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The “Stuff” Of Stability

“Mom, don’t you have some better shoes?”

“These are fine for the grocery.”

Amy was visiting 90-year-old Sarah for a week. Sarah had come out of the bedroom wearing slacks, a neatly tucked blouse, handbag on her arm.

But those shoes! The soles were run down, their once-lovely fabric now faded, stained, and exhibiting worn spots. Sarah had to shuffle to keep them on.

First stop that morning: a shoe store.

At Amy’s next visit two months later, Sarah was still slogging around in the old, worn shoes.

“Where are your new shoes, Mom?”

“I’m saving them.”

“For what??”

Perhaps you’ve had this conversation with a senior family member and walked away shaking your head. Sarah died a few years later. The new shoes were still in the box. She had continued wearing the old ones.

Senior citizens often hold on to obsolete things. Sarah grew up during the Depression when it was instilled in her that nothing should be thrown away.

For other seniors, refusal to dispose of things may result from sentimental attachment, bringing back memories of a happy time, a loved person, a special event. Giving up gifts from loved ones can seem disloyal and unkind, even if they have no use for them or don’t even like them.

To toss them would be tantamount to deleting part of their existence. You might try persuading them to keep a few cherished things and let you take pictures of the rest for a scrapbook.

Many older people, especially having lived in the same house for decades, may see the task of sorting out too overwhelming. Here again, might you convince them to let you do the sorting, under their supervision of course.

A sense of stability can also factor in. These objects comprise their familiar world, often becoming a substitute for lost companionship or to stave off feelings of loneliness. Any disturbance to their comfort zone is frightening.

Helping older family or friends in these situations requires gentle patience. If they are content with the status quo and the clutter presents no danger to their safe mobility, let it go, no matter how much it may disturb you. If it becomes a safety or health issue, discuss and handle it tactfully.

(See http://blog.totalhomecaresupplies.com, Reasons Seniors Hang on to Stuff; and, http://www.caregiverstress.com)

Finally, avoid becoming “that” senior:

1. “I might need this someday.” If it’s not used in a year, let it go.

2. “I think I would like: some home gym equipment, the latest kitchen appliance/gadget, a keyboard.” Impulse buying is rarely a good idea. Think it over until the fever subsides. Then, if you’re sure you’ll use it long-term, buy it. Otherwise, it just becomes one more dust collector.

3. “I can’t bear to part with this.” Items with sentimental value are the hardest to let go. Again, keep a cherished few and take photos of the rest for a memory journal.

4. “But my sister gave it to me.” And now it’s yours to do with as you wish. After a respectful time, donate it, sell it, pass it along to another loved person.

Difficult as it may be, you don’t want “stuff” to own you, define you, or hold you hostage. Your kids don’t want it and The Pickers aren’t likely to show up at your door. Nor will you hear, “Saving it for what??”

Constance Watkins