Can too much “stuff” in the home affect our decisions about our living situation?

One of the areas that our Silverlinks workers and volunteers often come across is that older people feel they have too much “stuff” to enable them to make decisions about their housing.  To much stuff in the home can cause health issues, in terms of mental health, isolation and depression, and physical issues from increasing risk of falls, fire etc.  It is also a major barrier to people making positive decisions about their living situation.

One lady who has been supported by a Silverlinks volunteer was unable to manage in her home so was wanting to downsize. However, the amount of paperwork and possessions in her home meant that she could not face the thought of moving.  She had support to sort through some of her things, which enabled her to have adaptations in her home.  She is now in a position where she can live independently in her home.  She is still considering moving, but now feels that she will be able to make a positive decision about it when the time comes.

I recently met with some volunteers from Nottingham and Rochdale to talk about this, thinking about how people struggle to declutter and the effect this can have on decisions they make.  The main points made by both groups were very similar, which I have summarised below:

  • Sometimes clutter can be a barrier to having improvements made to the home, such as repairs or adaptations. It can also cause people to put off making decisions eg about moving home, as they cannot see beyond their possessions.
  • The problem is often “where to start” – once this has been done, people find it easier to continue. Having someone who understands there for moral support can be a great help.
  • Possessions can be a physical representation of a memory (eg gifts, souvenirs etc.) which makes them hard to discard.
  • A barrier to decluttering is that people worry that if a professional helps them, they will encourage them throw everything out. People need to realise that they don’t have to get rid of all of their things – it is good to keep things we use, treasure and like to look back on.
  • Our possessions are valuable to us –either in monetary or sentimental/emotional terms. Many people feel better about getting rid of things if they know they are going to a good home, such as being donated to a charity, and be reused and continue to be of value to people.
  • Help from people who understand the situation would be of value.
  • Information & advice about where people can take their things would be of great use. For example, where to take books, clothes or furniture.   This could be a leaflet, group talk or individual support.
  • Practical help to distribute items or be at the home when collection is made (eg furniture collection) would also be welcomed.
  • It is important that anybody that provides this support, is trusted by the older person and that there is no “agenda”. People worry about making large changes to the way they live, and need to take these changes gradually.

Thank you to everyone who provided their valuable input to this discussion.

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