"Do you work with hoarders?" | Senior Focus | Max Greenberg | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

Senior Focus

By Max Greenberg

E-mail Max Greenberg

About this blog: I developed a special interest in helping seniors with their challenges and transitions when my dad had a stroke and I helped him through all the various stages of downsizing, packing, moving and finding an assisted living communi...  (More)

View all posts from Max Greenberg

"Do you work with hoarders?"

Uploaded: Jan 4, 2016
Joan McCreary, a professional organizer, shared this story with me recently. She and others in her profession, provide a valuable service to seniors and their families, helping them deal with a very emotionally and physically challenging task:

“Do you work with hoarders?” The caller was the son of an 80 year old woman. “John” was concerned that his mother was at risk of falling in her very cluttered home. The hallways were lined with bookcases, bags and piles. Antiques filled every space, brought from the family home when she moved into a smaller condo. In my line of work as a professional organizer, I hear his question frequently. I set up a meeting with John and his mother, “Elaine,” to explore the situation.

While Elaine turned out not to have true hoarding tendencies, she did have a lot of stuff and was unable to manage it well due to her fatigue and declining health. She was willing to do some organizing, but did not want her children to participate. She had her concerns that I would “make her throw things away.” I assured her that she was in full control and I had no interest in whether she kept or tossed anything, only that we would find a way to meet her goals.

I often hear from adult children who want outside help for their parents’ de-cluttering needs. Family history invariably creates emotional baggage. Children are concerned for the health and safety of their older parents, particularly worried about home accidents. The parent, like most people, does not want to be told what they should do, how to live or what they must part with. A professional organizer brings an objective perspective to the task, being goal oriented and non-judgmental, gently helping the senior through decisions that will yield a favorable outcome.

In Elaine’s case, I provided physical support by emptying containers for review, setting up donation boxes, taking trash and recycling out of the house. We prioritized areas to work, especially where walking was more risky. When she had trouble with decisions, we talked about the history of a possession and where it fit in her life now. It was easier to part with things that had a destination, such as to a grandchild, a museum, or a school. Clothing that no longer fit but were in good condition would go to a women’s shelter.

We worked together to weed through the excess, filter out the useless and pass down the heirlooms. Elaine set the goals to clear her hallways and floors and to make her bathroom items easily accessible. Over several sessions, we met those goals and set more. She said it was a wonderful journey down memory lane to tell the stories as she let things go. It was also empowering for her to make the decisions on the things she had accumulated during her life. While it was her son that had brought me to work with Elaine, it was my relationship with her that made the work so enjoyable.

Joan McCreary is a Professional Organizer working with clients across the Santa Clara Valley. She has earned several certificates of study through the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, focusing on chronic disorganization, mental health, ADHD and seniors. Joan is a member of NAPO and the NAPO-SFBA chapter. www.JoanMcCreary.com joan@joanmccreary.com
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Sea Reddy, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jan 6, 2016 at 5:14 am

Thanks for bringing this topic to our attention.

I am 65.

My children think I hold too many memories of their school years.

I tell them, I am not a Four Seasons five star hotel guy.

I have 1000 books; I read a page here and there at night or day.

I admit, our places are shrinking, our books are considered old fashioned.

I say the world is changing.


Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Boichik Bagels is opening its newest – and largest – location in Santa Clara this week
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,607 views

I Do I Don't: How to build a better marriage Page 15
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,212 views

By Laura Stec | 13 comments | 1,094 views

Which homes should lose gas service first?
By Sherry Listgarten | 0 comments | 676 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.