One of the important things we are attempting to do is to declutter our house. Two years ago, we moved out of our Victorian house with around 2,500 square feet of living space into our small ranch with around 1,000 square feet of living space. When we moved, we sold, gave away and tossed quite a few things. However, as we attempted to cram, squeeze, and shove all that was left into our new place, it soon became very clear that more things had to go. However, if you look in the garage, basement, or bedrooms it is quite apparent that we have not yet finished that process.
Someone has said, necessity is the mother of invention. The decluttering process has gone from being a desire to a necessity. All the literature and seminars I’ve been following make it clear that it is dangerous for someone with dementia to live in a cluttered house. It is physically dangerous because at some point they start having vision problems. Many accidents could have been avoided if only the living space was set up more simply. Mentally it is important because people with dementia need a peaceful setting to live in, too much stimulation either from noise or clutter causes an increase in anxiety.
Before I go on, let me say that this is something I have never been good at. If you had come to my office, when I was a pastor, you would have seen shelves overloaded with paper, projects, books and magazines. If I needed something, I could go to one of the piles and pull it out. No one ever called me Pastor neat and tidy. In fifty years of marriage I think I can count on one hand the number of times we could actually park the car in the garage. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks but I’m going to try my best to downsize, declutter and get organized.
One of the symptoms of Frontoteporal dementia is the inability to organize, make plans, and carry them out. When Harriet looks at the clutter in her bedroom a paralysis sets in. She will go into the bedroom, with the intention of bringing order out of chaos, and two hours later little, if anything, has changed. You might ask, “What about you, why don’t you just jump in and lead the way? That’s what I thought as well. Like most guys I love solving problems. I’ve gone into her bedroom and made multiple suggestions. However, like most women, Harriet doesn’t really want my great ideas about how to proceed. My help, in decluttering her bedroom, is not wanted, is rejected when offered, and is not trusted.
One way in which I am helping declutter is building better storage spaces. We have a small closet off the dining room that we call our pantry. The problem was that the shelves were set up in such a way that you never really knew what was on them. When you opened the pantry door the shelves were right in front of you taking up about half of the closet space. I completely gutted the pantry and installed shelves that wrap around the closet in a u shape. The top shelf is especially wide to hold large kettles and crock pots. I also made a can dispenser that can hold cans where you always are taking the oldest one out. A pegboard was installed in the back of the pantry to hang pans, tools, and large BBQ utensils. It used to be a real problem finding anything in the pantry and, because of all the clutter on the floor it was dangerous as well.
The garage is an especially dangerous place. There is no place for a car because we have all of our woodworking equipment and all of our yard tools in there. I plan to build a shed for the yard tools, which will get the riding lawn mower out of the garage, In the Garage I’m going to put in shelves and pegboards for the woodworking tools. When finished we will actually be able to park our car in the garage. It will be a lot safer for Harriet to enter the house through the garage because she won’t have to walk through ice, snow, or rain. It will also be safer if she decides to look for something out there, because there will be open space whereas now there are very narrow paths between piles of boxes, wood, tools, etc.
The basement is like a ware house. Most of the things down there will never be used and should be either sold or given away. My plan there is to take one box at a time and empty it sorting, pitching, and donating whatever is in it.
I cannot declutter Harriet’s bedroom, but I can lead the way in the basement, garage, or my own bedroom. Because of Harriet’s dementia we can no longer wait. Things are going to have to change and the sooner the better.
One of my resolutions for 2019 is to declutter and downsize until you can enter any place in our house without fear of injury because of all the stuff. Please pray that the Lord will help us in this process. After 50 years together, we have collected a lot of things that need to find a new home.
In part two of this series I’m going to write about decluttering your relationship. This starts with accepting the new reality in which you find yourself and having an honest response to it. May the Lord empower each of us to continue our course in faith as we serve our Loved one.