Spring is in the air! If you’re like us, you’ve been loving the warmer weather and the budding trees and flowers. Along with the spring air come pollen and dust, though, which is probably how we got the phrase “spring cleaning”! Spring is the perfect time of the year to take stock of what we have and what we need to throw away, but did you know that spring cleaning can also be good for your health? That’s because so much of what we tend to keep is actually not good for us.
Because members of the “greatest generation” lived through some tough times and learned how to save and be thrifty, these seniors may resist a spring cleaning exercise. After all, we could learn some lessons from them about recycling, reusing, and never wasting anything. You can make a spring cleaning exercise fun, though! Start with this list of 10 easy-to-keep items that you might want to throw away, replace, or clean:
- The Chair
You know the chair. It’s a staple of your loved one’s life, and it’s been in the family for years. So many years, in fact, that there is a permanent indention where your mom or dad has worn down the cushioning. Plan a shopping excursion to get a new one. Look for a good height and firmness and arms that make it easier for your loved one to get in and out of the chair. Replacing the chair now might help prevent a fall later.
- Plastic Containers
That sense of saving and reusing has led many seniors to hang onto plastic containers that once held margarine or other foods. Using these old containers to hold leftovers seems thrifty and wise and makes it easy to pop the leftovers in the microwave, but we now understand the toxins that are used in making these plastics and that are released into our foods over time. What you may not have considered is the fact that bacteria can live in plastic ware that is grooved or lipped and more difficult to clean well, especially for older adults with vision impairments. It’s simply better to use other types of containers.
- Medications and Supplements
Your loved one may have a cabinet or drawer full of medications and vitamins or other supplements. Does your loved one know what they all are and how and when to take them? Are the prescriptions still current? Are the medications expired or still good? Going through the medicine cabinet with your loved one can literally be a life saver since you have a chance to make sure he knows what he takes and why. Safely dispose of expired medications or medicines your loved one is no longer taking to reduce the risk of self-medicating (for instance, taking an expired antibiotic rather than seeing the doctor for a specific complaint). Make sure any over-the-counter supplements or other items are included in a comprehensive list of what your loved one takes, and be sure his doctor has this list. Read our recent article on the importance of having your primary care doctor manage your medications and health care profile.
Old underwear may not be physically unhealthy, but we all want to feel good about ourselves, and what we wear can boost our moods. When seniors are isolated or don’t get out on their own to shop, underwear may be one of the last things family members think about replacing because it’s not immediately visible. Spring cleaning gives you an opportunity to throw out the old!
If your mom has always been a diva, she likely still has a stash of makeup, and old products can pile up quickly. How often does she use what she has? Many makeup items have a short shelf life, such as mascara, and can harbor bacteria. Lip glosses and other products used around the lips can also hold bacteria and should be replaced if old. If your mom loves makeup, she’ll enjoy trying on new products, so surprise her with either a shopping trip for a facial and some new makeup, or bring her some new colors to try after you throw away the old stockpile.
Another bacteria collector is the toothbrush. Plus, they wear out and should be replaced at least every three months according to dental professionals. Always remember to replace the toothbrush after an illness as well since bacteria can linger.
- Pillows and Sheets
What’s in your loved one’s bedroom? Old sheets are much like old underwear—we just feel better in something fresh and new. Pillows, though, are a different story. Not only can pillows wear thin and become less substantial over time, but they also create the perfect place for bacteria to grow, and they collect dust that can be bad for those with allergies. If it’s been a few years since your loved one got a new pillow, spring cleaning gives you a perfect excuse to get a new one.
- Smoke Detectors
Did you know smoke detectors don’t last forever? The average life span of a smoke detector is 10 years. Even when you regularly change the batteries and test that the batteries are working, the sensors in the detector lose effectiveness over time. Make sure your loved one has a good smoke detector.
- Throw Rugs
Want to give your loved one a safer environment? Take a look at what’s on the floor at his home. If there are throw rugs or hard-to-navigate thresholds in the home, consider making some changes to the décor. Rugs can be trip and slip hazards, especially for seniors with mobility challenges.
Is there a spot in your loved one’s home that collects all kinds of papers? From the owner’s manual to the iron that stopped working 15 years ago to the birthday cards from last year, most of us have a catch-all place that collects everything. Of all the spring cleaning tasks, this one could be the most meaningful to you and your loved one. Not only can you throw away those old owner’s manuals, but you can also talk about important papers that you will need later and can talk about keepsakes that have special meaning for your loved one. You’ll need to know where your loved one’s insurance paperwork, advance directives, and any legal documents are. Did you know that you may also need other important papers? For instance, if your parent served in the military, you will need a copy of the DD214 discharge paperwork. Asking about this information gives you a chance to ask your loved one about experiences that he may not have talked about before. Seeing a copy of your parents’ marriage license can bring up special memories for a heart-to-heart conversation. You might discover a creative way to display some of your loved one’s special mementos as well. Maybe a shadow box display or scrapbook can serve to honor your loved one’s legacy and show her how much you appreciate her unique experiences.