Is it Dementia or Chronic Disorganization?

When I begin work with an older client, for a time I might wonder whether I am dealing with a case of dementia. The person who has it would be the last person to know it. Some people have been disorganized all their lives, but the ones that puzzle me the most are orderly hoarders. They have their stuff arranged in bins instead of strewn haphazardly. Instead of throwing stuff away, they keep it all but find ways of storing it so it looks organized while at the same time it is very messy. Everything is valuable to this type of person. They would not be able to say there is an “enough point” for any of their objects. I might find 25 pairs of slippers and additional single ones because the dog destroyed the mates. The owner values all of them equally despite the obvious worn-out quality of some.

If they have to relocate they will insist on taking everything in spite of the knowledge that there isn’t enough space for it. They may go out and buy something new that they know they already have but  can’t locate. I find this most frequently among the artistic and academic people. All their supplies whether they are used up or fresh are kept. All of their course work from the time of their own student days to those of their latest students are kept.

Even my husband, the Pack Rat, who is neither an artist nor an academic, still has all his study notes from his college days. I never argue with people about what they keep but I do try to encourage them to think about their potential life span and the likelihood they will ever refer to these things again.

I find this behavior in myself in terms of dealing with my email inbox. I enjoy reading a lot of email newsletters but get behind on it. When I discover I have a backlog of unread email I use what I call my “level of commitment” in discarding them. I ask myself “on a scale of 1 to 10 how committed am I to ever reading this 2 month old newsletter?” If I think it rates a 1 – 5, I’ll read it now or schedule a time when I will read it. If I rate it higher than that I’ll delete it. I use this with other things as well such as clothing to mend or broken things to repair. Life is getting too short to be “guilted” into keeping things.

Harriet Vaughan

About Harriet Vaughan

I am a Senior Move Manager, working with Senior Citizens and their families when it is time to downsize or just make the home safer and more comfortable for aging in place. I help these people make decisions about what to keep, throw out, donate, or sell. I also offer workshops on "Getting Things Done When You Are Over 60". I write about how to overcome memory lapses and how to use your physical energy well. I have a degree in Home Economics from the University of Maine. I live in Coopers Mills, about 14 miles east of Augusta. I have been married for almost 50 years to my husband, Chuck Vaughan. Our business is called Legacy Years Transition Services.