One of the most wonderful things about being an organizer is the wide variety of people I am able to get to know. Last month I met an incredibly inspiring 98-year old woman. Because she was such a bright and willing candidate, we were able to tackle several issues that I have seen plague seniors.
It was somewhat unique for me to encounter a senior who was so actively and joyfully participating in downsizing. She was also realistic and forthcoming about some memory loss and a greatly decreased lack of mobility, all of which were issues in how we organized her belongings.
Because she had just moved from a much larger home, we began our session by unpacking photo albums. She has the time now to enjoy looking through her photo albums, so instead of leaving them packed away, we put them on a low shelf where she could easily reach them. To make room on the shelf, we got rid of dozens of books that she realized she would never reread.
We then organized her wardrobe. We all have the occasional food or wine or coffee drip on our clothes, but as we get older and our eyesight is not as sharp, we may miss seeing stains. It’s nice for a senior to have a younger person help them go through their clothing to be on the lookout for stains, moth holes and other issues to better make the “in” and “out” decisions.
Also, bodies often change as we age, so having someone assist in the tiresome process of trying on clothes, especially pants, can be necessary.
At the time we began organizing, my client had her clothes divided by season in two closets. She was fantastically practical, and nixed items that were too dressy for her life now or that were uncomfortable. If an item needed ironing (like linen) or dry cleaning, they were more likely to not make the cut. We were able to reduce her clothes to one gorgeously organized closet. She now not only has a wardrobe she loves and can see in one place, every item is likely to be worn, is stain-free and fits.
Our next project was her desk. She wanted help with organizing her many to do lists, which were a scattering of Post-It notes, among other things. Her goal was to have a neater looking desk. Because her memory is failing a bit, and she acknowledges that fact, she also wanted to be able to remember where she put things.
We consolidated her many notes and went through them, one by one. A very advanced age means it is important to “just do it” more than ever. Any tasks that seemed easy to complete quickly, we did together.
For example, she had a list of phone calls to make. What was preventing her from making them was that she had to look up the phone numbers. We did that together and wrote the phone numbers by the names on the to do list so that she could easily make her calls. We also bundled her written correspondence and chose cards for each person for her to send at her leisure.
Another small project was to type up information about family portraits and put it on the back of the frames so that in the future her family would know about who was in the pictures. She had forgotten that her daughter had already typed the information up, which we found in going through her desk, and we were able to quickly tape the text to the back of the pictures. It was a small project that had been kicking around for years, finally completed.
We put the leftover to-do notes together in a desk drawer to give her desk top a neater appearance. We dated each of them so that she would know the last time she looked at them. In order to remember where they were, we used a mnemonic device. The to-do notes are in the second drawer of the desk, so to remember that we stated, “When I get a second, I’m going to do one of my tasks.”
I also showed a family member where things were as a back-up in case she forgot. Whether you’re frantically busy or fear that your memory is not what it used to be, the triple threat of dating notes, using mnemonic devices and roping in another person to remind you of things is a useful practice.