You may have heard about the new craze in home organization, developed by Marie Kondo, an organizing consultant and international best-selling author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. Her book and new Netflix series are both dedicated to teaching folks how to declutter their homes, her philosophy being “keep only items that spark joy.” Sorting closets and cleaning out the basement is something most full-time caregivers do not have the time or energy to even think about. But there are five things caregivers may want to consider purging this year in order to reduce stress. And if we dare to borrow Kondo’s question “Does this spark joy?”, we may find some interesting answers along the way.
Consider purging these 5 things from your proverbial “caregiver house” this New Year:
- Guilt. Guilt has a sneaky way of sapping any joy we have pretty quickly. As the Disney movie Frozen taught us, we need to just “Let it go”. You are enough just as you are. No one can prevent every crisis, fall or missed dose of medication. It is important to remember hindsight is 20/20, and when faced with a new (and always unexpected) challenge, you can only move forward rather than wishing to could go back in time.
- Expectations. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. This may be true, but we feel that expectation is a close second. Having preconceived expectations of how friends and family should react, or assuming they know what we need is a recipe for disappointment. Everyone is seeing the situation through their own lens. Being straightforward with what you need allows others the chance to come closer and meet these needs. Often caregivers have never taken the time to identify what the most basic and meaningful needs are at any given point, so how can others be expected to know? Be patient, direct and specific when articulating what you or your loved one needs and watch what happens.
- Struggle. Coming to acceptance rather than always fighting against the situation can lead to surprising realizations. Acceptance in no way means “giving up”, but allows caregivers to proceed down the road they are already on with intention rather than resistance and struggle. Arriving at acceptance can bring feelings of sadness but also a sense of relief, as if a heavy weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Self reflection or a counselor can help you move through the steps needed to get there.
- Resisting help. No one should have to feel alone on the journey of caregiving for a loved one with dementia. If family or friends offer help, say “yes”. Keep a calendar of your loved one’s appointments, errands and outings and send it out electronically with a message asking for occasional help. There are many community resources available, most of which you are likely not aware of, and that is another are where we can assist. Let’s talk about it, or recruit a good friend to brainstorm with you.
- Rushing. Take a few minutes to slow down. Look around. Listen. Breathe. When is the last time you really did this? Being “busy” is a badge of honor these days, but it is especially true for caregivers. In our world of iPhones, iPads, iEverything, it can feel like we are constantly one call or text message away from the next crises needing our attention. Slowing our pace and our thoughts can bring mindfulness and peace instead of stress and anxiety. There are countless methods to achieve a sense of calm, but one that requires mere moments is to close your eyes, and take 5 deep breaths (each with a full inhale and full exhale) to start every day and repeating at any time throughout the day when you could use a little break. Even though it sounds simple, for many of us it takes practice to be effective. Try it this month and see what happens.
Give our 2019 Caregiver New Year’s purge a try. It may not require new organizational tools, a label maker or trip to the donation center. But we have a feeling it may lead to a more meaningful and joyful 2019. We think even Marie Kondo would agree. And the closets can wait until next year.