NORMAN — Dear Savvy Senior, My 67-year-old mother’s house has become a cluttered mess. Since my father died a few years ago, her house is so disorganized and messy with stuff that it’s becoming a hazard. I think she has a hoarding problem. What can I do?
— Worried Daughter
Compulsive cluttering is a problem that effects up to 5 percent of Americans — many of whom are seniors — with problems ranging anywhere from mild messiness to hoarding so severe it may be related to a mental health disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Here’s what you should know, along with some tips and resources that can help your mom.
Why people hoard: The reasons most people hoard are because they have an extreme sentimental attachment to their possessions, or they believe they might need their items at a later date.
Hoarding also may be a sign that an older person is depressed or showing early symptoms of dementia.
Common problems for seniors who live in excessive clutter are tripping, falling and breaking a bone; overlooking bills and missing medications that are hidden in the clutter; and suffering from the environmental effects of mold, mildew and dust; and even living among insects and rodents.
What to do: To get a handle on your mom’s problem, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization offers a free “Clutter Hoarding Scale” that you can download off their website at challengingdisorganization.org.
If you find that your mom has only a mild cluttering problem, there are a number of things you can do to help.
Start by having a talk with her, respectfully expressing your concern for her health and safety, and offering your assistance to help her declutter.
If she takes you up on it, most professional organizers recommend decluttering in small steps. Take one room at a time or even a portion of a room at a time. This will help prevent your mom from getting overwhelmed.