7 Tips to Help Someone You Love Make Decisions

Indecision is often at the root of clutter, and while many people do not need or want someone to tell them what to do, they do want someone to help them make decisions. If you are trying to help a loved one de-clutter, you may already be aware of how difficult it can be. That’s because we have our own agendas, expectations, and emotions about the stuff, how the process should go, and how the person should live. It is difficult but not impossible to navigate the relationship landmines of anger, hurt, and shame. We can even come out with less clutter and the relationship intact or maybe even improved. Communication is a key to success, and here are some tips if you are trying to help a loved one make decisions:

  • Leave all agendas, except for the desire to be helpful, at the door. This means that it is not about how you define “helpful” or the kind of help you want to provide. Start with something as simple as “How can I be helpful to you?” You may be told to just be encouraging, or take stuff to donate, or take the kids out of the house for a few hours.
  • If your loved one does not know how you can be helpful, don’t give up. Try letting that person know you will hang out for a little while to see if you can observe a way to be helpful when s/he gets stuck.
  • You can provide feedback based on your observations, such as “It looks like it is hard for you to let go of things other people gave you, is that accurate?” Or, it seems like you are getting stuck on a few items. Would it help to set those aside and move on to easier decisions?”
  • Be aware of any frustration or anger you may feel, especially if you think it shouldn’t be this hard or take this long. Remember, your goal is to be helpful, and in this case “helpful” is assisting that person to come to a decision s/he can live with  and ideally, get better at making decisions.
  • Focus on gaining an understanding  of the other person’s thoughts and feelings. Often people have emotional attachments, guilt, perfectionism, or fear that blocks their abilities to decide whether something should stay or go. Sometimes people can come to a decision once they talk it through with someone else. Try to listen without guiding.
  • Be careful to avoid criticizing or discounting thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t mean you have to agree! You can give your opinion if you can do it in a way that does not criticize or discount. If that is too challenging or it just doesn’t seem to be the right time for your two cents worth, try asking questions. (Tone and intention are very important here!) Questions might be “How does this fit into your “big picture’?” Or “Can you have the memory without the item?” “Will a picture capture it?”
  • Accept that some things will be kept, and that they might not be the things you would keep. Also, accept that the other person might not be used to you helping without judging, and it might take him/her a few times before s/he is willing to give you a chance.

Do you have techniques that work for you when trying to help others make decisions? What about things other people have done or said that have helped you when you were stuck?


My Mother Should Fire Me

My mother should at least think about firing me as her organizer…though not as her daughter. In many ways, I am a great daughter. I help my mother in any way I can. I try to help her simplify so she can remember things better, and I live by some of her rules, like making my bed every day.

My mother won’t let the family hire any in-home help beyond the every other week cleaning lady. Her house, her life, her rules. I respect that. So when I visit I gather like items and organize them in homes that work for her, I get rid of old food, and when we are out shopping I remind her of the things she already has plenty of.

So why should she think about firing me? Because I can’t be neutral like I can with clients. I get frustrated and even a little angry, and I know that it shows. I question and judge her choices. I know in my professional organizer brain that her aging mind and body are really struggling, but my daughter brain and heart just want her to be her previously organized self…or at least maintain things I do for her.

My mother should think about firing me because even though I am helping her in some ways, we spend time together having fun, and the no-charge price is great, the stress it puts on our relationship may not be worth it. I often see people turn to family and friends for help de-cluttering and organizing. Sometimes it works great. More often than not, it fails. It is hard enough to help another person make decisions and work at a pace and style that might not match our own. When you add in all the emotions involved in a family or friend relationship, everything gets more complicated.

So what do you do if you are in a situation like mine where your family member won’t accept outside help or if you are the one trying to decide whether to use the help of family or friends?
1. Look for a good match of personalities. If the helper is likely to express judgment, work at the wrong pace for you, or has their own agenda, look for a skilled professional organizer.
2. Keep planting seeds about the value of using an outside person. Every now and again I tell my mother how having a paid person means she can have someone help her on a regular basis.
3. Respect a person’s right to choose what is best for them. When there are risks of falls, fires, or other health problems you may have to go against their wishes to maintain safety.

Unless and until my mother decides to allow someone else to help or her safety is a factor, I will do my best to make helping her fun, to look for opportunities to learn more about her, and to keep my emotions in check. If I am truly trying to help her, it is not about me.

Are you trying to help a family member? What do you do to make it work?