Storage Solutions for the Elderly

It is very important for the elderly to have a decluttered living space with everything well-organized and categorized. This goes a long way to help them lead a comfortable and organized life with minimal hazards and risks. In this article we will discuss different storage solutions for the elderly and how to arrange things in the house, to make everything easily accessible and convenient to use.

While decluttering plays a positive role in everybody’s life, it is particularly helpful for the elderly to free up their physical space. This, in turn, helps to free up mind space and encourages clear thinking. Decluttering and sorting an elderly’s home will prepare them and the house for the next stage of life, which is their golden years.

Before you take up the task of decluttering your parents’ house, get them on board. If they are convinced that the house needs to be uncluttered, half your battle is won.

Why Seniors Should Look to Declutter their Home?

The average American accumulates about 300,000 items and belongings and spends 3,680 hours or almost 153 days (that is more than 5 months!) looking for things that they have misplaced, over their lifetime1. Seniors often have problems with their short-term memory as also with mobility. Therefore, the following reasons stand out among many as to why should the elderly declutter their homes.

Moving about risk-free

Decluttering your home by reducing furniture and appliances and retaining only the once which are essential, will allow you a lot of free moving spaces. This will considerably reduce the risk of tripping over something or colliding with stuff. This is especially true if the elderly person is using an accessibility device like a transport wheelchair within the house.

Installing fixed mobility aids

Making room in the house also comes in handy if you have to install equipment for assisted living. For example, if your parent(s) are mobility challenged, you may want to install a stair-lift to help them move upstairs or a fixed patient lift for transfers to and from the bed.

Downsizing

Seniors living on a fixed income (pension, annuities, retirement savings etc) often need to downsize to a smaller home or a condominium. Downsizing is one of the biggest reasons why many are forced to think about reducing their belongings.

Finding things faster

Finally, a well-organized home goes a long way in reducing the time that one spends searching for misplaces items. This is all the more true for the elderly with dementia or short term memory loss. All of us have limited time left to live. We are sure your parents would rather spend those precious hours living it up than hunting down things!

Often, however, decluttering and rearranging a lived-in house can be a time consuming, difficult, and emotional task for the elderly to tackle all by themselves. Therefore, you would want to help your parents declutter by finding and installing some storage solutions for the elderly.

If your parent(s) have lived in the same house for a long time, it is likely decluttering your parents’ house might be overwhelming for you too. You may even consider hiring professional services to complete this rearrangement.

Storage solutions for the elderly include a well organized closet

Storage solutions for the elderly include a well organized closet

How to Convince Your Parents to Downsize?

When your parents are living alone, chances are that they may not need a large space with multiple rooms. Not only will a large home require more maintenance effort from them, but if they are a tenant, they will have to shell out a larger share of their pension funds or living budget as rent.

However, it is often true that your parents are too attached to their existing home. They may have too many memories tied to the place to leave it. It is indeed a delicate and stressful activity that has to be dealt with due thoughtfulness. A few of the below tips may help you to successfully negotiate this tricky situation.

  • Always show respect for your parents’ belongings. You must not take it for granted that any of them can be discarded without thought. You may not know what memories may be linked to them.
  • Let your parents be the decision-maker on which objects to let go. Understandably, it will be a difficult exercise and you may want to guide them. But it is important to let them have the final say.
  • One way to make it less painful for your parents is to show how much of value and convenience these objects have provided you and your family with over the years and now they may be able to provide the same to another family. It is important to never highlight the monetary value which you will be getting by selling these objects because the market value will likely not be much. Instead, that point and may become a deterrent for your parents as they will likely associate a much greater value to these objects.
  • It is important to remember, however, that having more storage does not generally solve the purpose. It still reduces the free space inside your rooms, even though storage spaces may help you to organize belongings better

How to Organize Your Parents’ House?

Decluttering your parents’ house can quickly become unstructured and defeat the purpose, if not handled in an organized way. It must be treated as a modular exercise and you should tackle it one activity at a time. Starting with a bedroom or the living room or the kitchen may be a good idea. Or you might want to or start with certain types of important things (like important papers or medicines). A well-thought strategy will help you ease into the process.

If you are planning to let go of a few things, it is easier to start with the less sentimental items. It is also important to safely store the items to be discarded until the time they move out of the house, lest they become the cause for tripping or falling.

Professional Organizer to Help Organize Your Parents’ House

If organizing your parents’ house seems like a daunting task, you can hire a professional organizer to help you do that. We spoke to Catherine Davis a professional organizer helping families in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. This what she had to say about how a professional organizer can help you organize your parents’ home. Catherine is reachable at info@organizedbycatherine.ca

How can a professional organizer help the elderly who are looking to downsize?

Professional organizers come to your home and work with you on a one-to-one basis.   They have a good sense of what can realistically fit into a retirement apartment or smaller house and can help you select furnishing that will work well in your new space.   They assist with the decluttering process by sorting your belonging into categories (books, memorabilia, clothing) and guide you through the decision-making process of what to keep, donate, or sell.  For example, a client with an extensive library may use the services of a professional organizer to help them pare down the collection to a few favourite authors and sentimental books.

Many professional organizers work with companies that specialize in online auctions and can prepare your contents to be photographed and sold.  Some professional organizers will arrange for antiques to be delivered to a consignment store.   The relationship between client and professional organizer is very personal so it is important to select someone you feel you can trust and enjoy working with.

Catherine Davis - Professional Organizer

Catherine Davis – Professional Organizer

How can a professional organizer help the elderly who are looking to age in place?

Professional Organizers can re-organize a home to minimize stair use and ensure that everyday items are within easy reach.   For example, a dining room that is rarely used can be converted into a first-floor bedroom.  Kitchens can be purged of heavy items that are no longer used, making room for more practical items.

Cupboards can be arranged so that everyday items are within easy reach.   Clothes that are no longer worn can be purged leaving more room for everyday clothing and shoes.   Professional organizers can also recommend professionals who can make alterations to one’s home, such as widening doorframes for wheelchairs and walkers, installing chair lifts, or building ramps.

How much will it cost to hire a professional organizer?

Professional organizers typically charge between $50 – $120/hr, with the average around $75/hr.   Some organizers charge an initial consultation fee, typically around $100/hr.  Some organizers offer service packages with flat rates, but it is more common to pay an hourly rate.  Expect to pay more for the services of a professional organizer in major cities, those who have certifications,  and those who offer specialty services (working with hoarders and the chronically disorganized).   All organizers set their own prices, so you may be able to negotiate a flat rate or request a discount based on the number of hours you require.

Organizing Papers for the Elderly

This is probably the most important aspect of organizing and sorting your parents’ home, particularly, if their cognitive abilities are not the same anymore. Files and folders with pockets are the age-old storage solutions that will help you here as well.

Paper storage solutions for the elderly

Financial Documents

Depending on your financial footprint, you must categorize your financial documents clearly into different buckets. Some of the financial documents you will encounter may be bank statements, online account login details, share or stockholding account statements, insurance coverage details (categorized into life insurance, health insurance, and home or car insurance), loan or mortgage documents, if any, tax returns and pension statements. Be sure to mark different documents with the corresponding labels and to categorize them in a way so that labels are clearly visible and easy to identify

Bills

You should make a separate compartment for all the bills which will make sure that the last payment date is not missed. Be it utility bills (electricity, water or gas), credit card bills, property tax bills, or cable TV bills, all of them can do with proper filing. You might even consider setting as many bills as possible on auto-payment. Although it is a good habit to check in on the auto payments as the service providers’ plans might change and you might suddenly find yourself auto-paying a higher bill amount than planned for.

Warranties

Your appliance warranties should be arranged conveniently in a file so that you can retrieve them easily if one of them fails. All of us must have gone through times when one of our appliances have failed and we have spent hours looking for the warranty documents. The file, once made, can be kept at an accessible place like in a table drawer or on an accessible shelf or cupboard.

Legal Documents

Some of the least accessed but very important documents are legal documents. For example, wills and property title deeds. While they must be categorized clearly, you or your parents may want to store them in a more secure place.

Medical Documents and Prescriptions

Do not forget to make a separate storage folder for medical documents and prescriptions. With time, these documents will be needed more often and should be stored somewhere, where they can be readily accessed.

Here are some document organizing options from Amazon.

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JSungo File Organizer Box...
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Last update 2020-08-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Organizing the Kitchen for the Elderly

As we grow older, our body tissues grow weaker and we may suffer from body balance issues. Unless your parents use a reacher grabber tool, they may find it difficult to reach higher storage spaces. At the same time, due to mobility challenges, we may not want to bend too much to access lower storage spaces.

As a result of these problems, it is best to rearrange all the storage in your kitchen to a height which is conveniently accessible for your elderly parents. The height of all the storage space should ideally be between your eye level and your waist level.

Once you have figured out the storage, it will be easy to categorize grocery items, condiments, utensils, dishes, and the crockery in well-organized separate spaces for convenient use. If your kitchen is not equipped with separate compartments for each type, you may purchase ready-made inserts that can be placed inside drawers or cupboards to create convenient compartmentalized spaces.

In case your elderly parent is suffering from forgetfulness, it may be helpful to label each storage compartment with large letters, as per the contents, to avoid confusion. If you have any unused appliance or utensils or any item, it is best to push that out for a garage sale or dispose it off.

You can consider getting some of these drawer organizers to help your parents organize their drawers.

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Organizing Medicines for the Elderly

Medicines are a matter of concern for all seniors. There are often too many to take and it is difficult to keep track of all of them and the time and dosage of each. It is best if you could draw up a convenient chart with large letters, which shows your medicine routine. Moreover, a pillbox with an alarm and different labeled compartments may also be really helpful. Some pillboxes with alarms can be integrated with a mobile phone to help remind whenever it is time to take a pill.

Organizing Closets for the Elderly

Organizing closets is one of the most difficult parts of decluttering for the elderly. To dispose off unworn clothes – favorites from some period, all but forgotten. But once done, this prepares you well for the next phase of your life and significantly declutters your storage spaces.

Chances are, that, at this age, they will not move out of home too frequently and their wardrobes should shrink over time. The ideal way to organize your parents’ wardrobe and clothes is to have a clothes organizer and label each type of clothing storage clearly to avoid confusion.

Clothes organizers can conveniently hang from the closet hangers and your parents can use the compartments that they are able to reach comfortably. Once more, it is extremely important to have all your clothes and footwear at a level that is convenient for you to access – not very low and not too high.

Below are some storage solutions for the elderly to help them organize their closets.

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AmazonBasics Expandable Metal...
TomCare Cube Storage 12-Cube...
AmazonBasics Mesh Sliding...

Last update 2020-08-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Storing Valuables

Finally, your parents may have valuable items at home like jewelry, antiques etc. You must ensure to make a list of the valuable items. If possible, it is the safest to keep them under lock and key or in a safe. If the safe has a number lock, make sure that more than one trusted person has access to or remembers the number. If it has a physical key, you must have a duplicate made and placed with a family member.

If you don’t have a safe, you can easily order one online from Amazon. Here are the top picks.

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AmazonBasics Home Keypad Safe...
AmazonBasics Steel, Security...
Sale Safe and Lock Box - Safe Box,...

Last update 2020-08-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Conclusion

If you are not able to find the time or the energy to complete the process of declutter, and if you do not have any near and dear ones who may be able to help you with this, it may be a good idea to enlist help.

You can look at options on Craigslist or TaskRabbit. You may also find such services locally (through local Facebook business groups), in the area that you live in. And if you are looking for more professional support, you can try organizations like National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals or Professional Organizers in Canada.

Finally, you must be aware that this activity is mentally and emotionally sapping and you must allow yourself as much time as it takes your elderly parent to part with belongings that have a lifetime of memories attached to them.

References

  1. https://www.latimes.com/health/la-xpm-2014-mar-21-la-he-keeping-stuff-20140322-story.html

Gaurav Dhir, B. Tech, is an engineer by training. He also holds the degree of PGDCM from the prestigious IIM Calcutta. Gaurav is responsible for the health and wellness of 4 generations including his son, elderly parents and very elderly grandparents. He is a wellness aficionado and loves keeping and staying healthy.

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