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Decluttering: A Great Home Accessibility Strategy

| Owen Barclay |

Everywhere you look, there are newspaper articles and magazine pieces about decluttering your home, closets, kitchens, garages, etc. The home organizers have taken over and even Netflix has the fever, running a very popular series featuring the Japanese decluttering guru, Marie Kondo. With all this going on, we thought why not write a blog that puts some focus on how this fits into aging in place and disability planning. And not surprisingly, as our research progressed, we became increasingly aware of the important connection between decluttering and home accessibility.

For many, decluttering is seen as a great way to pare through a lifetime of possessions and discover what really matters and should be kept…getting rid of stuff that no longer has real meaning or value and making room for important things. But for those of us who live in the world of aging in place, and barrier free living, we think there’s an added dimension. We see decluttering as an easy way to create open and efficient living space.  It’s an avenue to improved home accessibility and a safer living environment. If your decluttering involves nothing more than removing tripping hazards like unnecessary furnishings, wires and other floor debris, you’ve substantially reduced the likelihood of slips and falls, the number one cause of injuries among older adults.

Where to begin the decluttering process depends on your individual preferences and needs. But there are some sensible steps that can make the job of decluttering less stressful and more manageable. We’ve been reviewing lots of the advice that’s out there and here are some of the best ideas.

DO THE EASY STUFF FIRST.  By this we mean start with the possessions you’ve accumulated over time that have little or no sentimental or financial value. We’re talking old magazines and newspapers, broken lamps or other small appliances, broken furniture, abandoned computer components…anything that you absolutely don’t care about, don’t use and haven’t thought about. Go through each room in the house and repeat the process.  We call this the manic phase of decluttering…. it’s quick, doesn’t require a lot of thought and clears out a lot of stuff without much effort

NOW SLOW IT DOWN.  Do one room or area (closet or cabinet) at a time. Begin the job by testing each item with four questions:

  1. Do I keep it?
  2. Should I give it away?
  3. Maybe I can sell or donate it?
  4. Toss it out already?

Work slowly and methodically. Little bites with modest goals is one of the keys to successful decluttering. Set aside a fixed amount of time and only work on one area or space. Make firm decisions about what’s staying and what’s going (don’t put stuff in a “I’ll think about it later” pile). Move through each area using the same framework and examining each possession with the same set of questions. Be disciplined and before long, you’ll have a house free of unwanted possessions and clutter.

HERE’S SOME MORE ADVICE?   Throwing stuff out is never easy, but asking a few more questions can help clarify the decision making process. Have I used this item in the last year or so? Am I saving it for somebody (children or grandchildren)? Does it have any sentimental value or is it uniquely special. And finally, if I throw this item out, will my life be negatively impacted.?

WHAT ABOUT DOCUMENTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS?  Documents are usually kept because discarding them may carry financial or legal risk.  Photographs often have emotional or historical value and can, for that reason, be hard to discard. Fortunately, we can now easily scan documents and photos and store them in a digitized format, so the great news here is that we can keep it all…on a hard drive or one of the many free cloud storage options that are now available. And there’s great (and also free) software that helps organize and access everything that’s been kept. Of course, you’ll want to check with professionals to make sure what document originals must be maintained, but you’ll be surprised about how much you can put in digital form.

What about books and magazines that become unmanageable collections over time. Again the computer rides to the rescue with digital book services like Kindle and e magazine websites that not only offer fresh content, but often contain digital archives that offer decades’ worth of old editions.

There are many roads to effective decluttering; what we describe above is just one of many ways to tackle the job. We invite you to do your own stroll through the internet where you’ll find a mountain of helpful materials on decluttering and otherwise organizing the stuff in your house. The key is to find a system that’s suits your work style and fits in with the time and energy you can bring to the project.   And please remember, we always stand ready to lend a helping hand, with advice, suggestions and the benefit of our years of experience in planning, designing and constructing aging in place and barrier free home environments. If you are looking for professional assistance in getting started or with all of your decluttering, please contact us. We are close to  several professional organizations that have various skillsets to meet your needs.