As both a caregivers’ and Elders’ advocate, I can see both perspectives. As the discussion developed, I saw not only how easy it would be, in the heat of the moment, for us to sidestep the issues of an Elder’s individual right to choose, I also saw how very fuzzy the line is for most of us between “normal” clutter and a compulsive health issue.
If a caregiver asked my advice as a caregiver’s coach, I would first ask questions to identify the context of the situation, such as:
- Is your loved one’s behavior diminishing her/his enjoyment of life? Or would (s)he be dismayed at the idea of having their clutter being gone?
- Is the situation, right now, a serious health hazard?
- How much of the “problem” rises from Your discomfort with clutter? What does it mean to you?
- Does some of your discomfort come, perhaps, from seeing your Elder behaving in perhaps an uncharacteristic way? Does it, let’s say, look like “slipping?” Or losing control? (Anyone applying this sort of judging attribution probably won’t be effective in starting a respectful conversation.)
- Are you capable of broaching the topic with your loved one solely out of an intent to support her/him in having the lifestyle (s)he wants? Are you capable of separating your own feelings about it, from your desire to be of service?
My advice? Each of us at any age has a right to make our own lifestyle choices, so tread carefully when considering taking action on behalf of a loved one. Talk to your Elder first, then family. Get support for yourself, and ask advice of professionals. But if your loved one is level 1 or 2, with no apparent hazard to their health or well-being, let them be. Each of us has our own standards of neatness and cleanliness. And consider this: creation of clutter and upset about it are rarely about the stuff.