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Dealing with the Dangers of Clutter

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Robyn Tellefsen, Senior Aging Reporter at Our Parents®

It’s important to be safe on the road and at work, but safety at home is an equally critical consideration—particularly in light of National Safety Month this past June.

With the help of Chris Seman, president of Caring Transitions, a professional solution for senior relocation, downsizing, estate sale, and online auction services, we explore the dangers of clutter and provide tips on cleaning your home and clearing your mind for a senior living move.

When Clutter Gets Out of Control

Let’s be honest—many of us live in somewhat cluttered households. Seman points out that the average American home has more than 300,000 items.

Dealing with the Dangers of Clutter

But is clutter really all that dangerous? Seman says it is: “Some of the more obvious dangers are the risks for personal injury, such as trips and falls.” In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for adults age 65 and older, according to “Injury Facts 2017,” the National Safety Council’s statistical report on unintentional injuries.

In addition, Seman notes that piles of paper near outlets, radiators, furnaces, or space heaters pose a risk for household fires. And for those living with hoarding disorder, the challenges are even greater. Even at the lower levels of hoarding, clutter creates dangerous conditions due to blocked exits, blocked heating and air ducts, and exposure to bacteria, molds, and mildew.

Clutter creates financial burdens as well. “Those with cluttered homes frequently pay to replace household items because they are more vulnerable to being crushed, broken, or lost,” says Seman. “Structural damage can also occur due to vents being blocked, obstructing airflow, causing moisture, and creating costly damage from mold.”

Of course, the problem of clutter is not just physical and financial—it affects us psychologically as well. A study by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families shows that clutter is directly linked to high levels of stress and therefore affects our quality of life. Other studies have found correlations between clutter, overeating, and sleeplessness, notes Seman.

Clearing the Clutter

When you’re living with clutter, the task of cleaning house and moving to a senior living community can seem insurmountable. But with a little help from family, friends, and even professionals, it is 100 percent doable.

“A move from a standard family home to a typical assisted living facility means you will need to downsize at least 40 percent of your current possessions,” says Seman. “In most cases, due to storage in garages, attics, and sheds, that number can be much higher.”

That’s why he recommends seniors first decide what they need or want to keep, and then make a plan to get rid of everything else. “Evaluate the value and volume of the possessions you hope to sell or discard before settling on a solution. If there are not enough items of value to offset the labor expense of an estate sale, there are options such as online auction, private sales, or a combination of donations, clean-outs, and buyouts.”

The Benefits of Eliminating Clutter

Clearing the clutter will take a lot of patience and perseverance, but rest assured that your hard work will pay dividends.

“Simple organization may make it easier to locate and pay household bills, or open up walkways so you can safely navigate living space,” says Seman. “Eliminating clutter can also help increase the value of a home and make it more marketable, and can reduce moving and packing expenses.” And, of course, cutting clutter can lead to decreased anxiety and improved health due to the cleaner, safer environment.

Though some say it takes the average family 9 to 18 months to declutter a senior’s home, Seman points out that a professional service like Caring Transitions accomplishes the same thing in a matter of days.

“When you choose to work with professionals, you give yourself the gift of time and may also benefit from faster home sale, reduced moving expenses, and stress relief during a very trying time,” he says. “As long as medical and financial circumstances allow time to plan, seek the professional advice and support needed to help you manage this next step in life.”