Unclutter the Clutter - But Be Gentle

What do the following retired people have in common?

  • The professor
  • The woman who was an early advertising copywriter
  • The artists - husband and wife
  • The hospital administrator
  • The renowned scientific writer/artist

All are our clients and all had accumulated too many papers and magazines (not to mention books). At the point of crisis, we were called in to help clear out the unnecessary items and simplify their lives. This is not an easy process at any age, but it can be especially stressful for seniors who are already losing control of their lives due to frailty, illness, or disabilities.

Recently Julie Morgenstern, a well-known professional organizer and author spoke to our New York chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Her very first point was that there is no junk in a home. We need to honor each item. This is very hard to do when there are years' worth of paid utility bills or pay stubs, bank statements from banks that no longer exist, or monthly investment statements dating back to 1950. When New Yorker magazines are squeezed into every corner of a home, gathering dust, the temptation is to throw out all but the most recent copies.

Our chapter discussion generated a long list of values needed by clients from those who help them. Values that are especially important to seniors are:

  • Non-judgmental calm within chaos
  • Good listening
  • Flexibility
  • The capacity to take complex tasks and break them down
  • The ability to recognize patterns and present alternatives
  • Project management

Hopefully relatives and friends of seniors can incorporate the above values into their relationships. In the case of our clients, they either had no one available to help, or their families recognized their own inability to work with the seniors and asked us to step into the situation.

The Eddy & Schein Role

The professor had many issues, so he needed a project manager who had the flexibility to listen to his way of doing things and could gently recommend new ideas to mull over and incorporate into his thinking and planning.

The advertising copywriter was focused on recuperating from a broken hip, so she was glad to have someone take over the check writing, and was not aware of the tidying up, sorting, tossing of old bank statements, and project management. But, we were not allowed to touch her New Yorkers!

The renowned artists let us go through piles to take care of the previous tax year, pay bills, and maintain Quicken, but did not want any old financial statements thrown away. Three years later, we are finally tackling the boxes with contents ready to be shredded.

The hospital administrator was very organized, but had many boxes of old bills and pay stubs. The sorting and shredding was done in baby steps because she was terrified of doing something wrong, but it eventually got accomplished and she was very satisfied with her new-found space.

The scientific writer and artist has been the most challenging because her home was literally filled from floor to ceiling with boxes of papers that she was convinced she needed in order to write more articles for journals. Even a bathroom shower stall was stacked high with boxes. The process has been very stressful for her, but by winning her trust (and with gentle determination) we have been able to clear out the living room, one bedroom, and the shower stall, while creating systems for her to be able to find the truly important documents she might need should she be able to write again.

February 2011 - FEATURE
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