So often, when we hear the word “downsizing,” we think of moving to a smaller residence; less or no yard, fewer rooms to clean, a smaller area with lower expenses. When providing at home caregiving, especially in a situation in which the one you are caring for moves in with you, it does seem like you have a smaller residence, that you downsized without moving.
One of the most difficult challenges about caregiving is that it’s one of those times in life—not unlike marriage—in which you must be concerned not only with your own belongings but also someone else’s. Even if the one you are caring for does not move in, you may be responsible for much of the—let’s call it stuff—you need to care for your loved one.
For those of you not from around here, you may not yet have developed an appreciation for beach music, one of the Carolinas’ gifts to the world. Delbert McClinton, a wonderful artist whose work eases over into beach music, has a great song, “Too Much Stuff.” If you haven’t heard it, you can watch or listen to it online at www.youtube.com. He sings that we all have too much stuff and it messes with your mind. (McClinton also has another song, “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” but that is another story.)
The stuff that comes with caregiving ranges from your loved one’s belongings to all the paperwork, information, medical stuff, food, and trash created during the experience. Too much stuff easily turns into clutter and, as McClinton sings, it can mess with your mind. Think about the negative impact of clutter creating a situation in which you can’t find the information, form, medicine or supplies you need to ensure your loved one’s care and safety.
With that in mind, here are a dozen ways to declutter your environment when caregiving:
- Stop thinking about getting it all done at once. It’s overwhelming. Do one room at a time. Do one corner of a room. Do one shelf. Then reward yourself.
- Stop thinking about perfection. Just make it simpler a little at a time.
- Don’t leave a room without putting or throwing something away.
- Set the timer on your cellphone to 10 minutes. Clean or straighten up as much as you can, and when the timer goes off reward yourself.
- Have one place you keep all paperwork for your caregiving responsibilities. Have one file folder on your computer to store all digital info…and back that file up once a day.
- When decluttering, ask yourself these questions: Do I really need this? Does my loved one really need this? Do I/they use it regularly? Do I/they love it? If the answer is no to the questions either throw, donate or give it away.
- Have a “Maybe” box. This is the box that gets items you can’t part with right now, but maybe they’ll find their way out at a later date. Put the maybe box where you don’t see it and write “maybe box” on your calendar six months from now. On that date, if you find the maybe box and it hasn’t been disturbed or opened, you can donate it or throw it away.
- Keep a donation box in a closet or near the back door. Every time you fill the box and donate its contents give yourself a reward.
- Ask for help. Find someone who is not as emotional about the items to help you declutter. And leave them alone to do it.
- Remember, you may not be decluttering just for you. Other people’s stuff often comes with their feelings. So, talk to others about the decluttering. Help them understand you won’t be tossing things they love. Don’t force the decision on them.
- If there is resistance, declutter your own area. Then talk to others about how nice it is to have more space. Be the example; be the inspiration.
- Enjoy the space. Once you start decluttering, you aren’t clearing space for more stuff. Take a little time to enjoy the simplicity.
Some of the most difficult caregiving experiences for my brother and me have centered on what to do with our parents’ stuff. We knew early on that he was the one to take care of all the records, bills and minutiae of caregiving. I was the one who cleaned a lot of the house stuff out. We still have items that are so emotion-laden that we cannot, and probably won’t, part with them. We’ll let the next generation take care of that.
Mike Collins is the producer of the video, “Care for the Caregiver,” winner of a National Caregiver Friendly Award from Today’s Caregiver Magazine. For ways to deal with the craziness of caregiving, visit www.crazycaregiver.com. ©2017 Mike Collins