The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in Dementia Communities

This month, Netflix debuted “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” and I, like much of America, binge-watched the whole 8-episode season. How do you not? She’s a tiny dynamo full of optimism, paitence, and love for messes.

I had read Marie’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”¬†several years ago, and adopted some of her concepts like her folding method (which is life-changing in itself!). I have yet to fully ‘Kondo’ my whole house…

Part of what makes the show so impactful is that by getting rid of clutter, people have more ‘space’ in their lives and less anxiety. It got me thinking about dementia care communities, and how this is something that could be really impactful. An overflowing activity supply closet, desks full of paperwork, and bookshelves overflowing with media are just a few things I’ve seen that I know add stress to everyone in the community, staff AND residents. Here are how Marie’s rules can help give you a community that ‘sparks joy’:

Image via Associated Press

Here are Marie’s Six Basic Rules of Tidying:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up. This is a process, and you need to commit to going through it, start to finish. This is difficult in a world where literal emergencies come up constantly, but this can be a slow process as long as you’re working steadily. Don’t lose momentum!
  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle. What would your community look like if everything was tidied? Would it be easier to find the things you need? Would there be more time for resident interaction? Will residents be more calm with less clutter around them? Creating a picture of the end result will help keep you motivated.
  3. Finish discarding first. You have to purge before you can start organizing (and organizing less things is easier!) Don’t be tempted to ‘just organize this little drawer’. Discard, then organize. I recommend going around with a garbage can and a box for donations so that you can get rid of things immediately.
  4. Tidy by category, not by location. The whole ‘work room by room’ method doesn’t work here, because it’s too overwhelming. Marie recommends tidying by category so you’re not changing gears too many times and repeating a process in each different area. Her categories are: Clothing, Books, Komono (miscellaneous*), and Sentimental items. For example, you probably have books in the living room, library, and maybe the activity room. Going through all the books at once gets them out the door in one fell swoop.
  5. Follow the right order.¬†You might think you don’t have any clothing hanging around, but, let’s be honest, there is probably a random pile of ‘lost’ items from the laundry room that should just get tossed/donated. Start there! Books and Komono are probably the biggest categories, because that means going through closets, bookshelves, desks, cabinets, EVERYWHERE! The order is strategic, because by the time you get to sentimental items you’ve gained momentum and parting with items is a whole lot easier.
  6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy. This is the most important part. If you are unsure if something should stay or go, hold it in your hands and ask yourself if it sparks joy. Think about holding a puzzle in your hands. Do you see residents happily putting it together? Or do you see arguments ensuing because it’s missing pieces? This is especially helpful with the sentimental part. I often see this with items donated or left behind by a deceased resident. If it’s an item that is impactful, keep it and put in a place of honor. If it’s an item that doesn’t mean anything to anyone, but you feel the need to keep it only out of obligation, it’s time to donate it.

Want more inspiration? Watch Marie’s new show on Netflix or pick up one of her books:


*Here is the ‘Miscellaneous’ category, broken out and modified for senior living:

  • Paperwork
  • CDs and DVDs (if you have VHS tapes and no VCR – donate all of them. Immediately.)
  • Personal care products
  • Medical supplies
  • Craft and art supplies
  • Holiday decor
  • General decor
  • Electrical equipment and appliances
  • Paper products
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Kitchen goods and food supplies