Home clutter can become a serious hazard for many seniors as you get older. The slow progression of natural changes that come with aging— lower visual acuity, reduced mobility and range of motion, or the impaired sense of balance often brought on by the medications some older people take— can make navigating a cramped space difficult, even downright treacherous.
But using a few simple techniques, you can get rid of clutter and make your living area safer.
Focus first on what you need.
If you are looking to reduce your possessions’ footprint, you’ll naturally begin to sell, donate, or give away items to family and friends. Sometimes that can be a difficult, emotionally charged process. Strong emotions are often attached to items a person accumulates over the years. The trick to approaching this stage of the process is toconsider your priorities.
As Henry David Thoreau once so eloquently wrote, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” In other words, give your most important items— your daily necessities, your basic furniture (bed, chair, table, couch), your most prized personal possessions— the greatest weight when you begin to downsize.
A Tale of Two Couches
Consider this. You have two couches: small and large.
If you on impulse bought a second, larger couch a few years ago because you thought it looked nice with your living room’s refreshed paint scheme, but you don’t have significant memories attached to it. And it takes up more room than your slightly older couch. It’s probably safe to sell it and keep the smaller couch. You might miss it for a few days, but you’ll adjust.
But if your larger couch is a well-preserved piece you brought back from Paris in the 1960s after living and working there for 10 years, and it reminds you of your time spent living on the Left Bank, whereas the smaller couch was purchased at Bob’s Cheap Furniture Emporium in the 1990s, don’t be afraid to keep the larger couch. Maybe you get rid of an extra chair to make up for the space lost to the larger couch.
Organize, organize, organize!
One way to reduce clutter is just to do what your mother always taught you: put away your toys. If your rec room looks like an actual wreck, or your kitchen looks like a mad scientist’s lab with a lot of sharp, scary-looking utensils hanging about, you really need to rethink your approach.
But serious cleaning and reorganizing may take a little more planning than you might at first think— especially if you are thinking ahead and considering your reduced range of motion. If your home is not designed with a person of limited reach in mind, it might be time for a safety remodel. Luckily, there are professionals who can help you improve your home’s safety features.
If you remodel, consult a qualified expert in senior home improvement.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the AARP developed a program to train builders to become Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS). These specialists use simple design techniques to make homes more suitable for independent senior living.
A CAPS professional might work with you to:
- Redesign bathrooms, kitchens and other high-risk fall zones to incorporate more safety—such as non-slip surfaces, railings and grab bars—and accessibility features—lower cabinets and shelves, easy-roll drawers.
- Widen corridors or doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or reduce foot traffic congestion.
- Improve visibility at hallway intersections and eliminate blind corners.
- Increase window sizes or install skylights to allow more natural light into dark spaces, or increase the amount of artificial lighting to improve visibility in dark homes.
You might also consult an occupational therapist (OT). An OT is a health care professional who can assess your physical needs and work with you to develop safer methods for performing daily tasks.
Commit to downsizing early and approach improving your home safety as a process.
Don’t try to bite off too much at once— that can be overwhelming. Instead, treat ridding your home of clutter as an ongoing project. With patience and steady progress, you can make your home safer, stay in it longer and be ready for a move to a retirement community if and when that time comes.
Remember to let your physical needs, more so than your emotions, guide your attempts to make retirement living safe and uncluttered.