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YSB's 'DeClutter' Program Helping Families Cope

by and on June 25, 2014 3:45 PM

The DeClutter program offered by the Centre County Youth Services Bureau program helps families manage unhealthy home conditions that exist because of too much clutter.

The families that we at YSB serve are often on the verge of eviction or losing their children because the clutter in the home has created unsafe or even dangerous living conditions.

Upon first reflection, one wouldn’t think clutter to be a problem of those who live in poverty. But, in the DeClutter program, we work almost exclusively with families that are hovering around the poverty level, which by national standards is $23,550 annually for a family of four.

Even twice that amount for a family of four in Centre County can be tough to get by on.

What YSB sees in many of these homes is a lack of basic functional storage areas such as dressers, closets, kitchen or medicine cabinets, vanities in the bathroom, and other such things that most of us take for granted.

Without these means of storage, we encounter piles of clothes on the floor or in large bins, kitchenware spilling out into other rooms, toys around the house with no toy chest or sorter for them to be put away in, and shoes and coats piled at the front door or on chairs and couches.

In DeClutter, we try to address this lack of storage space from two different angles.

The first angle is to find or provide, with a very limited budget, the needed storage. We help families try to find more storage by rethinking what spaces or items they already have and to determine if these can be used more efficiently. We help families categorize belongings and designate places for these things, such as putting shoes under the bed, storing silverware in a basket on the counter, etc.

We will also try to provide what extra storage we can by helping families locate donated furniture — the Interfaith Human Services agency is the number one help for this — and offering assistance to pick up the furniture and haul it back to their home with them. We also provide and help install hooks, shelves, toy bins or whatever will work to contain and hold belongings.

The second angle is aiding families to help control their clutter by reducing their amount of belongings. This is usually the most difficult way to approach the clutter control. People have many reasons why they have a hard time getting rid of objects — emotional attachment, guilt, a desire not to be wasteful or a belief in the value and potential usefulness of object.

For families living in poverty, there is also a fear that if they get rid of belongings now, they may not be able to afford to buy anything similar in the future if it is needed.

Often among the piles of clothes we help families sort through, we may see children’s clothes that are two or three sizes too big for any child in the home that were given to them or found at rock-bottom prices and saved for the future, or baby clothes from a child who is now four years old, because they hope to have another baby down the road.

For many families, it doesn’t make any sense to get rid of things that, if needed in the future, they will only have buy or find again.

Storage issues are not the only problems YSB finds. There are other ways a home or an apartment contributes to the overall home condition and presents challenges to keeping it clean and organized. Many of the homes we work in are old and poorly cared for.

This can mean carpet that may be more than 10 to 20 years old and has experienced many different tenants and pets, or floors that are cracked, dry, splintered or peeling. The homes may have walls that are cracked and crumbling, yellowed from previous tenants who smoked or full of holes. Ceilings are leaking and falling down in spots, toilets are not sealed, and bathtubs and showers  are moldy due to poor ventilation. All these factors can make it hard for homes to be cleaned or appear to be clean.

This is where YSB finds our small DeClutter budget has its limits. We have shampooed many carpets, which provides some improvement, helped families rip out old carpet, or contributed, when we could — thanks to generous donations from our local Bed, Bath and Beyond — area rugs for bare floors.

We have even helped a few home owners acquire new laminate flooring either by donation or at deep discounts, thanks to our local Home Depot and Lowe's. We have helped to deep clean walls, patch and paint them, seal toilets and fix leaky or completely broken faucets and drains. We also have helped many families weatherize their old homes in the cold weather months, which helps with heating costs and health.

Providing for a family when living at or near the poverty level is a daily struggle, and families have to make choices everyday about how best to do that. Living in poverty presents all kinds of dilemmas and challenges, not the least of which is the state of home conditions.

With this program, YSB does not rescue families from problems, but instead offers tools and help so that families can address the problems as best as they are able.

For more information about the Centre County Youth Service Bureau visit the group's website.



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Jennifer Crane is the DeClutter program coordinator at the Centre County Youth Service Bureau.
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