Aging in place can be one of the best options for anyone who really loves their home and community, and who doesn’t want to live out their last years in a nursing home or assisted living facility. As it happens, if you don’t want to leave your home and you’d rather age in place, there are more options today than ever before. In fact, you can rearrange things and retrofit some others and create a home you can get around in easily, even if you live alone.
One area of the home often gets overlooked, however, and that happens for two reasons. First, this area of the home is tucked away from sight most of the time. Second, this area is actually several areas, spread all through the house. What is this area? It’s your closets, drawers, and shelves, along with cabinets, baskets, and other types of storage solutions. No matter what kind of storage you currently have in your house, and how much of it you really use to its fullest potential, there are probably at least some changes you can and should make if you plan to age in place.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to storage solutions as you age in place, including how much room you actually have, short-term vs long-term storage of particular items, giving some things away, re-organizing the items that are staying, and if you can get to important things safely. You also want to make sure you can still get access to needed items as your needs change. For example, if you go from needing a walker to needing a wheelchair, can you still reach the items in your kitchen cupboard? What about the things on the closet shelf?
For people who age in place, the need to change things as they age can be frustrating. It can also put them at risk of harm because they may not want to focus too much on changes. They may want to just keep doing things the way they’ve always done them, instead of admitting that they are struggling and need a little extra assistance. Medical bills and other needs can also sap older people’s financial assets, so getting things done when it’s affordable is often the way to go. Then changes don’t have to be made at a later date, when affording them may be more stressful and a lot more of a concern.
Hiring Help for Your Storage Changes
There are a number of ways you can make changes to your storage and closet areas. One of those ways is hiring help. If you’re not comfortable making changes yourself, or if it’s not something your health or physical abilities will allow, then getting someone to help can be the best option. A lot of elderly people are reluctant to ask for help, however, maybe because they don’t want to admit that they can’t do something themselves, or because they don’t want to spend the money. It can also be because they aren’t sure who to trust or who they can call to give them the help they really need as they age in place.
There are resources seniors can use to find reputable contractors, though, and asking friends and family members about who they use and who they would recommend can also help you choose someone who can make your closets and storage spaces useful for you as you age. With that in mind, consider what you really need to have done, and who you can get to help you do some of the simpler things, before you hire expensive contractors. A friend or family member may be able to make modifications for you and allow you to avoid any extra expense.
If you decide to hire a contractor, be sure you’re getting one who does the type of work you’re looking for. A general handyman, for example, might not be who you would want to run a new electrical circuit for your closet lighting. Instead, be sure to hire an actual electrician to reduce the risk of fire and other types of problems. Spending that little bit extra can make all the difference in some cases.
Be careful about scams, too. If someone comes to your door offering to do work, don’t let them in. Check them out online or through friends and family members, and never pay a contractor the total amount up front. Instead, only pay a deposit or a certain percentage down, and make sure you read the contract. That way you’ll be less likely to have a “contractor” disappear with your money instead of doing the work they were supposed to do for a fair price. It doesn’t matter how good someone seems to be. Checking everyone out before you hire them will help protect you and keep you safe, both physically and financially.
What Lighting Choices Should You Make?
A lot of people don’t give much thought to whether there’s adequate lighting in their closets and other storage areas, but for elderly people who may not see well and who could be at risk for falling or otherwise getting injured, it’s important to be able to see as well as possible in storage spaces and closet areas. There are several options for lighting, but among the most popular are battery-operated lights. Some of these turn on and off by pressing the fixture itself, and others have a pull chain, but either way they work well and keep you from having to run electricity to an area of the house that might not typically have it.
There are other lighting options as well, such as under-cabinet lights and brighter bulbs in fixtures that already exist. Some larger closets have lights in them already, especially in newer homes. If that’s the case for your home, the biggest change you may want to make is to put stronger bulbs in the fixtures so you can see better. Just make sure not to exceed the manufacturers’ recommendations for what a safe wattage is. You don’t want to put yourself and your home at risk of fire simply because you wanted to be able to see a little bit better in a closet, pantry, or other storage space.
Many people choose motion sensor lighting. These lights come on automatically when you need them—that is, when you trigger their motion sensors—and go off when you’re done. You won’t forget and leave a light on somewhere, so that can help your power bill be smaller. Many elderly people are on fixed incomes, so having lights that turn off automatically can really help them save a few dollars. It can also reduce the need for cooling in your home, as light bulbs do generate some heat, especially when they’re located in enclosed spaces.
The most important thing to remember about lighting is that it should be something you can easily use and that works for your particular situation moving forward. For example, a pull-chain light in a walk-in closet isn’t going to be easy to use if you’re in a wheelchair. You may need to extend the chain, put a switch on the wall, or make other changes that will allow you to use your home and its closets and storage spaces easily as you age. By thinking through your lighting options and making changes now, you’ll be doing your future self a big favor and helping yourself live in your house in a safer manner as you age in place.
Choosing the Right Shelves, Bars, and Rods
Older homes likely have closets with wooden shelves and rods, while newer homes may have plastic coated metal shelves, along with metal rods or bars. Both of these options can work very well for most people, but they aren’t always ideal for the elderly. For example, a wooden shelf that is only sitting on its supports and not secured can be pulled loose. If you start to fall and grab the shelf for support, you certainly don’t want that shelf coming down on your head, foot, or anywhere else. Plus the lack of support probably won’t stop you from falling, which just compounds the problem.
Metal coated plastic shelving is different, in that it has to be anchored to the walls when it’s installed. But if anchors aren’t used or these shelves aren’t anchored into the wall studs correctly, you could have the same kind of stability problem with metal shelving as you would have with the wooden options. Whichever type of shelving you have in your closet, if you like it you should keep it. But make sure it’s attached to the wall in the right way and thoroughly anchored to the supports that are meant to hold its weight.
The same is true with bars and rods, which are generally used for hanging clothes. If you have a lot of heavy clothing, that can add up to a lot of weight on any bar or rod you use. Consider putting supports on longer bars in order to keep them from bowing or breaking, and also consider mounting an extra rod lower so you can reach it more easily. Having a stacked rod or bar system is one of the best ways to ensure that you can reach your clothing and you have a well-organized closet. Any closet that has this option will also hold more clothing, so you can use your storage space more completely and appreciate all it offers.
Having a stacked rod or bar system is one of the best ways to ensure that you can reach your clothing and you have a well-organized closet.
High shelves may not be a good choice for you as you age, because the aging process will sometimes diminish your range of motion, giving you more difficulty reaching anything that’s placed out of reach. Adding more shelves at a lower height can help you reach things more easily, but you can still use your higher shelves, too. Just make sure the things you put on them are placed there very securely to reduce the risk that they could fall off and hit you. Also be sure you’re only putting things up there that you don’t use too much, so you can avoid needing to access that shelf very often. The more organized your things are, the easier it will be for you to age in place without worry or stress.
Help for Reaching and Grabbing
There are products today that allow you to reach things on high shelves, grab them, and lift them down, even from a sitting position. Many of these work well, but may only offer limited help to an elderly person. You still need to have the strength to use the grabber, and you want to make sure anything you try to pick up with it isn’t too heavy. Still, having one of these on hand for plucking lightweight items from a higher shelf or picking things up off the floor when it’s hard to bend over can be very beneficial to anyone who’s aging in place and needs a little bit of extra assistance from time to time.
There are plastic grabbers and metal grabbers, some extendable and some not. You may want to get more than one and have them in each room or closet, depending on the layout of your storage space and the kinds of things you have on higher shelves. Overall, you’ll have to carefully consider the cost of these items against how much you might use them, so you can make the choice that’s right for you. If you decide to get only one to have around the house, put it in the most logical spot and make sure you research which one to buy, so you can get the one that’s going to work the best for your needs.
What To Do With Those Seasonal Items
Seasonal items are often an issue when it comes to closets and storage spaces, mostly because people aren’t sure where and how to store them. On the one hand, you want to be able to get to them easily when you’re ready to use them. On the other hand, you aren’t going to be using them that often. As you age in place, are you going to be using them at all? That’s worth considering, but for items you’re sure you want to keep you’ll need to come up with some storage solutions. Those solutions will depend on whether you have people to help you with seasonal items, or whether you’ll be dealing with them all alone.
If people are there to help, you can store these items nearly anywhere, including the garage, an upper cabinet, or the top of the closet. But for people who don’t have others to help them, it’s very important that they can reach everything on their own. You may be in this situation, or anticipate being in it in the future. The best way to make sure you can get to your seasonal things is to focus on putting them where they’ll be accessible no matter what your situation. Generally, that’s going to be on lower shelves or in the bottom of a closet or other storage space, so you can get to them even from a sitting position.
You also need to make sure your seasonal items are within reaching distance. Way in the back of a cabinet that’s hard to get to won’t be a good place, simply because someone in a wheelchair or using a walker will struggle to get access to these kinds of things. You could end up falling, or your could injure yourself trying to lean too far in order to reach something. There are ways to avoid all of that, though, by storing your seasonal items in sealable tubs or other types of boxes in the bottom of a closet, in a corner where there’s plenty of room, or in a lower cabinet or on a lower shelf, so they can be accessed safely and with ease.
Are Those Shoes in the Way?
For most people, shoes naturally accumulate on their closet floors. Some people also leave them by the front door, generally if they don’t wear shoes in the house. But for elderly people those solutions may not be the best idea. Shoes left by the door or near a couch or chair can be a tripping hazard, and can lead to falls and other types of injuries. When shoes are tossed into the bottom of the closet they may be hard to see and hard to reach.
Depending on your level of mobility you may not wear shoes that often, or you may choose slip-on varieties over anything that laces up or is otherwise harder to fasten. But whether it’s hiking boots or bedroom slippers, you still need your shoes to be in a safe place so you won’t trip over them, and you need them to be more easily accessible to you as you age. A walk-in closet or even a smaller closet has plenty of options, though. One of them is a small rack that sits on the floor. Shoes are out of the way and more organized in a rack, and because they aren’t right against the floor, they’re easier to pick up and put on, too.
Another option is to choose a lower shelf to put your shoes on. As long as they’re reasonably clean and you aren’t putting them directly over your hanging clothes, there’s no reason to think that your shoes can’t be stored that way. There are even shelves that are specifically designed for shoes, where each pair has its own cubby. Not only does that keep shoes together and within easy reach, but it also ensures that you have more space in case you have a lot of shoes you want to keep. You may pare down your shoes in time, but if you still have a lot and plan to in the future, these kinds of cubbies can be the way to go.
A third option for keeping shoes out of the way and making it easy to access them are vertical storage units. These are generally made of cloth with solid bottoms for each compartment, and they unfold like an accordion to hold shoes neatly. They may also have a Velcro closure that wraps around a hanging rod in your closet, so you can attach them easily. Vertical carriers are also very sturdy, and won’t easily pull loose, so they’re relatively safe for anyone to have in their closet as they age. Each pair of shoes gets its own cubby, so they’re easy to find. Vertical carriers generally don’t provide enough room to store boots, though, which will have to be stored somewhere else.
Organizing Your Clothes Can Give You a Lot More Space
Many people dread organizing clothes. They aren’t sure what to do with some of the things in their closet, and they just don’t know where to put everything. If you’re in this situation, you can always get rid of some things, but whatever is left will still need organization. The key to good closet and storage space organization is to be thorough and complete, so it all gets done at one time. Saying you’ll do it later often leads to doing it never, and given all the other challenges of aging, you’re better off not making it an ordeal to pick out your clothes. Fortunately, though, you have options.
If you don’t have a lot of clothes that you need to hang up, you can probably get them all into your closet. How you organize them is up to you, though. Some people choose similar types of fabrics to group together. Others use color, or sleeve length, or another method that works for them. The choice is up to you, but the goal is to be able to easily see and reach everything no matter how you organize it. If you have the closet space, the more things you hang up, the better, in most cases. Just be sure to use a lower bar height for the things you wear the most, so you can get to them even from a sitting position.
Your closet may be reserved just for hanging things in, or you may have a dresser or other type of storage in it, depending on its size. Some people also have storage boxes they use to pack away clothing they don’t use as much, such as their winter clothing during the summer months, or more formal attire they rarely wear. By keeping that in mind, you can create neat solutions with drawers that pull out easily and boxes that can be stacked and stored carefully. Be sure not to make them too heavy, and focus on stacking them in such a way that the things you use the least will always be on the bottom.
Whether you need more space to easily access to the clothing you have or you simply want to be able to find things without a lot of stress, organizing your clothes in preparation for aging in place is one of the best things you could do. You’ll easily get dressed each day, and you’ll be able to see what you have and choose from it. Why have a piece of clothing if you’re not wearing it? Easy access to clothes can change all that, and make getting dressed every day easier.
Consider the Weight of the Items You Are Storing
One of the biggest problems for people who age in place is not being able to lift items the way they used to. They may have stored something on a high shelf for years, and may be surprised by the weight of it even if they’re still very mobile and can reach it easily. You don’t want to get something partway off of a shelf and then realize it’s heavier than you expected it to be. When a comforter or blanket falls on you, there’s very little chance of getting hurt. But if you have heavier boxes of items stored up high, the risk of injury is much greater, and a dropped item could result in a serious accident or injury, along with damage to the item itself.
What doesn’t feel too heavy now could easily feel much heavier as you age, so moving things before you think you need to is generally the way to go. The heavier an item is, the closer it should be to the floor, so you don’t have to lift it above your head or reach up high to grab it. In the end, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so as you age in place, heavier items should make their way to lower shelves, and lighter items should move to higher locations.
Another consideration for heavier items that you know you’ll be using is to find a way to store them where they can be moved more easily. You can shop around, for example, for small crates on wheels and boxes with good latches and stout handles. All of those are good choices when it comes to moving items around. The more independent you can stay when you age in place the better, and shifting heavier items into more convenient spaces is an excellent, early safety precaution.
Is It Time to Let Some Things Go?
Among the most difficult things you’ll have to face as you age is letting go of items that might have sentimental value, or might still be of use. Paring down your possessions can be liberating and can help you get organized, but the process can also be stressful and difficult. Whether you can use everything in your closets or not, many of those items will still hold memories—and yet it may be time to let some things go. Whether you just need the extra room or want to make room for other things that you’ll be needing as you get older, a reorganization of items and a purge of what you don’t need any more can really help.
As you decide what to keep and what to get rid of, though, think carefully. Consider how you’ll use each item when you’re older. Ask if you’ll have any practical use for it. Also consider what kind of sentimental attachment an item might have, and if it’s something you’ll want to pass along to your heirs. Will they want that item you’ll be giving them? If you think they will, and you won’t be using it anymore, why not give it to them now? Then you’ll know where it is and that it went to a good home, without having to worry about it taking up space in your closet.
You can have a yard sale, too, or donate things to charities or needy families in your area. You can also sell things, but be very careful about doing that if you live alone. Meet in a public place, and take someone with you if possible. Don’t let a stranger come to your home. Elderly people can be more at risk for scams and physical harm from others, so it’s a good idea to be sure you’re taking adequate steps to keep yourself safe from strangers as you age. Being afraid isn’t necessary, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being cautious, especially when you’re doing business with people you don’t know very well.
Each Room’s Storage Options Present Their Own Challenges
No matter how well your house is laid out and what kinds of storage you have, you have to recognize that each room will present its own unique storage challenges. Kitchens and bathrooms will be similar to one another because of things like the depth and placement of cabinets, while bedrooms will all be similar since they have closets. The living room and dining room could also be grouped together, as they’re traditionally more open spaces that aren’t going to offer as much in the way of typical or built-in storage solutions. Older homes, though, may have this type of storage.
Kitchens and Bathrooms
Your kitchen and bathroom have a lot in common in the way the cabinets are configured. These cabinets may be similar in height, and they may also offer similar depths. That’s not necessarily a problem, but as you age you may find that it’s harder to reach things on higher shelves or things that are tucked away in the back of a cupboard, even if they’re in a lower location. Because that can be an issue for anyone who’s aging in place, the best way to reduce problems is to make all parts of every cabinet accessible.
You can do that by installing slide-out shelving in lower cabinets so you can always reach things even if they’re stored in the very back. For higher cabinets, consider accordion-style racks that pull out and down. Not only can these racks make it easier to see what’s in the cabinet, you can also bring them down toward the countertop so items that are hard to reach otherwise will be much closer to your fingertips. This can be an excellent way to use your cabinet space even if you are in a wheelchair or need a walker or other assistance to get around. It also avoids a lot of wasted space and makes things much safer.
Chances are good that every bedroom in your home has a closet. Whether these are walk-in closets or spaces that barely warrant the name, the challenge is often having enough safely-accessible space. For example, you may now have items stored on shelves above the clothing bars, but if you find yourself in a wheelchair later, even the bars where you hang your garments can be too high up. Fortunately, the best choice for closets is two-fold. You can lower everything and just have extra space at the top, or you can add more shelving and bars below the ones you already have.
When you add more bars and shelving, you not only make things that you use more often much easier to reach, but you also add more usable space to your closet in a way that will remain safely accessible even as you age in place. You may not always be able to reach everything perfectly, but it will be much easier for you to focus on getting access to the clothing and accessories you use most often. Depending on the size of the closets in your house and the people who live with you, you may also be able to use closets in other bedrooms to store items you don’t wear or use as much so you have more space in your main bedroom’s closet.
The Living Room, Dining Room, and Open Spaces
Bigger, more open spaces present unique challenges when it comes to storage updates and aging in place. You want to be able to get to everything, but you also don’t want things just sitting around in tubs, boxes, or other containers in the places where you hope to entertain visitors or enjoy some uncluttered personal time. There are solutions, though: you can buy hutches and other types of furniture that can be used for storage. That can make these things easy to access so you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to get to them.
If you’re not sold on the idea of a hutch, or you really just don’t have any room for more furniture, you can also consider storing things in the bottom of a coat closet or linen closet. Adding some low shelving to a coat closet is a great way to have more room, and most coats aren’t long enough for that to be a problem. Linen cabinets already have shelving, but if you need more there’s usually space at the bottom. You can also redo the shelves you have in there to space them farther apart or closer together, based on what you need to store and the sizes and heights of items you want to keep close by.
No matter how you decide to store your things, though, there will always be options for you to work with. From making extra space in the closets and storage locations you already have to finding ways to access all of that space more easily, you can age in place with adequate and accessible storage for every item you’re likely to need. Not having to give all of that up helps you keep your independence, and will makes it more comfortable for you to age in your own home.
No matter what kind of storage you currently have in your house, and how much of it you really use to its fullest potential, there are probably at least some changes you can and should make if you plan to age in place.