Helping Your Parents Declutter Their Home

Have you been thinking about helping your parents to declutter their home? Maybe it’s time to downsize, move to assisted living or just to help them make their home safer. My own parents went through the decluttering process a few years ago when they were moving so I know what I’m talking about here!

After years of living in their home and accumulating possessions, decluttering can be an important but difficult step to take. In this article we speak with declutter expert Kate Aydin for insight into how you can really help your parents declutter their home, even if they are a sentimental hoarder.

Senior woman holding figure of a house

Decluttering Explained

First things first, what is decluttering? Well, it’s all about taking action and removing items from the home that are no longer needed. These items could be anything – books spilling off the shelf in the living room, old clothes and furniture, artwork that hasn’t been put up or even junk mail. Think about your parents home (or even your own!). What household items can you think of that are surplus to requirement and taking up space?

If you look around your parents house, you’ll likely see years of memories told through their things. What this means is that decluttering is not just about being practical (getting rid of things) but deeply rooted in emotion. These are sentimental items we’re talking about.

Helping your elderly parents to declutter their home won’t be a quick process, but it’s an important journey to go on with them, and trying to help is important. We spoke with expert Kate Aydin to help us understand and master the art of decluttering. 

Encouraging A Parent To Declutter

According to Aydin, you often see adult children wanting to declutter without their senior parents’ input, and that’s just not going to work. While the home may look a mess to you, to a parent it’s their treasured items, full of sentimental attachment.

The first rule is that your parent has to want to declutter. This doesn’t need to be an uphill struggle – you just need to find the motivation for your parent to start the decluttering process.

Reasons To Declutter

Rather than asking your parent straightaway about decluttering, take a step back and ask them what they want to achieve in their later years. You can then use their answer as reasons to declutter. We’ve looked at potential answers and motivators below.

Decluttering To Keep A Senior Loved One Safe

Elderly people are more likely to fall over at home than outside, and trip hazards can be anything from clothes piled up to books on the floor. Explaining how removing these can help them to stay at home instead of moving could be the motivation you’ve been looking for.

They Want To Move About More Easily

Our parents aren’t as mobile now. Getting from A to B in the house isn’t as easy as it used to be, and it’s even harder when clutter has to be moved out of the way.

So your parent may say that they don’t mind doing this (it may even have become part of their routine), but moving these material items permanently will help speed them up and also remove any potential falls risks.

It Makes Space For Grandchildren

Show me a grandparent who doesn’t want their grandchildren to come around and play! This could be a great motivation to declutter. Position it as ‘getting rid of items means there’s more space for them to run around’. Plus, it’s safer as they are less likely to accidentally trip over or run into things.

Decluttering Makes It Easier To Clean

If your parents’ house needs a good clean, or if they have a cleaner coming then it could be efficient to declutter beforehand. This will allow the cleaner to get on with their task and maximize their time – instead of having to move items first.

Decluttering Can Actually Save You Money

Decluttering is a great way to stock take! When you declutter, you know what you have of a particular item so you don’t run the risk of buying more than you need. So decluttering can actually save your elderly parent money. And as an added bonus, it helps the environment as you’re not buying so many primary resources.

As our parents get older, they may need new products to help them stay independent, such as adaptive clothing or helpful aids. Decluttering can make room for this change in lifestyle.

Decluttering Tips For Seniors

Decluttering guru Kate Aydin has given us her expert decluttering tips. If you are trying to help by encouraging your parents to declutter years of stuff, read on.

Decluttering Is Not A Quick Process

Ignore the TV programmes that show decluttering and downsizing done in a matter of minutes (who can do that?!). The nature of separating someone from their beloved sentimental items takes time. That doesn’t mean it’s insurmountable though.

Start small, make it manageable and break it down into 30-minute windows. Be disciplined, take breaks and record the wins. Finishing on a positive always helps too, maybe brought on by a special memory attached to a specific item.

Be Considered And Give Options

No one wants to be told what to do – especially not a senior parent by their adult children!

Providing them with options (for example, which of their six unused vases would they like to keep?) will make them feel like they have some control over the situation.

Showing you are sympathetic to the situation and are treading carefully will make them feel you are on their side.

Look At The Clutter From Their Perspective

Imagine there’s a sewing box on the table, the contents spilling out. You may see it as a tangle of cotton, but to your elderly parent it could symbolise their love of sewing.

First of all, assess with them if they are able to use it (are their hands too arthritic to sew?). If not, suggest packaging it up as a craft box for a child and donate to charity so the contents won’t be wasted and can be put to good use.

Decluttering Can Be Fun

You’re going through your parents’ memories, so use this as an opportunity to try and find something to smile about. Ask them questions or share an uplifting memory. It will make the decluttering seem less like a chore to them.

Help Your Parents To Declutter Their Home By Taking Your Stuff

This is a case of practice what you preach! If your parents are storing any of your belongings, make sure you first remove all of this at the beginning of the process, to set the tone and show you are supporting them. This is especially important if they are looking to downsize. Removing your material items will be a good first step.

Legacy Of Sentimental Family Items

Remember that tea pot you used to like when you were younger, but haven’t given much thought to recently? Well, chances are that your parent is hanging on to it for you. If a sentimental item has been earmarked with your name on it, but you know you won’t use it (such as a large dining table which you don’t have space for), then tell them honestly. You can help them stop being a sentimental hoarder.

To make for fair family distribution and to respect the legacy of sentimental family items, follow this process. Get a box for each family member and name it. With your senior parents’ co-operation, fill them with similar material items and then when full, gift them to the individual so that the items are out of the house.

Break It Down By Category To Avoid Decluttering Paralysis

Thinking about decluttering a large area can seem too much and lead to decluttering paralysis, where nothing gets done. Break it down into manageable categories and work through them methodically.

If the kitchen needs to be tackled, look at small steps which can be taken in the room. Ask your parent which of the pots and pans they use. Narrow down the ones they don’t and suggest donating them to charity or sharing between friends.

Help Them With Practical Jobs

Clutter may arise when there’s no one to help them with odd jobs such as putting art on the walls. An easy solution would be to call a local handyman (once lockdown is over!) or, depending on the weight of the painting, even get some Command Hooks which easily stick to the wall. Then, they can enjoy the sentimental item and declutter all at the same time.

Declutter Old Photos

Going through thousands of old photos can seem overwhelming. To avoid this, get some photo albums and use each album to tell a story. This will force you to choose which photos you put in, and help you decide which to declutter.

If your parent really doesn’t want to get rid of photos, then suggest scanning them in and adding to Dropbox. Save them with a file name which describes it, and then share the Dropbox files with family members over email. You can then declutter the hard copies, knowing the original photographs have been recorded for posterity.

Find A Decluttering Expert

You’re trying to help your elderly parents but at times like this, an impartial decluttering expert could be worth their weight in gold! They are there to do a job, and won’t be subjective about items. Their goal is just to help you declutter, and having someone neutral there can help move the decluttering along.

How Do You Declutter Responsibly?

Plan to help senior parents declutter

Once you’ve gone through the act of decluttering, you need to get rid of the stuff – and ideally in the most responsible way possible.

Recycle Electrical Items

Get rid of old electrical and electronic items and recycle them instore at Currys PC World (but make sure to check store availability first). They accept everything from toasters to kettles and TVs, whether bought from them or not.

Donate Decluttered Items To Charities

Decluttering can give items a new lease of life, passing them on to someone else to enjoy and appreciate. If your parent has countless plastic bags, taking products to the charity shop in them can be a good use too.

Some charities (including British Heart Foundation, Sue Ryder and Emmaus) accept furniture donations too – phone up and check with the local shop if they have space (especially post lockdown when they may be inundated with offers). Note, due to lockdown they currently are not accepting donations.

Local Authority Collections

Familiarise yourself with your parents’ local authority services. As well as recycling, they may also accept dead batteries, textiles and furniture on specific days.

Go To The Tip

Check what’s accepted at the local tip, rent a van (if needed) and take your products there.

Sell Them Online

Use Facebook Marketplace, eBay or local networking groups to sell the goods for a small price (or even give away for free if people collect).

Handy Products To Aid Decluttering

These handy products can help create order as your parents declutter their home.

If your parent has countless pieces of paper with sensitive information on (bank statements, bills etc) then a shredder is a good idea. Just remember that shredded paper takes up a lot of space so get rid of it on the day (and if you have a compost bin, check if you can use shredded paper there).

Create a filing system with a filing cabinet for any papers that they want to keep. We like this small one which can neatly be placed on top of or under a desk.

Non-slip hangers are great for organising wardrobes. Wire hangers get tangled up, so we like these non-slip velvet hangers which allow you to more easily see the clothes hanging.

Use small storage boxes to create order and easily slot into drawers or wardrobes. Categorise them (hairbrushes, underwear – the world is your organizing oyster!) and then once everything is together put them away. This means that your parents’ most used items are together and easy to find. We like these – but if your parent has unused shoe boxes lying about then they can be used too.

If your parent has artwork lying about which they don’t want to put on the walls, then store them in a portfolio. They can be stored flat or upright and as they’re thin they could easily be slotted behind a sofa or in a garage.

Bring order to the kitchen with storage containers. Get rid of any old Tupperware where the lid doesn’t fit, and invest in new. These sliding baskets can also bring order to drawers once you have sifted through the pans.

Conclusion

You may be trying help your parents declutter their home so that they stay safe, or before they downsize. Decluttering years of belongings takes time and can be an emotional rollercoaster.

Support your parents through the decluttering process, from sorting out sentimental items through to getting rid of these material items from the house. Good luck, and comment below to let us know how you get on!

FAQs

What is decluttering?


Decluttering is all about taking action and removing material items from the home that are no longer needed. These items could be anything – books spilling off the shelf onto the floor, old clothes and furniture, artwork that hasn’t been put up or even paperwork.  Remember though that to your elderly parent, these material items may have sentimental attachment so tread carefully. Read our tips on helping your senior parent to declutter their home.

How can you encourage your senior parents to declutter?

You often see adult children wanting to declutter without their parents input, and that’s just not going to work. While to you the home may look a mess, to a parent it’s their treasured items. Your parent has to want to declutter and get rid of these sentimental items. Rather than asking your parent straightaway about decluttering, take a step back and ask them what they want to achieve in their later years. You can then use their answer as reasons to declutter.

What does a professional organiser or decluttering expert do?

The art of decluttering (removing sentimental items from your home) isn’t easy. Whether you’re decluttering for yourself or trying to help an elderly parent, an impartial decluttering expert could be worth their weight in gold! They are there to do a job, and won’t be subjective about items. Their goal is just to help you declutter, and having someone neutral there can help move the decluttering along. The end result means you will create space and order in your home, or be able to downsize.

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