/charity and get a recognition for your mom. If she will be invited to the ceremony or gets a memorable plaque and can always visit the place where collection is kept it will serve her multiple ways.
    Then I would continue with drawers or cupboards that your mom is rarely use. I would send her to a spa or a friend or relative and de-clutter yourself as you see fit. If you see anything that might hold a value for your mom, set it aside and then ask her if she wants to keep it.
    That way your mom will not bear the stress of decisions and still will keep some stuff.
    Then as you will gain some free space you can continue declutter the stuff laying around and put it in the drawers or cupboards you just emptied. Then you can repeat the cycle.

  4. posted by SkiptheBS on

    If Mom has money troubles, inventory the collections and get estimates on values. This alone may be enough to get her interested in the project.

    If she’s the kind who has kept every damaged, ratty-haired cheap doll and broken-winged model airplane, just clean up the kitchen and bathrooms, then take out the garbage. Accept that she’s an emotional hoarder and that she probably is viewing these and her happy memories to ease loneliness and grief. Don’t fight the process. She may or may not change her mind later.

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