Creating order and de-cluttering was my task of the day, but it didn’t take long before I realized my real mission was all about safety.
With objects piled up here and there, an overwhelmed homeowner had called seeking some professional organizer assistance. An accidental injury was keeping her from putting things away like she used to.
Wearing a neck brace and holding onto a cane for support, the dear lady was clearly proud of the home we were touring. She was indeed right that things were out of sorts due to her inability to reach up and put things away.
Most evident were the full kitchen counters. Stacks of plates and coffee cups competed with canned goods for space. Boxes of cereal were pushed up next to the gas stove, where they could easily topple over. It was certainly frustrating for the homeowner, who had always been a tidy housekeeper.
Being unable to reach into the upper cabinets or pantry or to climb on ladders or stools totally derailed her previously organized home. As we discussed what she could and could not reach, I realized that the typical organization and storage I used in kitchens was not going to work here. It was the first time I turned a kitchen upside down.
All of the everyday dishes and glasses went in lower cabinets or only the lowest shelf of the upper cabinets. We carefully selected the items she needed to have access to, such as a cutting board, knives, skillets, sauce pans, baking sheets and so on. Each of these items went in a lower cabinet. All of the things she wasn’t currently using, such as serving dishes, went in upper cabinets.
Since that day, I’ve encountered plenty of older adults and their families who needed to have their home organization and storage overhauled. Changes need to be made in order for them to live comfortably in their homes as they age.
Most seniors either can’t or should not be pulling down the ladder and climbing in the attic. Nor should they be carrying heavy boxes up basement stairs or standing on a stool in the garage to get things down. Here are some ideas to help seniors and their families manage home storage safely.
Be aware of what can safely be reached without assistance. Any items stored in a place where climbing a ladder is required need to be moved.
Take a good look at what’s on the ground in each room. Books and magazines stacked on the floor next to a favorite chair, boxes of shoes on the bedroom floor and photo albums in the den floor are all fall hazards. These are most likely items that were placed up too high and couldn’t be put back, or objects for which there simply isn’t a home anymore.
Keep three things in mind when organizing for seniors:
- Maintain a clear walking path and access to all exits
- Reduce hazards for trips, falls or even fires
- Make sure that after you re-think organization, all the items needed are now within reach and have a home
Reduce and Recycle
As our lifestyle changes, so does our need for items we’ve acquired over the years. You may not need 20 bath towels, 12 sets of sheets or a fondue pot any longer. Being willing to reduce the amount of stuff you own makes it much easier to store the things you want to keep.
Attics, basements and top shelves of closets are typically full of things we don’t use often—if ever. Removing the things no longer needed also removes the temptation to climb up to see what’s there.
There will always be things that need to be kept in storage and pulled out, even after you do a good job of reducing and de-cluttering. For example, the joy of decorating for the holidays or pulling out boxes of photos to share with grandchildren remains a fun part of life.
Keep these tips in mind for the things you want to store:
- Most big boxes and large plastic tubs will be too heavy to handle. Ditch the big containers and use lots of smaller ones instead. Making multiple trips with lightweight boxes is easier to manage.
- Use shelves to hold goods rather than a tower of boxes. If you stack the boxes, they each have to be un-stacked to find the box desired. If they’re on a shelf, then they are easier to find and it eliminates the risk of a tower of boxes falling over.
- Be sure to label everything. This eliminates moving and opening boxes for no reason except to hunt for something.
- Add useable storage. Eliminate the need to descend basement stairs or climb an attic ladder by adding an outdoor storage shed. That way, seniors can easily walk in and access everything they need.
- Stored items in the garage should be on shelves. Items left to sit on the garage floor become a trip and fall hazard. And you’ll especially want the garage cleared to make space for a car during icy or rainy weather.
With a bit of de-cluttering and rearranging, anyone can create a home environment that is safer for aging in place.
Home organization expert Lea Schneider has a special interest in combining strong interior design ideas with sensible storage and organization planning. Lea also writes her advice online for The Home Depot, which has many options for organizing your home inside and out.