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Multiple Choices, Zero Decisions! Helping Seniors Who Hoard

By Vickie Dellaquila
July 6

I was recently at the restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory for dinner. I have not been there for a while and picked up the menu to make a choice on what to order for dinner. As I was reading the menu, “I thought that salad looks good, but so does that sandwich, or maybe I should have pasta?” After 10 minutes or so, I became overwhelmed by the number of choices available for dinner and not to mention desert! The Cheesecake Factory is a great restaurant with good food; however their menu is so large and filled with many choices. It is easy to become overwhelmed and having trouble making a decision. Many seniors who are hoarding or may be downsizing or aging in place can feel this way with all the choices they will make of what belongings to let go of in their home or to keep. When you have so many choices, it is easier not to choose and not make a decision. There are costs too having many choices: •    Having too many choices can lead to indecision. I cannot choose, so I am not going to do anything. As in the case of senior’s home-clutter can grow and get out of hand. •    Wanting to Perfect- I want to make the “right choice”. They might think if it isn’t perfect then I won’t do anything. As result clutter will grow because they don’t know where to start and they may feel they will make a poor choice and it will not be perfect, then it may result in a bad choice. •    According to researcher David Tolin, PhD, a psychologist at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn. "The task seems to overload the network." That brain network goes into hyper drive, starts freaking out. •    When it comes to their own possessions, says Tolin, the decision-making process for people who hoard becomes very difficult, even painful, so they avoid it. And so, stuff keeps piling up. "It's very common, and it can be very sad," he says. Helping with a senior who is hoarding with making decisions: •    Limiting choices-Instead of overwhelming your loved one with several choices at once, limit the amount of choices offered. •    Group small amounts of like things together- For example, if your loved one has 100 coffee mugs put the mugs with the same color together first. They may 10 red coffee mugs. Of those coffee mugs put the same color of reds together limiting the amount of cups to 3 or 4 mugs for them to make decisions about. They only have to make a few decisions at a time. •    Work in small amounts of time, so they don’t become overwhelmed. •    Take brain breaks often. Everyone needs to rest their brain after a while decision making. It can be exhausting. If your senior loved one is hoarding and you want to help them, start by limiting the amount of decisions they need to make at one time. Hoarding is a very difficult situation for seniors and their families to face, but starting to help them in small steps may help. Vickie Dellaquila is western Pennsylvania’s only Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization and owner of Organization Rules® Inc. Organization Rules provides compassionate organizing services for every stage of your life®. She is the author of Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize, and Move. Please visit If you found this article useful, please click the “Share This” icon below to make it available to your family and friends.

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Expert Q&A

Common Senior Financial Scams

Legal, Chris Cooper

Question: I am always worried my mother who stays alone will fall prey to a financial scam. Can you give me examples of some common scams that I can discuss with her to make her aware?

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