The Elderly and Clutter

Sometimes I help empty out houses of deceased parents. The children left behind are often astonished at the amount of clutter left behind. This accumulation does not really fit with the mother or father they knew growing up. They wonder what happened.

Possible reasons for clutter in the elderly:

  • They are weaker physically
As parents age, they often develop physical difficulties that they might not share with their children. It is harder for them to move around. Putting things away may be difficult so they leave the items out on the table or counter “just for now”. They may think they are going to get better and they have visions of giving parties and entertaining again, so they continue to buy and keep cooking paraphernalia that they never will use. They may have difficulty doing laundry and when the laundry becomes overwhelming, they may just order new clothing. During the holiday seasons it is easier to just buy a few new decorations rather than pull down and use what they already have.
  • They don’t see the clutter
The buildup of clutter may come slowly over time. They adjust to what is in their home and stop seeing it as clutter. The same may be true of odors that have developed because cleaning is now more difficult. If they were shown a picture of their living area, they would probably be surprised.
  • They have mental issues
They may forget that they have items and so continue to buy more of what they already have in abundance. As dementia sets in they also forget to put things away, eat properly, and take care of other living skills. Things accumulate around them. Anxiety and depression are also common in the elderly. They may shop just for the social contact. They may worry about not being able to get what they need later so they overbuy now.
  • Fear of want
Because they are on a fixed income and no longer have a regular paycheck, they worry that their money will run out. When they see a good deal on canned food, light bulbs, soaps, paper products, they buy in bulk. There is not usually a good place to store all these products, so they are placed here and there, often on the floor. If an item becomes broken, they hold on to it with the idea that it can be fixed someday.
  • Gifts
Perhaps the parent was once a great cook and loved to throw parties so still now they are gifted with cookbooks and cooking paraphernalia they do not need. They may get gifts of throws for the couch, scented soaps, or because they loved dogs, figurines, pictures, and books about dogs. The parent does not want to give away or throw away someone’s gifts, so they just accumulate. 
There are many reasons why the clutter accumulates but the crucial point is that children should be in contact with their parents and go to their homes to visit. Having parents come to their home or going on a cruise with them will not tell the whole story. 

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

In with the New – Out with the Old



Christmas is past and if your house is like ours, gifts were received. Some of the items I received were kitchen items I had been wanting. A couple of lovely glass pie plates, a grater, and some measuring spoons are now put away in my kitchen. I also received some CDs and books. My husband received some clothing items as well as books.

Now, here is the idea. The glass pie plates will take the place of some old metal pie tins, the grater replaces the one so old that I should probably donate it to the Smithsonian. In other words as the new items are put away in my kitchen, the old ones disappear. I do not save them “just in case” I will need them someday. I only allow so many CDs and books on my shelves so for each new one in, an old one will leave my home. New clothes  in – some old clothes gone.

My challenge to you is that as you put away your new, wonderful gifts you see what items you can now donate or in my case some were just trashed (who would want a grater that had to be cleaned and oiled before each use?). By New Year you will open up space in your home for the abundance of the upcoming year.

Happy New Year!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Gifts


I enjoy giving gifts to the people I love. I feel that by giving something thoughtful and special, I show the person how much I care. It’s not about how much the gift costs but how much I show them that I have been observant, thoughtful, and that I love to make a smile come to their face. But this is not always an easy task.

I often just ask the person outright or ask someone in the household, “What do you think they are hoping for this year?” I will then take something from that list and add another small gift that might go along with the item. If I am lucky, I will have been with the person at some time in the past year and had that “aha” moment that points the way to the perfect gift.

Then there are gift cards. Normally I really dislike giving gift cards. Part of the reason for that is I have come across so many unused cards at clients’ homes. I think of all the money spent on these cards that is totally wasted. But for some people there are items that they love but they need to buy the items themselves. For example, my brother loves books. I have no idea what he already has or what he wants to read so a gift card to a book store is a great gift for him. I know he would totally use up that gift card and probably add some of his own money to it and come away a happy man.

My favorite gift is one that allows a person to have a wonderful experience. That lets them to something they might not otherwise do. Tickets to events, gift cards to their favorite restaurant, a season pass to a museum or botanical garden, or a promise to spend a day with them are all very special gifts.

I would love feedback on how you handle the art of gift giving.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing Space With a Small Child

That new bundle of joy comes into your home and suddenly your home explodes with baby clothes, furniture, baby accessories, toys, books, feeding apparatus, and more. How did this happen and what to do now?

  1. Utilize the container system. I feel that as long as you can contain items in an orderly fashion, you can have as much “stuff” as gives you pleasure. A container can be the shelf for the books, the drawer for the sleepers, the hammock for the stuffed animals, the room for toys, and even consider your house as a container. When a container is full, no more items can come in unless some go away first.
  2. Set ground rules for gifts. When a baby first arrives or even before, there are parties and gifts start arriving. It helps everyone if there is a gift register and there is no sin in taking back to the store duplicates or items that just won’t work in your space. After that first influx, let it be known that gifts should just appear on birthdays and special holidays – not every time someone is out shopping and sees something cute. Let gift givers know your boundaries – like no gifts with batteries or a gazillion small pieces or items bigger than a breadbox. If a grandparent or favorite uncle brings in a large or loud gift, thank them and tell them that they should keep that toy at their home for baby to play with when they visit.
  3. Set limits on books. Children have favorites that they love to hear over and over again but I have seen bookcases overflowing with books – for children not even in kindergarten. Cull books regularly. Locate independent book stores that will accept used books for credit. Remember the library? What fun to go once a month or every two weeks and pick out some books to enjoy!
  4. Rotate toys and books. If there are too many books and toys around, the children tend to play with one of them a few minutes and then drop it and go to another one, etc. They get bored easily and can’t focus on any one thing. I have been in playrooms where you can’t even see the floor. Decide on a good number and variety of toys depending on your child’s attention span and age and then store the remainder of toys. In a few months, put away some of the less played with toys (or give them away if all interest is gone or they have aged out of it) and then bring out some of the stashed toys.
  5. Arrange the storage of items that are out so the toys, books, puzzles, etc. can easily be put away. Have items at eye level for the child. Have bins labeled with words and pictures and do not put lids on the bins. Make it easy for small children to scoop up their blocks and dump them into the appropriate bin or container. Teach children at a young age to put their toys away at night.
There is no right way to all of this. Find what works for you and your family. Remember that the house belongs to the adults – not the children. Find your happy place and then enjoy it together.
For more ideas see the following: both books are available on Amazon or Barnes and Nobel.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Tips for Gifting the Perfect Children’s Book

In my household books are always under the Christmas tree. If you are choosing a book as a gift for a young child, what should you look for?

  • A book that grows with the child is ideal. Choose a book that you read to a little one. In time the child will start to recite some of the words to you. And eventually he will enjoy reading the book by himself.
  • Younger children like stories that mimic experiences that they have had. Books about milestones like potty training, learning to help around the house, starting school are great. As children get older fantasy becomes more appealing. Also notice the child’s interests. Does he like to collect rocks or have outdoor adventures? Find books with those themes.
  • Find a book with appealing illustrations and a good cover. Illustrations that invite participation (find all the stuffed animals) and conversation keep the attention of young children.
  • Note the language in the book. Younger children love repetition and rhyming. Vocabulary that is part of the sight vocabulary of the young reader helps the child learn more quickly to read the food for fun alone.
  • Find a theme that is enduring. Can the story relate to other life experiences? Is it a book that will be enjoyed over and over?
Diane Quintana and I have written two children’s books that pretty much cover these suggestions (OK, they don’t rhyme). Check out Suzie’s Messy Room and Benji’s Messy Room on Amazon or Barnes and Nobel or ask for it at your local book shop.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Ho! Ho! Ho! Tis the Season for Gift Giving

It’s fun to receive gifts. I think it is even more fun to give gifts. But, let’s give this whole gift giving a bit of thought.

When we decide to give a gift consider:

  • Do they really want it?
  • Will it clutter up their space?
  • Do they have a designated place to put it away when not in use? 
  • Does it require upkeep or maintenance?
  • Will they use it?
Let me explore this from a recipient’s point of view. I love to give parties. People know this and it is great that they think enough about me to acknowledge this. But I have received at least 6 sets of decorative cheese spreaders and some novelty items that really don’t work for me. I like cats. But I have received boatloads of kitty figurines, picture frames, plaques, etc. Now, I do not have a problem passing these on to a charitable donation site but some people do.
I have worked with clients who have kept things just because they were gifts even though they do not like or use the items. These clients are limited on space and the gifts become clutter.
Consumable items are usually a good choice – but know the recipient’s likes and habits. I have one client who gets a case of cherry preserves each year. She lives alone. She rarely uses preserves. Cases have stacked up. She has a limited space. I have finally convinced her to pass these items on before they expire.
Gift cards can be a good choice. But I have come across many gift cards that have not been used. They are years old. Some people don’t know how to shop online and use an Amazon gift card or they don’t want to bother. Others just forget they have them or don’t shop at the places where the cards are intended.
Perhaps the best gift is a gift of your time. Still, know the person and what they would like to do with that time. Time is precious.
As you finish up your shopping this year, just give it some thought.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner. What organizing tips can we incorporate now to make this Christmas and the next a little less stressful?

Cards:
As the Christmas cards come in, take the time now to check addresses and update your contact list. Plan on how you want to handle the cards you receive. Do you want to keep all of your cards, just the very special ones, or none at all? If you like to use some pretty cards for gift tags, after the holidays put them in a small box, label them, and store them with your holiday wrap. If you want to keep some of the notes and pictures, consider scanning them. Another option is to place very special cards in your memorabilia box. If you plan on answering notes that you received in your cards, schedule the time to do this now or very likely they will sit in a bag or basket for the whole year (This I know very personally).

Wrapping Paper:
Let go of those little bits and pieces of the roll that are left after wrapping your gifts this year. You might want to keep some smaller pieces to use as gift tags. If this is your plan, put them in a small box, label them, and store them with your holiday wrap. Paper that came off gifts you received might be kept for next year if it is pristine. The same can be said for keeping and reusing gift bags. If you find that you have a lot of paper left from previous years, Now is the time to decide what you really love and let the excess go. Extra tissue paper can be used to wrap fragile ornaments when packing up after the holidays. Do have one place to store your entire holiday wrap collection.

Gifts:
Start your gift list for next year now. What have you discovered that your friends and family really love? Make a list. Keep a list of all clothing sizes. Shop all year round and keep all gifts that you buy in one place. This shows you how much you already have when the holiday shopping season hits next year. Tag the items with the names of who you though of when you bought the gift. If you do re-gifting, mark who gave you the original gift.

Decorations:
After Christmas, wrap up carefully all of your decorations that you plan to keep and use next year. As you box them, divide them up so that it will facilitate putting them out next year. I have all early advent items in the top of one marked box. Others, who do more extensive decorating, mark boxes by the rooms where the decorations are used. Discard broken or unloved items now.

Donations:
As you receive gifts, now is the time to donate what you no longer need or love. If you receive a new coffee pot, donate the old one. If you got a new robe, let the old one go to charity. Have children participate in clearing out toys they no longer love to make room for their new gifts.

Have a happy holiday season!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Children and Clutter

While it has been a long time since I have had children living in my home, I remember some of the “stuff” that started pouring into our home before the first little guy even arrived. I look around at friends and clients with children and grandchildren and see how the “stuff” can take over parts of the home.

Each new child in a household increases family possessions by 30% and that’s just in their preschool age. How can that happen? Extra furniture, clothes, linens, toys, and bottles are just the beginning. Before the baby actually arrives, these new belongings are usually stored in the “baby’s” room and perhaps some of the kitchen. But then they explode onto counter tops, floors, and tables throughout the house.

The United States has 3.1% of the world’s children but we own 40% of all the toys bought worldwide. All of these items come into the home by way of our own purchases, baby gifts, and continual grandparent gifts, and then they tend to stay.

So what is the answer to all of this incoming clutter?

  1. Every season look over clothing. Are you planning on having more children? If so, take the outgrown clothes and really look at them. Are they torn or stained? Did you really like them? Discard all that you would not use again and then store in labeled tubs those clothes that you are keeping. If this is your last planned child, donate or give to friends the clothes that are still in good shape.
  2. Every 6 months look over toys and books. If your child has outgrown them, either pack them away or store them for the next child or donate.
  3. Encourage grandparents to give gifts that give a memory (think trips or events) instead of physical items.
  4. Be selective in what you buy. Buy a few quality items instead of an abundance of the latest fads. Teach your children to take care of their toys and each holiday or birthday encourage your children to donate some of their gently used toys to others and discard unwanted toys that are broken.
  5. As children get older, have them be an active part of the purging process. Each season have them choose the items that they really love and/or feel they need, and then donate the rest. Teach them that each and everything they own must have a place to be put away.

While there is no way not to increase clutter with children, there are ways to control it.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Controlling Your Holiday Budget


It is easy to get involved in all the excitement and joy of the holidays and get caught up in the flurry without stopping to take stock of our behaviors. We tend to overeat, under sleep, and way over spend.

Having a holiday budget is the best way to outsmart the overspending chaos. Much of our spending is tied to a combination of emotion and family traditions.

Before things get out of hand, do two things. First, develop a vision of what is really important to you this year. Then decide how much you can spend to make this vision happen. Once you come up with your big total, break it down into categories. Start with the categories that are really important to you and your vision. Is decorating your home a really big part of your vision? Is baking and giving your goodies as gifts a part of your holiday tradition? Is it important that gifts are a big ticket item? Would you like to give gifts that help make memories – like tickets to the Nutcracker?

Decide how much money you want to spend in each area. You may have to play with this as you go along but keep your eye on the big final total. Consider ways to make your budget work for you. If you like to give more expensive gifts for your family, you might arrange a system where you only buy for some of the family. Our family has a tradition among the siblings of only buying for one sibling and their family. We do this on a rotation system where we buy for a different member each year. When our parents were alive, we pooled our money for a big ticket item and then individually bought some small stocking stuffers.

After your budget is determined, really keep track of all expenses. Save all receipts and if there is not a receipt, write the amount on a piece of paper. Keep a running total as you go through the season. This keeps you on track and prevents you from stressing out about cash. Keep your priorities in order.

You’ll thank yourself as the New Year rolls in.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Last Minute Holiday Organizational Tips

Christmas is just around the corner. What can we do now to make this Christmas and the next a little less stressful?

Cards:
As the Christmas cards come in, take the time now to check addresses and update your contact list. Plan now on how you want to handle the card you receive – especially those with personal pictures and notes. I do not keep cards unless there is a very special note or picture. Then the card will go into a memorabilia box. If you like to use favorite cards as gift tags for the next year, put those cards in a small box and label them “gift tag cards.” If you want to keep some of the pictures, consider scanning them as they come in. Another option is to place them in your memorabilia box with other family photos. If you plan to answer notes in the cards, schedule the time to do this now or very likely they will be sitting in a bag or basket for the whole year. (This I know very personally.)

Wrapping Paper:
I encourage you to let go of those little bits and pieces of the roll that are left after wrapping your gifts. You might want to keep some smaller pieces to use as gift tags. If this is your plan, place the small pieces in an envelope or folder to protect them. Paper that came off gifts you received might be kept for next year if it is pristine. The same can be said for keeping and reusing gift bags. If you find that you have a lot of paper left from previous years, now is the time to decide what you really love and let the excess go. Tissue paper can be used to wrap fragile ornaments when packing up after the holidays. Do have one place to store your entire holiday wrap.

Gifts:
Start your gift list for next year now. What have you discovered that your friends and family really love? Make a list. Keep a list of all clothing sizes. Shop all year round and keep all gifts that you buy in one place. This shows you how much you already have when the holiday shopping season hits next year. Tag the items with the names of who you thought of when you bought the gift.

Decorations:
After Christmas, wrap up carefully all your decorations that you plan to keep and use next year. As you box them, divide them up so that it will facilitate putting them out next year. I have all early advent items in the top of one marked box. Others, who do more extensive decorating, mark boxes by the rooms where the decorations are used. Discard broken or unloved items.

Donations:
As you receive gifts, now is the time to donate what you no longer need or love. If you receive a new coffee pot, donate the old one. If you got a new robe, let the old one go to charity. Have children participate in clearing out toys they no longer love to make room for their new gifts.

Have a happy holiday season!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer