Working with Low Vision Clients

March 12th, 2010

As the general population ages, many people may experience a permanent decline in their vision, or low vision, which can’t be corrected with surgery, glasses or in other ways. Low vision experts help people obtain assistive devices and develop strategies to function with the vision they have, but a professional organizer can be an asset as well.  General organizing practices that we commonly encourage in all our clients can help a person with low vision maintain their independence and ability to function.

A typical general needs assessment is appropriate for a person with low vision, but special attention must be paid to the physical setting of the client’s home:  Can they walk around freely without clutter or unnecessary furniture in the way?  Are there any loose area rugs or other tripping hazards?  Is there adequate lighting in their space and are light switches easily found and accessible in all rooms?  When you combine the fact that many people who are experiencing low vision are often elderly and struggling with other health issues, good organizing practices can make a huge difference in their day to day safety and quality of life.

Once the physical space is set, then a thorough sort and purge of all their belongings will help them manage and find things they need.  Clothing items can illustrate the challenges a low vision person may face.  As we all know, it is harder to find a certain item if you have to sort through clothes you never wear or don’t fit you. Add a vision problem to this and you have the potential for much frustration where much time and effort is wasted trying to identify things you don’t want at that moment, or possibly won’t ever really need. 

After a purge, help designate a spot in each room for magnifiers and other essential assistive devices. There are many different “talking” products on the market like wristwatches and clocks, kitchen timers, and voice or sound activated lights.  Helping clients establish a home for all these helpful items will ease their daily activities.

The color contrast between items and the places they are stored helps people with low vision in finding and replacing things.  A black wallet or purse can be seen more easily on a light colored table or counter top.  Place a contrasting colored cloth, cutting board or tray in designated areas to help with this if table or countertops are not suitable colors.  Food containers that are hard to see (black mugs are not good for black coffee) should be removed to avoid frustration and accidents. 

Other essentials like pill and toiletry containers can be marked with colored tape.   Solid black lettering on pure white backgrounds is often best but some people do better with bright yellow or other backgrounds.  Labeling various items with bold paint, markers or puffy paint can also help. 

Suggest they forgo storage in bottom drawers or cabinets if possible. The light is usually worse closer to the floor.  Small bins or boxes in drawers help keep items separate from each other and easy to find. Larger, seasonal items may be appropriate for bottom drawer storage. If shoes of similar style and color can be easily confused, donate them or clip together with a clothes pin so they are always a matching pair.

These are just a few suggestions.  As with all clients, helping establish a system that is logical to them and easy for them to maintain is key for success.

Beaded Handbags Bear Witness

March 5th, 2010

I once helped a couple downsize and prepare to move to a retirement apartment.   They had different feelings about this.  The husband was eager to go, and would enthusiastically greet me every morning when I arrived at their door.  The wife, not so much.  Several mornings she answered the door and greeted me with a disappointed, “oh, it’s you.”  I knew working with her would be a challenge.

First we proceeded through the whole house and designated which large furniture items would be appropriate for them in their new space.  We then had to sort through the rest.  After several days, we were working on a closet in a spare bedroom where we found some small, beaded handbags.  She then told me stories about each purse, and the fun dances she and her husband would attend during their courtship when he returned home from World War II.  She confided that because of the times, her clothes were simple and inexpensive, but her fancy purses made her feel “dolled up” and worthy of the special times they were celebrating at the end of the war.  She was so relieved that he had retured home, when so many others had not.

The next day, she answered the door in the morning and was downright pleasant. As soon as we started working on the piles we organized the day before, she confided in me, “you know, I really dreaded having to go through all this stuff, but I am really enjoying myself now, finding old things and remembering.”  I was glad that she was enjoying the process.  I also felt special that she shared personal stories with me.

I often have two equally important jobs when I work with clients.   One is to help sort through and organize items, and the other is to bear witness to the client’s stories and memories.  With this client, we would find an item, she would tell me its story, and then we would decide the appropriate fate for it.  She enjoyed sharing her memories, and I enjoyed listening to them.  We finished the process sooner than any of us thought.

A Teacup of Memories

February 14th, 2010

Several years ago, I worked with a woman who was downsizing from her home of 40 years into a retirement apartment.  We worked our way through the whole house and eventually reached the basement.  In a storage closet, we discovered a very large box, annoyingly jutting into the path of the doorway.  “That box has been there forever, “she said, “and it has always been in the way.”    She had no idea what was in it.  She then left me to sort thorough the items piled on top of it while she worked on a project in the next room.

When I got to the box, I discovered an entire set of fine bone china with complete place settings for at least 10 people.  There was even a matching gravy boat and formal tea pot.  I brought one of the plates to her and told her that it came from the box.  She nodded and said, “I always hated that china, but it belonged to my favorite aunt who I always felt loved me the most.”  She then got a little misty eyed as she told me of her aunt and family as a young girl.

Knowing she did not need, like or even have the space in her new apartment for this china, I came up with a way for her to keep this memento of her beloved aunt.  I took one teacup and one saucer and got her a small display stand for them.  We placed it prominently on the shelf in her new dining area at the apartment. 

Several weeks later, she called me and said, “I look at my teacup everyday and I think of my aunt.  You don’t know how happy it makes me feel.”  I felt like I gave her a little gift:  the ability to revisit warm memories without the burden of unwanted stuff crowding her new living space.  Even though it is easy to associate things with people, we have to find creative ways to honor the memories of loved ones without it being a burden in our everyday lives.  This was a perfect solution for her.

Organizing Quick Tips spring/summer 2010

February 9th, 2010

Re-usable Shopping bags

Place re-usable shopping bags in the same location you normally put your wallet or purse.  They will remind you to take them with you when you leave your house. 

If you use a car, try to remember to store your extra bags in the car.  Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Tips (Fall / Winter 2008)

October 21st, 2008

Where to donate used or unwanted items?

Many national charitable organizations accept gently used household items such as clothing, toys, dishes, cookware, sports equipment, furniture. Donation information for local chapters is online: Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Tips (Spring / Summer 2007)

March 21st, 2007

A Different Spring Cleaner

It’s probably in your garage and a great cleaning tool for all kinds of things: a leaf blower! I suggest you clean all the following items outside. Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Tips (Fall / Winter 2006)

October 21st, 2006

Controlling “paper-weight”
Invitations, coupons, notices

  • TIP 1 Keep a large clip (like a binder clip) on the nail with your wall calendar. Attach all invitations for the month on the clip so you have them when needed. Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Tips (Spring / Summer 2006)

March 21st, 2006

Displaying small collectables
Utensil Sorters / Drawer organizers

  • TIP 1 Utensil Sorters / Drawer organizers
    Wooden or bamboo kitchen utensil sorters are too pretty to go in drawers! They can make great shadow boxes! Hang one horizontally on the wall to display small items or collections. Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Tips (Fall / Winter 2005)

October 21st, 2005

Reuse / recycle / improvise!

  • TIP 1 Use a Bench
    • Instead of a table, benches are great for narrow entry ways to store purses, back packs or briefcases.
    • Store shoes under the bench.
    Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Tips (Spring / Summer 2005)

March 21st, 2005

Flower Pot Power!

  • TIP 1 Decorative flower pots or baskets can coordinate with your décor as:
    • Kitchen utensil holders
    • Storage places for extra toilet paper roll on back of toilet tank
    Read the rest of this entry »