Senior Health and Safety: Decluttering Guide

Most people want to live in a home that is clutter-free and clean. Not only is an organized and clean home comfortable and conducive to good health, but it is also a welcoming place to enjoy the company of one’s children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, for some, maintaining this type of environment can become increasingly difficult as they advance in age. Physical and psychological changes may result in increasing clutter that can quickly escalate into a serious problem. In some cases, a person’s problem with clutter may be due to hoarding, a condition in which they buy, collect, or hold onto items that they don’t need. Homes with an accumulation of clutter can create an environment that is unsafe, unsanitary, and emotionally depressing.

The importance of decluttering cannot be overemphasized, as the dangers associated with a clutter-filled home are many. As one’s belongings, whether new, used, or unwanted, begin to accumulate, they eventually cover available surfaces including floor space. Depending on the degree of clutter, it can even block the pathways in one’s home as well as doors that lead in and out of the house or other rooms. This reduces mobility for seniors using canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, and it even hinders people who do not typically require walking assistance. Clutter on the ground can also cause falls resulting in injuries such as broken or fractured bones, scrapes, cuts, and even death. The danger of having clutter on the floor is an extremely serious concern, as millions of individuals 65 years old or older fall annually, and according to the CDC, one out of five of them suffers a serious injury as a result.

Blocked doorways are just as serious of a threat to seniors as falling. When doorways are blocked, medical responders are unable to enter the home in the event of an emergency or are faced with difficulty in reaching the individual in need. This delay in care can often be the difference between life and death. In the event of a fire, clutter can prevent firefighters from entering the home. Excess clutter can even make one’s home more susceptible to fire or help make fires worse.

When clutter overflows onto surfaces, it can spill onto kitchen counters, stovetops, tables, bedding, or anywhere in the house. This quickly creates an unsanitary environment that is ideal for bacterial or mold growth. Because these areas cannot easily be cleaned, dust or food particles can accumulate. In extreme cases, it may also attract pests in the form of insects such as flies, ants, roaches, or even mice. Unsanitary conditions can make people ill or exacerbate current health problems such as asthma. As clutter worsens, people can become increasingly anxious or depressed over the state of their surroundings, physical limitations, or inability to clean as they once could.

There are steps that one can take when faced with a mild or moderate level of clutter. Ideally, one should hire a professional who has experience helping seniors to get rid of clutter and organize what could be a lifetime of belongings. When tackling clutter without professional assistance, people should ask family for help if they have not already done so. If this is not an option, check with trusted friends or church members for assistance. To start the decluttering process, it can be helpful to go through each room of the house and determine which items should be kept, donated, sold, placed in storage, or permanently discarded. These items can be separated in piles or in labeled bags. Items that are expired or no longer function should be disposed of. In kitchens, this may be outdated food, while in the bathroom, it may be medications that have expired. Throw out old newspapers and back issues of magazines. Remove any items that are stacked on the floor, and place any belongings that are being kept into storage containers that can be stored in easily accessible but out-of-the-way locations that are not on the floor.

To help prevent clutter from reaching problematic levels, one may consider contacting area senior services. Senior services generally offer a range of programs that are meant to help older individuals who are living at home. This includes companions, homemakers, and caregivers. These services can help keep clutter from growing out of control, and with housekeeping services, seniors can get assistance keeping things organized and clean. One should check with their healthcare provider to determine what, if any, services might be available or covered by insurance. If the individual feels that their clutter may be the result of hoarding, they should speak with their physician about their concerns.

Read the pages linked below for more information about clutter and the importance of decluttering for senior health and safety:

Online Master of Health Administration