Involve elders in decision to clean out old stuff
January 14, 2019

Q:  My 93-year-old mother is still living in her own home. The basement is filled with things that have been stored for years. I am concerned that if she continues to deteriorate both physically and cognitively she will require placement in a long-term care facility. If this happens at some point the home will need to be sold. I have tried in the past to encourage her to let me start getting rid of items that have not been used in a long time and she has been resistant. It is getting to the point this has to be done one way or another. Any suggestions on how to approach this?

A: Some people form an emotional attachment to their belongings even those which no longer have real value (financial) or are even functional. Individuals have cherished memories associated with their possessions. While we tend to hear stories similar to yours regarding an elderly parent… people of all ages may hold onto “things” far too long.

In an ideal situation it is respectful to at least attempt to discuss the need to downsize with an older relative which it appears you have done in the past. Your mother may no longer be capable of understanding the problem she has created. You may try to engage her in the process by suggesting some of the items could be donated to a worthy cause as opposed to throwing everything out. There is some chance she could feel better about this if she thought she was helping someone less fortunate. Thrift stores, veterans organizations, churches and a host of other groups would welcome the donations.

Tackle the project by dividing things into three categories: donate, trash and save for family members or to sell. It is often best not to try and do this all at once to keep your mother from being overwhelmed. One daughter who is currently dealing with this issue is careful to only put out trash in the barrels on collection day as to not upset her mother or confuse her with excessive amounts on the street, neighbors may not appreciate it either. Always remember if the situation has gotten to the point a fire or safety concern exists steps need to be taken immediately.

If your mother requires placement prior to your completion of the job and you require assistance there are professionals to hire that deal with relocation tasks.


Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services.

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