Thursday, February 7, 2013


Books to be donated. Still more to give away.
When it comes to clearing out stuff collected over the years, it can be a challenging task for older adults.

The other day I found myself sitting on the floor surrounded by mountains of books and files accumulated over almost 40 years of teaching English. Many of these books are no longer in print, and many were bought on trips overseas. Teachers from the pre-1980s era will tell you that the majority of today's locally published English textbooks for students and resource books for teachers are an embarrassment to the once noble profession.

A cupboard full of files...
But I digress. So there I was, forced by lack of space to make a quick decision - what to do with three cupboards of reference books. I had tendered my resignation as tutor at Wawasan Open University in December 2011. It was unlikely that I would return to teaching again. My passion now lay elsewhere - working for and with the community of senior citizens. 

I contacted a former colleague at my old school and told her I would be donating my prized books to the English language department. Strangely enough, it wasn't too painful a decision, and I felt such a sense of relief knowing the books would be in good hands and put to good use.

Next up will be my clothes. I still have clothes from the 1960s, like my Form 5 graduation dress, that I still keep for nostalgic reasons. And the sexy high-slit, figure-hugging cheongsam that I last wore during my college days. I have been preserving it in the hope that I'll slim down enough to wear it again. Who am I kidding?

The sudden urge to clean up my apartment is not just spring-cleaning for the Chinese New Year, but more a result of watching the series 'Hoarding' currently being aired on Astro Channel 731. Imagine the horror of living in a house where every inch of space from floor to ceiling is filled with junk and garbage. I also read recently in the Daily Mail about an 85-year old retired engineer who fell and was trapped under mountains of bags and boxes for 30 hours! (Please read the article and view the pictures. Unbelievable!)

Not so lucky was a 76-year old Singaporean who was found dead last August amidst ceiling-high garbage that he had collected from dustbins over the past decade. He started his hoarding habit after his wife and daughter moved out 10 years ago. (You can read the Straits Times full report here.)

No time to read today's papers, so we keep them aside hoping to find some
time the next day to do so. Before we know it, we have stacks of them from
floor to ceiling. That's how hoarding can start. 

Hoarders are often older adults who live on their own. With no one to stop them from accumulating stuff, and with the whole house to themselves, they start filling up every room with anything they can lay their hands on in the belief that it will come in handy some day. That day usually never comes, and so the boxes and bags of useless items keep growing. Eventually the whole place becomes a fire threat and a death trap! The hoarder gets so overwhelmed when he looks around him that he doesn't even know where to begin clearing even if he wants to. So he gives up and continues to let the junk pile up. Do watch the video below to get a look into not only the home of a hoarder, but also into the mind of a hoarder.

I am no psychiatrist, but I can understand why old people hoard. Some old folks like my mother find it hard to throw away things because they have been through the war years when food and basic necessities were in short supply. They have experienced the lean years. So now they collect anything and everything, from empty containers to used newspapers.

There are others who can't resist a good bargain, so they keep on buying and collecting stuff they may never use. When this habit extends to food and perishables, you can imagine the stink it creates, not to mention the maggots it attracts. Urghhhh!

So, spring cleaning for me this new year is to clear out all the stuff that I haven't used in years. It will take time, and it will be heart-breaking. Older adults like me have a lifetime of mementos and memories that we hold precious and keep for sentimental reasons - school report cards, baby photos, love letters, classics, diaries, 33 rpm records...the list goes on. But there are some items I will never throw out, like my high school essay book containing the compositions I wrote back in 1964 when I was sweet sixteen!

I hope I will never pick up hoarding habits or fall victim to Diogenes syndrome, also known as senile squalor syndrome. Please click on the link to learn more about this mental illness. And watch out for signs of this in any elderly person that you know, so that he/she can seek professional help immediately.

Here are 10 tips I can think of on how to avoid cluttering your home. I'll be the first person to follow my own advice!

  • Throw out or donate anything that you haven't used or worn for the past two years.
  • Avoid buying anything you don't have any immediate use for. 
  • Don't fall into the trap of thinking 'Hmm...this might come in handy one day'.
  • Free up space by discarding old and seldom used items to make way for new items that you have bought.
  • Practice sorting things and keeping them in separate compartments.
  • Regularly go through your fridge and pantry, and check food items for their expiry date. You will be amazed at how much expired food you have to throw out.
  • Get rid of the 'bargain mentality'. Don't buy stuff you don't need just because it's on offer at a fantastic discount.
  • Keep purchases to a minimum, especially if you are living alone. What would you do with six toothbrushes or five tea-pots?
  • Avoid collecting items for a future project. You won't find time to work on it or complete it. Examples include building a model airplane, sewing a quilt and putting together a scrap book.
  • If something is broken, throw it out. Don't hang on to it in the hope that you will be able to repair it. That may never happen.
A living room to relax in. Click here for more on how to declutter your home.

Not only does clutter deprive you of a beautiful home, more importantly, it affects your health. You are at risk of developing respiratory problems. Finally, hoarders are lonely people because they can't have visitors, including their own family members. If you suspect your spouse or your elderly parent is a hoarder, show him these pictures of hoarding, and pray that he gets the message.


Pak Idrus said...

Please do not put the picture of toilet bowl in blog or FB. thanks.

seniorsaloud said...

The offensive image has been removed as requested.