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How to safely declutter your home

2nd January 2015

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

The fight against clutter is difficult to win at any age, but as we get older it becomes even more tiring and, at times, potentially dangerous.

Whether the time has come for downsizing or you are looking to have a straight stair lift installed and need to make room, decluttering is often attempted at an age when it is most difficult and hazardous. Here this guide looks to introduce all the ways you can declutter your home safely without risking putting your back out!

Call in the professionals

Let’s face it, nobody likes the (sometimes) mammoth task of decluttering their home. Thankfully, there are professionals in the field of decluttering on hand to make your clutter woes a thing of the past. When choosing a professional declutterer, look for The Association of Processional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO) logo to guarantee a high standard of service and for peace of mind if you are hiring someone for a family member.

Here, the very best professional declutterers in the country provide their top tips for keeping your home clutter-free later in life.

The Spacemakers run by Sharon Johnston and Jane Cooper are based in Surrey and offer decluttering services next to their business of home staging at Dressed2Sell, so you can rest assured that they will be able to give your home a new lease of life. Their decluttering services are even available to purchase as a gift! Here they provide their top tips for home decluttering:

‘ 1. As we become older and/or less mobile, it makes sense to have fewer items to move out of the way when cleaning the home. Reducing the number of items on surfaces and on the floor makes it easier to tidy up and clean your home.  Decluttering your home also has another important advantage as it reduces the chance of you tripping over things left on the floor and potentially having a fall, especially when there is nowhere else to put the items as all surfaces are covered.

  2. Clutter in attics poses a bigger fire hazard than any other place in the home, so it is important to keep items stored there to a minimum.

  3. It is very common to feel overwhelmed by all the possessions we acquire over a lifetime and not know where to start to reduce them down.  Many elderly people also feel anxious about what would happen to all their things should they no longer be able to live in their own home. Try to find a trustworthy sympathetic able-bodied friend or family member to help you, preferably with transport to help you decide which items can go and then remove them.  Alternatively, contact a specialist declutterer like ourselves, The Spacemakers, who can help you manage the reduction of material possessions and restore some order to your home.

  4. Choose a professional declutterer who belongs to the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO).  Once you have found a declutterer, speak with them on the telephone first to see how you get along as it's important you feel comfortable with them.

  5. We have helped many elderly people sort their homes out and reduce the amount of unwanted items, whether they are staying in their own homes or having to downsize.  We also see the other side, when we are brought in to help grieving adult children whose last parent has died and they are overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and items that need to be cleared out/saved etc. in their late parent's home.  Often their regret is that the items weren't reduced earlier so that their parents would not have had to worry so much about all their things. 

  6. We find it very rewarding working with elderly people, helping them cope better in their home and prepare the house for a time when they are less able to manage.  We help them identify which items should be kept and cherished and which items need to go.’

-          The Spacemakers

Rainbow Red, established by Cherry Rudge, offers a professional and personal decluttering service that you would be more than happy to use with your loved ones. Based in Walton-on-Thames and generally operating in and around the Borough of Elmbridge, as well as adjoining parts of the Boroughs of Guildford and Spelthorne, Rainbow Red has a wide service area. Having worked with the The Chief Fire Officers Association's Hoarding Working Group in the launch of the first UK Hoarding Awareness Week in 2014, she certainly knows a thing or two about decluttering, yet has the understanding to really know where her clients are coming from.

‘Think “safety first”

- Keep walk ways and stairs free from anything that could cause you to trip, slip or fall, as the consequences can be devastating.  It also makes it easier and safer for the emergency services to reach you if there is a fire or medical emergency.

- Keep possessions away from doors, windows, stairs and hallways, so that if there is a fire or other emergency, you will be able to escape or the emergency services will be able to reach you quicker.

- Always ask for help to lift heavy or awkward-to-access items; being over optimistic about your capabilities could mean you end up with things like a bad back, or worse. 

Go digital

- To prevent a large build-up of paperwork, sort out and recycle mail and newspapers daily, or reduce the amount of papers, magazines and books by subscribing to the digital version, so they can be read on an electronic device.

- The same applies to photos in albums, videos or home movies on tape - have them digitally scanned professionally, so that you can view them on things like a computer or digital photo frame.

Decluttering gets easier the more you practice it

                  - A good way to start is by setting a kitchen timer for 10 minutes a day and clearing a small area at a time, like a drawer, table or work surface.

                  - Try filling a small carrier bag with things you don’t want to keep any more, and take it out each time you leave the house.

                  - To maintain a clutter-free home, set aside time in your diary for regular decluttering sessions, and practice positive routines which helps stop excess clutter                                     accumulating - like avoiding impulse buying and only buying essentials on your shopping list.

Don’t do it alone

      - Find someone empathetic and non-judgemental to help you.

      - Having the right kind of company will help keep you focussed and motivated, and hopefully make decluttering fun!’

- Rainbow Red

Based in Berkshire, Tapioca Tidy has helped countless individuals tackle their clutter and hoarding dilemmas. Jo Cooke, the force behind Tapioca tidy, works with her clients to decide what areas of their personal or professional life need attention and then works from there towards the sense of relief of knowing that everything is in its place and under control.

‘Clutter creeps up on all of us and as the years roll through, we acquire more and more stuff and our homes become too cluttered and sometimes we need to create space to make it a safer place to live. Tapioca Tidy’s top tips for decluttering are as follows:-

 1. Decluttering is best done in bit size chunks rather than spending an entire day on your possessions.  Perhaps even 15 minutes to an hour is plenty to start with. 

 2. Concentrate and focus on just one area – be it a drawer in your kitchen, perhaps a small box of papers. Start on something that is not too emotional and perhaps something that has been nagging you for a while.

 3. Starting is the hardest step and it is important to try and be objective. It is important to remember that it is OK to let go of things.  Sometimes objects represent a memory of a loved one or an occasion. Take a photo; it is not the object that is important – it is the memory of the occasion.

 4. Decluttering is about making space for something.  Ask for help – either from family or a friend to help you remain objective and rational. They too should be able to provide you with support and facilitate good decision making.

 5. Your clutter could be something else’s treasure.  Put your possessions into categories – of either, “Sell”, “Donate” “Keep”, “Chuck” or, “Recycle”.  It makes the task so much easier.

 6. Find out how much your possessions are worth – this will definitely increase the incentive to let go of some of your belongings.  List too what you are doing with them – whether it be selling them to a local auction house or gifting an item to a family member or friend.  It is important to record the destination of your stuff.

 7. Always write things down – and keep lists.  Reward yourself along the way.  Decluttering, organising and sorting your clutter can be tiring and emotional so it is important to take breaks along with way.’

-          Tapioca Tidy

Supported Moves is based in Kirkham and offers to help people downsize and re-organise their homes. Margaret Wilson set up the company in 2012 and has been helping people ever since. Offering relocation, downsizing and decluttering specifically for the older generation, Wilson is well-equipped with the skills and consideration to help make the decluttering process as easy as possible. Here’s her top tip for decluttering.

‘My top tip for helping people to safely declutter is to start small and focus on just one area at a time. Thinking about the enormity of decluttering a whole house can be overwhelming and it becomes too daunting to begin.  Decide on one task to start with: it might be only one wardrobe or cupboard, but achieving it will be encouraging and rewarding. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is one instance where a problem shared really is a problem halved! It is never too early or too late to begin, so find a way to make a start.’

-          Supported Moves

Take the organisations’ advice

While the professionals can do all the hard work for you while you can relax in your adjustable rise and recline chair, there are credited associations that can offer useful advice and information in your bid to declutter your home.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) works hard to ensure that older people are aware of the risks of hoarding, where clutter can increase the risk of falls, fire-related incidents, burns and scalds, among other accidents.

Sheila Merrill, public health adviser for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “One in three people over the age of 65 have falls each year, with 3,000 people dying as a result, and many of these falls are preventable. Falls are the most common type of home accident, particularly for older people. There are different types of falls, including a slip or trip on the same level, tripping over a rug, a fall down the stairs or a fall from a chair or out of bed.

“Some general tips to reduce the risk of falling include replacing worn rugs, especially on the stairs, maintaining slippery floors or paths and uneven surfaces, and not having trailing flexes on the floor. Also keep landings, stairs and hallways well lit, make sure banisters are sturdy, and consider fitting easy-grip handrails that give more stability. Remember not to leave items on the stairs as they become a tripping hazard, and ensure footwear, including slippers, is well fitting and in a good condition. Use a non-slip bathmat in your bath, and make sure to mop up any spillages immediately.

RoSPA’s ‘Facing up to Falls’ video with advice to help families and carers can be found at http://www.rospa.com/homesafety/adviceandinformation/falls

As mentioned above, the CFOA launched Hoarding Awareness Week in 2014, with the key messages of how hoarding can create significant risk to the individual, the community and firefighters, and how understanding such risks is a significant step towards managing such hazards. Read more about Hoarding Awareness Week and the CFOA on their website.

Go digital

Once you are equipped with advice and assistance, you can make a start on the decluttering process and a great way to go about this is by going digital. It may sound scary, particularly if you are not particularly digitally-minded, but it is far simpler than you might think, and storing photos, books and such things on digital devices is a great way of saving space and avoiding accidents whilst retaining your memories and possessions.

Click to Scan is a fantastic photo scanning service that can create a digital copy of a whole range of images, from negatives and slides to photos and whole albums. Their live chat feature means that if you have any queries you can get an answer from them there and then to avoid any potential disappointment and know whether to keep hard copies or go digital.

Much like photos, your books can also go digital now with the help of sophisticated e-readers, which not only offer a great storage solution for all of your books but also a more comfortable way of reading. The Barnes and Noble NOOK offers a great range of books and magazines as they boast one of the world’s largest digital bookstores, featuring more than 3 million publications that you can easily store in one of their devices, which weighs from as little as 175g. In addition to devices, Barnes & Noble gives customers the flexibility to ‘Read What You Love, Anywhere You Like’ on a multitude of computing and mobile devices through the Free NOOK Reading Apps, available on iOS, Android and Windows 8 devices. The new NOOK GlowLight has the capacity to hold up to 2,000 of your favourite books and allows you to adjust the text size, font and spacing for easy reading – you’ll be wondering why you held onto your scruffy paperbacks for so long!

Image Credits: SalTheColourGeek (Flickr.com), The Spacemakers L Jane Cooper R Sharon Johnston www.thespacemakers.co.uk, Rainbow Red www.rainbowred.co.uk, Barnes and Noble

This content was written by Emily Bray. Please feel free to visit my Google + profile to read more stories.