For many older adults, remaining in a long-time home or apartment is a key part of their ideal aging plan. Familiar settings can provide a sense of security while also providing practical benefits like longstanding ties to neighbors in their community and familiarity with local businesses.
While it’s often beneficial to remain in a long-time home, the cramped conditions of many New York City apartments and the natural changes we undergo throughout the aging process make keeping a tidy living space critical to long-term safety. Failure to maintain clear walking spaces, unsafe storage, and limited access to safety-critical parts of the house like light switches, phones, and exits can result in significant hazards.
In this blog, we will discuss storage strategies that allow older adults to make the most of their square footage while promoting long-term safety.
Organize by season
While it can be comforting to have your entire wardrobe close to hand, chances are you will not need a swimsuit in December or a parka in July. Consider splitting your wardrobe by seasons and packing away off-season clothing in clear storage bins. This will free up closet space to manage other clutter.
Use storage bins carefully
Storage bins can seem like an easy solution to packing bulk items, but care should be taken to avoid overloading storage bins and making them dangerously heavy. Rather than purchasing the largest bins available, aim for medium-sized bins that can’t be overloaded to dangerous proportions. Additionally, prioritize clear bins that allow you to see the contents without opening every bin in your closet.
Stacking items and using either in-built or standalone shelves are a great way to make the most of your space, however you should put thought into how high each item is stored.
Typically, the safest way to determine ideal shelf height is as follows:
- Heavy items (storage bins, bulk liquids, appliances) should be kept between ground and hip height
- Items used most frequently should be kept between hip and shoulder height
- Only light items (toilet paper, cleaning supplies, blankets and towels) should be kept at shoulder height or higher, and a grasping tool should be kept nearby to avoid the need for a ladder
By organizing shelves in this way, you lower your risk of an injury moving a heavy object from a difficult position, or potentially being injured by falling objects.
Keep perishable items in easy view
As they say, “out of sight, out of mind.” Any food items, medication, or other household supplies with a shelf life should be kept near eye level to lower the risk that they go unused and spoil. This not only saves money by reducing waste, but lowers the risk of accidentally consuming or using spoiled products.
Add tiered racks to cabinets
In keeping with the theme of verticality, be sure to make the most of cupboards and cabinets. Wire-frame removable shelves can easily be added to cabinets to potentially double their capacity.
While it is best to maintain a less-is-more policy when it comes to keeping household items, sometimes buying in bulk is the most cost-efficient solution, and it is better to have a tightly-packed cabinet than allowing excess items to litter walking paths.
Avoid stove storage
Thanks to conveniences like microwaves and take-out, some New Yorkers find themselves storing items in their stove since the appliance sees little other use.
Although this seems like a potential space-saver, using a stove for storage greatly increases the risk of a fire, either due to forgetting to clear the stove before cooking, or accidentally turning on the stove.
Keep an “inbox” close to the trash
A single piece of mail doesn’t clutter an apartment, but a week or two of junk mail certainly can. Worse yet, loose paper can create a significant fall hazard – especially on wood floors.
To avoid a build-up of mail (and the risk of missing important letters), consider getting an “inbox” for your apartment and setting a time of day when you can review, read, and either store or trash the contents. Ideally, you should keep this inbox close to the entrance of your home and a trash bin.
Hang commonly used items
Everyone has a few “never leave the house without” items, like a coat, purse, hat, keyring, cane, etc.
Because these items come and go with the occupant, they may not have designated storage spaces in your home, leading to time-consuming searches or worse, being left behind entirely. Without a set storage location, these items may get cast off as you return home and potentially create a fall hazard.
One way to alleviate this problem is to install a set of hangers near your front door, or a small coat rack with a tray for pocket-sized items.
Make furniture part of the solution, not the problem
When it comes to furniture, bigger isn’t always better.
To provide more clear walking space and additional storage areas, consider your current furniture and ask yourself if you might be ready to make a change.
Smaller pieces of furniture not only take up less space, but are easier to move should your mobility needs change and you need to reconfigure your space to accommodate.
Additionally, you can sneak additional storage space into your home by selecting furniture that has hidden storage, like a coffee or dining table with additional drawers under their main surface.
Few things are cozier than relaxing in a well-organized, long-time home. Hopefully with these tips, “cozy” isn’t a stand-in for “cramped.”
By thoughtfully organizing your home with an eye towards aging-in-place, you can greatly reduce your risk of an in-home injury, make egress easier during an emergency, and greatly increase overall quality of life.
SelectCare has helped New Yorkers live happier, healthier lives in their long-time homes for nearly 40 years, providing in-home health care services and support to overcome challenges great and small.