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Clearing Out the Clutter

Clearing Out the Clutter

The First Step in Getting Organized

Last month, we covered getting organized in general.  The next few months covers a step-by-step guide to getting your loved one’s affairs in order.  If you’ve now gotten to the point where you’re taking the time to get organized, you might have a fair amount of work ahead of you, depending on the specific circumstances.  If you’re like many families dealing with Alzheimer’s/dementia, you could find yourself in a room full of papers or, even worse, a room full of boxes, which are, in turn, full of papers.  Try not to feel too overwhelmed.  Chances are that a lot of it is garbage.  Hence, the first step in getting organized, as outlined last month, is to clear out some of the clutter. 

For some of you, clearing out the clutter could potentially be the most difficult part of the process.  If your loved one is a bit of a hoarder, you might be dealing with big piles of papers, such as years of bank statements, legal correspondence, and bills.  At a first glance, it might be difficult to determine what needs to be kept and what can be discarded.  For example, if you’ve uncovered several years of bank statements, it can be tempting to hold onto all of them just in case.  If you have a robust filing system and storage area, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a file folder for each bank and investment account containing old statements.  However, since such historical statements are easily available online these days, you could free up a fair amount of space by simply saving the most recent one or, perhaps, the year-end statements for each of the past few years.

After identifying the one or few statements that you’ve decided to save, you can probably go through the rest of what you have and gather up all other statements from that same account for disposal.  If you’re dealing with bank statements or other financial account statements, it’s probably worth investing in a paper shredder.  They’re easy to come by as most of the major retailers like Walmart will have them in stock.  Also, you can probably find one at a local Goodwill store or some other thrift shop for a fraction of the cost.  If you don’t have a paper shredder, just be sure to tear up any pages containing sensitive account information.  If you have a fireplace or a firepit, you could also burn them to be extra careful.  

Systematically work your way through the loose papers, piles, drawers, or boxes in that same fashion.  Identify that which you want to keep; then, get rid of all the extraneous copies of that same type of document.  Depending on how much you have to deal with and how much time you can commit to it in one sitting, this process could take hours, days, or even weeks.  Once you develop your own version of this system, it should feel less overwhelming.  You’ll most likely discover that it takes you a lot less time than you first expected.  Of course, it also wouldn’t hurt to get some help from friends or family.  Once you’ve cleared out some of the clutter, we’ll move onto grouping key documents and information into different categories.