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Tips to Help Aging Parents Organize at Home

Do you have parents who are paring back in life? Or looking to downsize with ease? No matter the situation, the following tips will help to guide you smoothly along. They’re also great for those of you with parents facing a shift in health that requires a reorganization of the home.

#1. Learn How To Listen

The most important thing you can do when a parent needs to make a change at home is to listen. A different set of issues arises as we age. You may have looked up to your parents your entire life as master decision-makers. But they are facing new issues of health and aging so the first thing you’ll want to do is to hold space. 

Holding space is the art of listening actively, then mirroring back what you hear, while trying not to fix the issue. Every ounce of your being may want to solve things with a suggestion. But you’ll go farther if you press pause on gut reactions and take a beat. It can be hard to make decisions as we age, and attachments to even simple household items can deepen. So do your best to step into their shoes. Doing so will enhance bonding and create a profound opportunity to connect to parents in a new way. 

To get started, ask parents to share how they feel about their home. Ask with an open mind and be prepared for answers that might not be what you want to hear, like fear of death, or letting memories go. An early conversation is a steppingstone to actionable steps (like sorting memorabilia together, or paperwork) so give them time to get it all out. Once they’ve shared, share right back. Remember, a good conversation is about sharing and listening.

#2. Be an Active Participant

When you both are ready, it’s time to move forward with baby steps. Identify a few small projects to organize, and don’t be drastic in your efforts. It’s hard to argue with tiny changes, like cleaning out the fridge. But if you take on big projects without ample time to complete the work, things can backfire. I know many stories of adult children who stop by ‘for an hour’ and try to upturn an elderly parent’s home. You may feel pressure to move quickly on a short visit, but do not rush the process. Doing so may cause resentment and unnecessary relationship rifts. 

Following are five gratifying projects you can do together. And remember, organize with your parents, not around them. Even if they can’t do heavy lifting be sure to check in on goals before diving in deep:

  • Clear The Front Hall

The ability to get easily in through the front door is a big deal. Help parents release to the stress of the day and enter into a calm space by creating a welcoming front hall. Clear loose ends and clutter from tabletops, drop zones and the space behind the door. Your parent should be able to ‘walk right in’ without having to navigate around things in their path.

  • Create a Bedroom Sanctuary

Bedrooms are quick to clutter, as we tend to pull things into them at the end of long days when tired. Help your parent to decide what they truly need in their bedroom, then clear the rest. Suggest creating a space where they can disconnect at bedtime, and recharge and refresh. For a step by step guide check 7 ways to make your bedroom a sanctuary and gift your parent an intimate space, just for them.

  • Love The Living Room

Being able to comfortably host a guest or two in our homes is important as we age. Help your parent to make their living room, favorite seating area or den guest-friendly. Shift stacks of paperwork to a private desk, or create a dedicated ‘bills and mail’ area. Also look at room layout.  Is there space to easily move about? Is there ample seating for guests? Create a calm living room so your parent, and any visitors, can feel at ease.

  • Simplify The Kitchen

Cutting down kitchen clutter is key to keeping seniors independent at home. Cooking or preparing food for themselves, even as simple as making morning coffee, is an empowering way for aging parents to self-care and stay in their homes. Help them to create stations in their kitchen to ease its functionality, such as a breakfast station, to cut down on digging through multiple cabinets for items that are better suited grouped together. Check our 9 ways to organize your kitchen for nutritional success and our how to organize a pantry for our top tips.

#3. Use Neutral Language

One wrong word can ruin a well-intended family conversation. When it comes to helping parents to organize at home, be mindful of how easily this can happen. Words like ‘clutter’ or ‘unsanitary’ can trigger an aging parent, and cause them to become defensive. Avoid trigger words and introduce a gentler language as you work. I recommend a technique that I teach to parents for communicating with their kids. Parents get a sour response from kids when they tell them to, “Put that away”, even when they add “please”. That’s because this language is perceived as an order. This isn’t fun for kids, and it’s less fun for aging parents.

If you want to call their attention to something try, “Hey mom, can I ask you about this?” Or, “Hey dad, I came across this and want to check in with you on what it is?” Using neutral, non-threatening language allows you and your parents to communicate freely without pointing fingers.  Jot down effective language as you go in a journal, as writing down a ‘good phrase’ honors and reinforces it.

#4. Keep an Open Mind

Go into this process with an open mind, and with a grasp on your own relationship to stuff. Are you someone who can’t stand clutter and is prone to comments like, “Why do you need so many of these?” Or, “You haven’t used that in years, just throw it out.” You might feel intolerant to volume, but the reality is, your parent might be OK with layers of stuff. If tensions run high as you work, keep the spectrum of clutter in mind, and use these Maeve’s Method techniques to guide you as you work:

  • Toss Five

A non-threatening project is to ‘toss five‘. Take a look with parents in the refrigerator, pantry and kitchen cabinets and together let go of five items that are expired, nearly empty or never used. Look also look to discard items that go against their dietary goals. If successful, move on to others spots in the home like junk drawers, countertops and medicine cabinets. Families enjoy the support of doing this work together, and it begins the process of proactively reducing volume in the home.

  • Group According To Them

Help your parent to organize the items of their lives into ‘categories according to them’. Group items according to their schedule, needs and daily routine. It’s important to organize towards the themes of our lives so we can flow effortlessly through our home routines. Forget expected rules about where things live in the home, and help parents to adjust their environment so it matches how they live.   

  • Display What They Love

Help parents to create a cozy home by honoring artwork or treasured mementos in their space. Doing so will create goodwill and draw out feelings of well being and calm. Create permanent homes for items they’ve deemed worthy of coveted space. Embarking on this project together can kick-start the process of preserving family memories. 

Have a tip about communicating about home with an aging parent? Share in the comments below.

Photo Credits: Skitterphoto, Maciej Korsan @ Fancy Crave, Pixabay

Maeve Richmond is the founder and head coach of Maeve's Method, a home organization system based in New York City. She specializes in parents & kids, couples, small space solutions, space planning and decorative elements for the home. Contact her at or @MaeveRichmond.

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