With far-reaching emotional and financial impacts on caregivers, a rapidly aging population may be the single-most important reason to simplify and get organized now.
I’m a practical person, but don’t hold it against me — my heart’s in the right place. As a professional organizer, I believe at the end of life, we look back and consider what mattered most: who we loved, what we did, how, and why we lived — because everything else was just stuff.
According to CNN, in the year 2029, the last of the Baby Boomers will turn 65. The 65+ population segment is projected to double to 71.5 million by 2030 and grow to an estimated 86.7 million by 2050. The Alzheimer’s Association reports “among people age 70, sixty-one percent of those with Alzheimer’s are expected to die before age 80,” a rate twice as high as those without Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association explains, “Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.”
According to their comprehensive website, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and a principal factor in over 700,000 American deaths in 2016. Every sixty-six seconds someone in the US develops the disease, costing over fifteen million friends and family-members about 18 billion hours of unpaid care.
Caregivers of an aging population know this: simple systems are critical. Messy, cluttered spaces are not just an unsightly inconvenience, they’re a hazard and needlessly complicate day-to-day care. People with special needs (and their caregivers) are more likely to thrive in environments that promote calm, order, and predictability. Clean, cleared, and organized spaces help prevent accidents, minimize confusion, and reduce stress — for everyone involved.
No matter who I work with or what their circumstances, I recommend my simple 3-Step Method designed to quickly purge clutter, organize the essentials, and design beautiful interiors that inspire mind, body, and soul. Before starting with step one, I always ask my clients to think about their ideal vision for each space. If they could wave their magic wand, and have it already done — how would it look and feel? How would the intended users engage with the space? This is a critical step to manifesting intentional results, rather than aimlessly hoping for the best.
Step one is “simplify.” Here we purge the stuff that is not essential. This critical step de-clutters first and makes room for a more serene space, unencumbered by the terminal dross frequently junking up our homes. Step two is “clarify,” that is to say we get clarity when we organize. My 4 Rules of Organization are as follows:
Like Things Together (socks with socks, medication with medication, pasta with pasta, etc.),
Easy to Find (items sorted together in transparent containers and/or with easy-to-read labels),
Easy to Reach (for convenience — and safety), but...
Out of the Way (to prevent the pervasive sprawl-effect when things don’t get put away).
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Not sure where everything should go? Remember this simple formula: Proximity = Urgency. (This is why we never put our bear spray at the bottom of our pack when hiking in Alaska.) In other words, things needed most urgently ought to be easiest (and most convenient) to reach. Less-essential items live in harder-to-reach locations. The LESS there is to begin with, the easier it is to get (and stay) organized.
Step three is “inspiration.” When we’re inspired to do the maintenance to keep our things neatly put away, we become fierce advocates of those systems. Typically, we get inspired when: we appreciate the aesthetic; systems function effectively; flexibility is built-in to those systems to accommodate multiple users and the variety of ways spaces will likely be used; and when we add little touches that celebrate personal preferences.
In summary, this is my 3-Step Method:
What’s your IDEAL VISION for each space? If this was already finished, how would it look and feel? (Houzz.com is a great resource for this.)
1. Simplify (Purge the stuff you just don’t need; the stuff that doesn’t support your ideal vision.)
2. Clarify (Organize the essentials.)
3. Inspire (Design beautiful spaces that function well.)
Working with aging loved ones around their personal belongings can be cumbersome and stressful — but it doesn’t have to be. If you take a gentler approach of honoring your loved ones by using their things to reconnect around personal stories, fond memories of places and people, and life history — the things become a vehicle for exploring an individual’s legacy.
I’ve seen families reconnect in profoundly rewarding ways around the process of sorting through stuff. It’s an opportunity to re-learn forgotten history, deliver specific items to intended beneficiaries, and find redemption through story. We are what we love and so there is a deep bond that grows between an item and it’s user. We must approach this work with reverence, compassion, and a sensitivity that allows individuals to process at their own pace.
All the more reason to get organized when we are young, vibrant, lucid, and intentional about what matters most.
To get started, download my FREE Quick Start Guide to De-Clutter and Organize Any Space in 3 Simple Steps.