If you missed it, here is a synopsis and additional information on the AgeWise webinar featuring a panel discussion with:

  • Bobbie Jo Kinsey, Trusted Transitions
  • Amy Larchick, Life Caddie
  • Ana Guevera, Seniors Resources Center
  • Heather Murphy, Seniors Resources Center
  • Bob Brocker, AgeWise Colorado

Did you know Americans own an average of 300,000 items in their homes? In addition, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent off-site storage for their excess belongings, even though the average home size has tripled in the last 50 years. We definitely like our stuff. 

For aging adults, they may feel they are keeping their things to pass along to the next generation. In fact, a 2018 Mayflower Mover Insights Study, which explored different generations’ relationships with their belongings, found that 64% of baby boomers (ages 57-75) and 60% of Generation X (ages 41-56) are more likely than younger adults to put an heirloom in a safe place to pass along. 

While keeping family mementos and memories is essential to preserving our history and traditions, there is a risk in older adults living in homes packed to the rafters with too much stuff. There are aging adults living in family homes that haven’t been cleaned or decluttered in decades. When does collecting become hoarding? It can be difficult to know. 

 As we age, many of us also contemplate the issue of downsizing. As aging adults become empty nesters and retire, maintaining large family homes may become overwhelming. And if mom and dad need to move into assisted living, where does all of their stuff go? Again, these questions can be confusing for older adults and their families. 

This panel discussion focused on the differences between saving, clutter, and hoarding. They also described several local resources available for older Coloradoans who need assistance, from a simple organizational plan to decluttering, downsizing, or hoarding mitigation. Let’s start at the extreme end of the spectrum with hoarding.

What is Hoarding?

The International OCD Association defines hoarding disorder (HD)as “a mental health disorder where people have difficulty getting rid of possessions that are no longer useful. While most people go through periods during which they have trouble getting rid of things — for example, after the death of a loved one or when moving out of a childhood home — HD sufferers have difficulty parting with possessions all the time. Attempting to get rid of their things causes HD sufferers to feel significant distress, including when concerned loved ones try to get rid of possessions on their behalf.”

Hoarders’ living areas become so full that they are unusable. Hoarding makes it difficult for people to cook, shower, clean, or sleep. Extreme hoarding can lead to the risk of fire, infestation of bugs or rodents, and impaired access for emergency services.

Signs and Symptoms of Hoarding

There are three symptoms required to have a diagnosis of hoarding disorder. They are:

  1. A person collects and keeps many items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people.
  2. These items clutter living spaces and keep the person from using the rooms as intended.
  3. These items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.

The OCD Association says hoarding symptoms can be almost three times more common in older adults (ages 55-94 years) compared to younger adults (ages 34–44 years). 

The Colorado Hoarding Task Force offers a list of signs to look for in adults who may be hoarding. They are:

  • Difficulty getting rid of items.
  • Large amounts of clutter in the home, car, or other spaces making it difficult to use the area or move around.
  • Losing important items like money or bills in the clutter.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the volume of possessions that have “taken over” the house.
  • Being unable to stop taking free items.
  • Buying things because they are a “bargain” or to “stock up.”
  • Not inviting family or friends into the home due to shame or embarrassment.
  • Refusing to allow repairmen in the home.

Of course, people who hoard may call themselves “thrifty.” It is assumed that many older adults who hoard do so because they remember living in poverty when they were young. There is no research that backs up this idea. However, experiencing a serious loss or trauma, like the death of a parent or a parent, may lead to hoarding behavior. 

Hoarding Treatment 

According to the International OCD Association, there is more to treating a hoarding disorder than just cleaning up a living space. Hoarding is a behavioral health issue. When starting a relationship with an older adult exhibiting hoarding symptoms, service providers focus on helping the person understand how their stuff might interfere with living a happy life. Still, they have the freedom to make positive changes. Additionally, service providers respect the meaning of important objects to older adults, especially those from past experiences and life events. This attention to personal treasures creates and keeps the trust needed for the successful treatment of hoarding disorder.

Hoarding/Decluttering Services at Seniors Resource Center 

In Colorado, the Seniors Resource Center offers seniors help around the home. This could mean chore services such as general house cleaning, yard work, window washing, and home organization at no cost. They also work with Clutter Truckers to assist older adults and their families in hoarding situations. This could include a deep clean, disposal of unneeded items, and working with the homeowner to help them understand how they feel and what they need.  Ana Guevera at the Seniors Resources Center uses several helpful tools to help participants understand and accept their situation. These tools measure the level of hoarding present and services needed by using photos as examples, from simple home organization and decluttering to hoarding services.

 The professionals at Seniors Resource Centers make sure to meet older adults where they are and let them indicate the direction they take together. Even if a family member asks for help with an older loved one, they still need the senior’s consent to come in and try to help.

What is Decluttering?

So, what is the difference between clutter and hoarding? In general, clutter is defined as an untidy mess that will eventually get cleaned up or put away. Typically, clutter only appears in storage areas like basements, attics, or desks. In other words, the stuff has a place to go and should be there for the most part. As we’ve discussed, hoarding is a perceived need to save things. It’s not so much about the stuff. It’s more about the reasons why the stuff is there.

Mail and paperwork are a particular clutter issue for many aging adults. Getting older can mean having more forms to fill out, bills to pay, and decisions involving a lot of paperwork. Many older adults can experience difficulty prioritizing or knowing what paperwork to keep or just keeping up with mail and bills. They can become overwhelmed very quickly.

Decluttering Services with Life Caddie

Seniors who have lived in homes for decades typically have a lot of stuff to store. They just may need some help in sorting and putting it all away. They also may need help developing a process or routine for handling mail, bills, and other daily items coming into the home. There are plenty of decluttering resources in Colorado to help. In addition to the Seniors Resource Centers, Amy Larchick at Life Caddie is an organizational services professional specializing in helping seniors in Boulder, Denver, and Aurora organize their homes. She is an expert project manager who partners with older adults and their families on a home organization process from start to finish.

Her mission is to help older adults thrive in their own living space and through their life transitions. She will create a personalized organizational system that fits a client’s budget, needs, and values with nonjudgmental and empathetic service. She’ll make sure each client has an open and manageable living space. Her team also assists older adults in learning technology that can streamline and improve their lives. Life Caddie can help make a loved one’s home and life safer, easier to navigate, and healthier.

What about Downsizing?

Many older adults consider downsizing, which is not the same as decluttering. Downsizing simply means moving from a larger home to a smaller home and getting rid of possessions to do so.  When older adults decide to downsize, there are many decisions to make. Hiring a company like Trusted Transitions can help make the process easier and less stressful. The owner, Bobbie Jo Kinsey, has developed a tried and true seven-step move management process that supports older adults and their families through the emotional and physical aspects of downsizing. 

Downsizing with Trusted Transitions

Bobbie Jo will start with a free hour of consultation to understand the client’s needs. She will then bring in moving and estate experts to help plan the move. She will supervise the packing and unpacking, as well as all other aspects of the move. This includes the distribution of all household items. Because she is an interior design expert, she can stage your home for sale if needed and design your new home to feel warm, cozy, and perfect. Lastly, her team will help clients settle into their new home by setting up phone and other services, finding out community activities and other details, and shuttling needed items back and forth from storage. Every detail is taken care of, so all clients have to do is make themselves at home in their new space. 

There are 2.7 million people over the age of 40 in Colorado. One in seven Coloradans (13.8%) is age 65 or older. The number of people over the age of 65 will be more than the number of people under 18 by 2030. Agewise Colorado is here to help older adults and their families find resources and information on aging gracefully. These resources include help for hoarding, decluttering, and downsizing. Hopefully, this webinar and article have been helpful.