Reader Question: Helping Others Get Control of Their Clutter

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source: Skeggy

source: Skeggy

Erica recently asked if I have any tips for how to help other people get control of their clutter. She’s concerned about a family member whose health is starting to be affected by all of the stuff in her house. Although this person agrees that the clutter is a problem, she has excuses for everything Erica tries to help her let go of, and Erica is not sure how to help her get past it and do what needs to be done.

This is such a tough one, especially to see someone’s health declining and know what they need to do even though they can’t seem to bring themselves to make the changes necessary, and I have a few ideas that may help:

Remember It’s Their Choice

Unfortunately, I do think that the first step is to remember that you cannot force anyone to make these changes. Even when caring for older or elderly family members, it’s important to remember that they’re still autonomous adults who have the right to make decisions – even destructive ones. It’s not easy to sit by and watch that happen, but you have to be sure that you’re not allowing yourself to feel guilty over their decisions. The best you can do is encourage, help and support them along the way, but if that doesn’t work, it is not your fault.

Talk Frequently About the Benefits

This process will not likely be quick or easy. Change is hard, and letting go of stuff that we’ve held onto for a long time is even harder. Keeping that in mind, talk frequently about the benefits of letting go. Talk about the people who have been helped by donations from others. Talk about the money that other people have made selling their stuff. Talk about how easy it is to clean and find things after decluttering. And in this case, talk about the health benefits. Even if it doesn’t seem to be helping, continue to talk about the benefits that most appeal to that particular person in a conversational, non-confrontational way.

Look at the Various Options

Consider what may be holding this person back and why they may be resisting letting go.

:: Is it because they connect their stuff to memories of people or events? Perhaps finding a way to record those memories as you go would be helpful. Giving items away to people in need or selling them to collectors is a way to ensure that the items will be treasured by their next owner as much as they deserve.

:: Is it because the thought of going through everything is simply overwhelming? Would they prefer to have someone else do it while they’re not around?

:: Is it fear that they may need or miss something down the road? If so, start with the “out of sight, out of mind” method and simply box up and store the things that are no longer used regularly rather than getting rid of them. This solves the health issue without becoming traumatic for someone who is unable or unwilling to let go.

Go Slowly

Remember that decluttering is a process, not a one-time event. Even small successes should be celebrated, and the process will hopefully gain momentum as the person sees the benefits of decluttering firsthand. It can become almost addicting, and while it may start of slowly, focus on each success rather becoming discouraged by the slow progress.

Has anyone been through a situation like this with a family member that they love and care for? Do you have any advice to help Erica as she struggles to find the best way to help?

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About the Author

Mandi Ehman

Hi. My name is Mandi and I’m an organizing junkie. I’m also a wife, and Momma to four little girls (5, 3.5, 2 and a new baby!). I've worked at home since our oldest was a baby, and like a lot of other moms, my life is a constant balancing act of caring for my family and my home, meeting my obligations and finding time for hobbies in there somewhere. Oh, yeah, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m somewhat of a kitchen dunce and I only like to pretend that I’m crafty. Read more here!

5 Responses to “ Reader Question: Helping Others Get Control of Their Clutter ”

  1. FYI: the junk truck in your picture was graffitied by someone with the word ‘dildo’…kind of funny, but maybe you want to put up an alternative picture if you’re not that kind of gal. LOL


    Mandi Reply:

    Oh my! I have no idea how I missed that, but thanks for letting me know instead of just assuming it was intentional. I changed it out…


  2. I definitely want to talk to her about possibly renting a storage unit to pack away stuff she’s not ready to part with yet. I know she keeps a lot of the kids stuff (who are now both adults) because she wants to keep “just in case” she needs it for school (she’s a pre-K teacher). I am doing my best to be supportive while helping her get started. I did finally convince her to have a garage sale, and my SIL is going to help her go through stuff in the attic and her closet. It’s a start, and maybe getting a little extra money will help motivate her to keep at it.
    We’ll see. I’ll keep you updated! Thanks again!


  3. You know what helped me a lot? I helped someone who was a Packrat clean out her house for a move. We had to do a lot while she wasn’t looking, to be honest. She figured she was a pack rat, as I always figured I was (and as many think they are – oh, yeah, I keep lots of stuff). Wouldn’t you know it, but it CAN be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Not only that, but these people are the least likely to realize they are OCD and have a serious psychological problem. How do you tell someone who is OCD from a normal person with a clutter problem? Do they keep stacks of newspapers, magazines, cardboard? Do they put worth on items that you realize are garbage or think their stuff is worth more than it is?

    After I went through my friend’s stuff (and only one room of it), I went home and threw out a ton of stuff I thought I might need someday. Then I went to my parents’ house and cut down my 25 boxes to 3 or 4. Here’s something to think about – if you’re keeping it because you might need it – are you going to 1) remember you have it or 2) even be able to find it? Also 3) Might it become obsolete (or get damaged, melted, eaten, etc) while you’re waiting for it to become useful? Failing this… I might recommend the help of a psychologist (yes, seriously – especially if someone’s health is at issue). I still have clutter, but I’m working on it. And I can look at things objectively.


    Erica Reply:

    Thanks for the list of things to think about Sarah! I’m going to write it down and use it next week when we start to go into the attic. I think it will help put some things in perspective for you. I know she wants to let go.


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