WHEN you’re a caregiver to a loved one who’s in the autumn of his or her life, you tend to get philosophical about life in general. You start thinking about what your life would be like when you get to that age too. How would you like your life and home to be?
As you ponder on these, take a good look at your loved one’s living environment. If you see him/her struggling in his home, you may want to de-clutter and re-organise the house for them.
Apart from dealing with the daily needs and routines, you may want to organise his home for several reasons, namely safety and hygiene.
Perhaps he also needs more space in the house because he needs more room for a wheelchair to move easily around the house.
For this, you may need to tidy up all the knick-knacks or small things that could easily trip and injure someone. Watch out for those sharp corners on coffee tables and other furniture.
If you have small children who still play with toys that can come apart like Lego and building bricks, you’d want to confine their play space to a particular part of the house to contain those toys.
There’s nothing worse than stepping on those tiny pieces because they really hurt. Those bits can also get in the way of manoeuvring the wheelchair smoothly.
There are other things in the house that may need your attention too like old documents, newspapers, magazines, plastic containers, raffia strings and expired cosmetics, perfumes and skincare.
Of course, there are also bigger items to deal with like old clothes, shoes, bags, souvenirs and trinkets. All these could be everywhere in the house — the bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen.
Before you feel totally overwhelmed and defeated, have a plan. Where would you start? Would you be allowed to start? The latter might be the more pertinent question for some. Going section by section or by rooms might be a good idea.
HAVING A STRATEGY
Before you begin, it would be a good idea to bear in mind that each item may have memories attached to them. They may seem like junk to you but not to your loved one.
As you re-organise and store their belongings, explain to them what you’re doing. If they can’t bear to part with their belongings, maybe you can organise their things by putting them in boxes and appropriately labelling them. Show them where you’re storing them so they don’t feel a sense of loss.
Cleaning the house also puts things in perspective by letting them see what they have; go down memory lane with them. It’s also a great approach to while the time away and closing certain chapters of their lives.
While you’re busy with all the activities in the house and your loved one is still lucid and aware of the goings-on, include him or her in what you’re doing.
If they’re not too good with instructions or physical exertions, give them something to do to keep them busy like sorting out paperwork, magazines or even doing some polishing of brass/silverware. No one likes to feel useless or to feel like they’re in the way.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
When my late mother wanted to clear out her belongings, she’d invite her relatives over. They were always more than happy to receive her things. She’d call the shots regarding what goes where and to whom. I remember several aunts who went away grinning from ear to ear, happy with their “haul”.
Some of the things were just simple stuff, but it’s true what they say: One person’s junk is another’s treasure.
Mum was quite systematic. She’d tackle one thing at a time and worked by items at different times of the year. Closer to Hari Raya, she’d sort out all the mismatched items and set those aside before buying new ones. I like her habit of letting go an item for every new one she brings into the house.
But it wasn’t always like that. When she was younger, she just bought things and amassed them. After several years of using those items and through years of experience, she’d clear out things she didn’t use or need anymore. By then, she’d found the types and brands that worked for her.
She had a lot of things but she wasn’t a hoarder. She used them all, but at different times. She loved to entertain at home and did that often.
As she got older and weaker with age and illness, her lifestyle and needs changed too. Many things went into the cupboards as we made space for wheelchair access. This also worked in favour for dad who became visually-challenged by then.
We also cleared the floor space by removing things from the floor like certain types of mats and carpets that could trip you. When your elderly loved one needs to have a different lifestyle from what he or she is used to, it’s time to re-organise their living space. Remember, it’s always for their health and safety.