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Helping a Senior Downsize

by Vickie Dellaquila, Downsizing & Hoarding Expert
July 24, 2015

Question: My aging mother has too much stuff in her house and has complained about it several times. But when I offer help to clean up, she gets very angry. How do I deal with this stressful situation?

Answer: Yes, that is a very stressful situation. Your mom probably states that she wants help, but then complains when you try to help her. It is a common situation for adult children. Many people get angry because they fear that they are losing control. Change is also very difficult for anyone. It can be very overwhelming and hard when you have live in a home for long time like your mom.

Before you start, ask your mother what are her goals? If the goal is let go of some things in the kitchen so she can use it more effectively and safely, write the goal down. Let her come up with her own goals and how she will get there.

Here are some ideas:

Remember that they are her belongings and even though she has asked you to help her, be respectful of her possessions.

Ask her permission to move things around before moving them or going through a pile without her.

Let her know that she will make decisions on what stays and go not you, however remind her of her goals that she set in the beginning.

Suggest charitable contributions or family members for things she is willing to release, especially if she has lived through the great depression or other hard times. Now it is her time to help someone else like she may have been helped at one time.

Help your mother understand that her things will be used or needed by someone else.

Sometimes adult children cannot work well with their parents because they are too close to the situation or for other reasons. You may want to consider hiring a professional organizer. Professional organizers are not attached to your stuff. The professional understand the issues of letting go and can help her through the process usually easier than you can.

For more info on finding resources for a Professional Organizer:

It is a difficult situation when a parent asks for help, but is not ready to receive it from it. Setting goals, respecting boundaries, and reminding her of the goals she set can help. Your mother also may find the situation less stressful by talking to a friend, religious person, or a therapist to deal with the change.  By enlisting the help of someone else, like a professional organizer may be a possible answer for you too. Whatever you decide to do, remember change is difficult for most people, but especially your mother.

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.

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