Elderhood Project: Need to get rid of home clutter not always healthy


Some may see it as the perfect psychiatric “disorder” — after all, who would ever question an immaculate home?

But for many seniors, the constant need to get rid of clutter is not always healthy.

We’ve certainly seen our share of stories of homes cluttered by compulsive hoarding. There are many seniors who simply cannot discard items and live in cramped conditions with rooms filled to capacity and pathways barely wide enough to walk through.

And then there are those who are the complete opposite.

Psychologist Allana Coffee says “It looks like a good idea, so it’s often misunderstood, and people are like, oh, they’re just cleaning and they’re de-cluttering. But when we mean de-cluttering — obsessive compulsive spartanism is the term that’s often used — there’s really nothing in the room. It is austere and it’s problematic.”

People with this type of obsessive compulsive disorder hate clutter and junk and tend to throw or give away items that they feel clutter their life.

“When they have belongings or possessions in their home, they feel physically sick. That’s actually their response. They are uncomfortable with those things, so they buy them, use them and give them away (or) throw them away. These are functional things, even appliances.”

And that can create tension in relationships.

“It is difficult for people who have de-cluttering disorder to live with others,” Coffee said. “I mean, other people’s belongings got to go to.”

So what do you do if your loved one is coping with this? First. you can start with a conversation.

“I would suggest saying ‘hey Mom, why don’t you go talk to your doctor about this, because it looks like it’s bothering you.'”

And it’s important to do so, because this could be also be sign of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“To be as respectful as we can be is really key here because these are their memories, these are their lives,” Coffee said. “It’s so precious to them, so be as respectful as we can be as their children. We’re often very impatient, like ‘just do it Mom, hurry up Dad,’ but this calls for patience and respect.”

Patience, respect and being sensitive to their space.

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