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When the Choice Isn’t Yours Anymore

A Lesson from the Field

Mother and daughterI’ve been working with an older woman, the mother of a friend. She’s in her seventies and has Parkinson’s disease. The illness went undiagnosed for a while, and the condition has been hard on mother and daughter alike. I’d say that this doesn’t have much to do with me, except that I’ve been sorting through the mother’s things so the daughter can better manage her mom’s care. And I can’t help but notice and be touched by the special circumstances this situation creates.

As we go through the mother’s things, I’ve been struck by the indignity of the process for her. I try to let her decide what to keep and what to give away, but the truth is that she’s lost most of the ability to make those decisions. That makes the work I do an exercise in balancing respect for the mother and the needs of the daughter in organizing what remains of her mother’s life.

Normally, when I work with clients, I help them make decisions about their personal belongings. I encourage them to keep what’s important to them in their present lives and to let go of what no longer serves them. The work we do together is an active partnership. But my friend’s mom isn’t able to work with me in making those decisions. She can’t actively participate in this aspect of her life, and I can tell that she feels as if she’s giving up more than she’d like.

As an act of defiance against her circumstances, she hides things from me. Before my last visit, she told someone, “Gayle’s coming, I’ve got to start hiding things.” It’s her last stand against losing control of her life, and that makes me sad. It makes me wish I could have helped her earlier, when she could still make decisions about what to keep and what to surrender.

So here’s the lesson for all of us: Make your own choices about your stuff while you can still consciously choose. Don’t wait until those choices are taken away by declining health. Ask for help now, so you can make decisions with your dignity intact. That’s what it’s all about, really. Respect yourself enough to make your own choices. I want to help you with that.

This article was featured in our October 2009 e-mail newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please use the “Subscribe” form, above right.

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3 comments to When the Choice Isn’t Yours Anymore

  • Sherry

    Good Morning; I read your article on “When the Choice Isn’t Yours Anymore”. Since I work as a caregiver for the elderly I know what this kind of situation is like. However, my question is regarding your business itself. I am considering offering this type of business in my small town community in SW FL, but have concerns and questions; I hope you do not mind a quick answer to one of my questions.
    In this economy how is your business doing?

    Thank you for your time
    May God Bless you in each endeavor


  • Hi Sherry -

    Sorry to be so late in responding. I’ve been really busy actually! The idea of asking for outside help with clutter has definitely caught on, and I stayed busy throughout last year. I’ve had a few dips here and there, but all short term.

    I think as an additional service for your seniors, you’ll be surprised how well it will do. The big organizing area for the seniors market is in helping them downsize to smaller living quarters. The only issue is whether you are working with seniors with the resources to pay you or not. Medicare hasn’t worked out yet that clearing clutter helps people’s physical and mental health!

    My clients have been willing to hire an organizer even in this economy because a cluttered space negatively impacts their life every day and it’s worth it to them to have me help them dig out.

    I’d recommend that you search for Professional Organizers in your area via the NAPO web site. You can search by ZIP code and find someone near you who can better advise you on your market area. I’d also look into going to a local meeting – there’s a NAPO chapter in south Florida. Their web site is naposouthflorida.com.

    Good luck to you!

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