Reader Question: Helping Others Get Control of Their Clutter

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?