As I quietly observe a dear friend as she gets ready to move to a retirement community next week, there is one thing I have noticed that is happening that seems to silently pain her.
It is jarring enough that I feel that someone needs to put this cautionary thought out there for others to consider:
Do NOT clean out the “junk” in the house while the elderly person still lives there.
It can wait.
It has sat there for years, and it’s not going anywhere.
There is no rush.
Many elderly men and women have lived through a time when saving non-perishable food and little bits of scrap used to fix things was critical for their survival. Respect this.
When younger generations throw away “junk”, they are essentially throwing out their elderly relative’s security blanket.
What conversations can even be generated from an in-your-face mass purge?
Not very productive ones.
“Why do you have all this STUFF?”
“Look at all this expired food!”
“These parts are too old to be used to fix anything. They belong in the trash!”
Take it to heart that a person’s possessions are part of them. They are the items that their owner has hand selected and stored for whatever reason. Thoughts and feelings went into their acquisition. There is an emotional attachment. Cleaning out a person’s house of these items is a privilege — not an episode of Hoarders.
As the elderly person stands in their yard, helplessly watching as boxes of items they can no longer lift are being thrown to the curb, it has the potential to send a very terrible message to them. They may already be burying feelings of worthlessness, and it’s very easy for them to project that their relatives feel the same way about them.
You are too old to be useful.
You belong in the trash.
Furthermore, elderly people hate to feel like a burden. While younger generations are used to networking to get jobs done, elderly men and women — especially the strong ones who live alone and who are very reluctantly being moved — feel very frustrated when others have to labor at their expense. “It’s my fault my family has to be working so hard to clean up my mess on this hot day!”
Help them say goodbye to their house, as if they are saying goodbye to an old friend — because they are are.
Ignore the dusty canned goods and boxes of rusted nuts and bolts and instead focus good memories that have occurred in their house.
Praise them for all of the years they have cared for the house. Help them to select important items to bring along to their new home, and offer to take items — no matter how silly they may seem to you — to people whom they want to “bless”.
Leave with them with the lasting impression and hope-giving thought of, “I have done well in my former home, and I will do well in my new home. I am valuable. I am loved.”
Later, when they are settled, go ahead and rent that dumpster. Throw things away with a clear conscience. When they ask about their house when you visit them at their new place, just lovingly smile and say what they would humbly say to you, “Don’t worry about it. It was nothing.”