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How to arrange and declutter your home for optimal accessibility

According to the Los Angeles Times, clutter is “the cholesterol of the home.” It clogs up space and prevents it from functioning as it should. After all, home is meant to be the place we go to relax, de-stress, and be free. Unfortunately, many houses are crowded with too much furniture, clothing, and other belongings, making us feel overwhelmed, overworked, and trapped instead. Research shows that 84 percent of Americans don’t think their home is clean or organized enough, and 55 percent are stressed because of it.

For people with disabilities, a cluttered home is much more than just a psychological challenge. In addition to affecting their mental health, a messy home can also be a danger to their physical well-being. Barriers created by physical and even virtual clutter can prevent people with hearing, vision, and mobility impairments from being independent in their own homes. Fortunately, there are ways to arrange and declutter your home to maximize accessibility and minimize challenges for those living with a physical disability.

Mobility Impairments

When you think of accessibility, wide doorways, ramps, and low countertops come to mind. In addition to these structural modifications, there are ways to make a space work for someone with mobility issues simply by rearranging and reorganizing furniture and accessories.

  • Put It On Wheels: Rolling carts and modular storage on wheels can be lifesavers when it comes to organizing a home for accessibility. Keeping the things you use most often within reach can make life easier and less stressful. Being able to wheel them from room to room can eliminate the need to buy duplicates and therefore cut down on clutter. The cart you use next to your recliner to keep medication, electronics, snacks, and books easily at hand can be rolled to your bedroom in the evening. Beyond the day-to-day advantages, flexible furnishing options can be moved or even repurposed easily as your needs change.

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  • Embrace Modern Design: Clean-lined, simple furniture and storage are not only trendy and timeless, they are often easier to access for people with mobility issues. For example, open shelves with lightweight, fabric bins can be easier to operate than traditional drawers. These units also allow items to be stored at variable heights, preventing bending and reaching. Furthermore, modern design tenets call for wide open spaces and minimalism, which means reduced tripping hazards and more room for wheelchairs, walkers, and other assistive devices.
  • Function Over Form: While a clean, clutter-free home is a thing of beauty, it’s important to remember that your main goal is improving how your home functions. If an object is pretty to look at but doesn’t meet your needs, consider replacing it with something that does or letting it go altogether. At the same time, don’t get rid of something you use and love just because it’s showing some wear and tear. Consider refinishing or repairing these pieces instead.

Hearing Impairments

It is a common assumption that a person with a hearing impairment will require increased volume in order to be able to hear better. However, one of the biggest hurdles for those with a hearing impairment is actually too much noise or, in the case of those with absolute hearing loss, too many competing vibrations. Reducing noise clutter can help.

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  • One Thing At A Time: In the age of technology, it can be difficult to resist putting a TV in every room and allowing each family member to watch and listen simultaneously. Combined with other everyday sounds like conversations, phone notifications, and even outside noises like birds chirping, the number of competing sounds can be overwhelming for anyone, but especially for those who have trouble hearing in the first place.

You can keep aural clutter to a minimum by utilizing only one TV, music player, or entertainment device at a time. If you want to take it a step further, you can reduce physical clutter by only investing in one of each for the entirety of your home. Place the entertainment center in a common area, like the living room, and you may even experience more quality family time gathered around it.

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  • Good Vibrations: Vibrations have been used as a part of assistive technology for as long as it has been around. From alarm clocks to fire alarms to telephones, vibrations can adequately replace sounds for the deaf and hard of hearing in most cases. And thanks to wearable technology, you can now combine almost every form of assistive technology into one smart watch. Notifications from health monitoring systems, thermostat controls, home security, emergency services, and alarms can be delivered via vibration right to your wrist. Consolidating all of these devices in this way not only enhances safety and security, it reduces both aural and physical clutter.

Vision Impairments

In much the same way sound affects accessibility for those with hearing impairments, light is the key for those with vision impairments. Too much can be painful, while too little can be dangerous. Luckily, there are ways to maximize the light in your home in order to make it more accessible for those living with vision loss.

  • Go Natural: Many people with vision impairments prefer natural light, like that which comes through the windows on a sunny day. However, too much light can irritate their eyes and cause pain. Arrange furniture and accessories away from windows to allow light in, and make sure there is easy access to adjustable window coverings. Layer curtains, blinds, and shades that can be opened and closed independently to easily filter and direct the light. When positioning television and computers, be sure to take potential glare into consideration, as it can severely impact people with light sensitivity.

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  • Layer Light: When it’s cold out, we dress in layers. That way, we can remove or add pieces until we are comfortable and avoid getting too hot or cold. You should approach your lighting in the same way you do your winter attire. Furnish your home with multiple light sources — overhead, lamps, baseboard — and put them all on dimmers. This will allow you to use as much or as little light as you need in order to see the best any time of the day or night. Once you determine which lighting settings work best for you, you can place every bulb on a timer to automatically turn on and off as needed. Run cords along baseboards and secure them for safety.
  • Use Shape And Texture: For those with no sight, the use of shape and texture can allow them to differentiate everything from different rooms of the home to different storage areas within the room. While most people will have a good understanding of their home’s layout, different styles of flooring can be used to indicate special areas. For example, a rug in front of the basement door may serve as an alert there are steps nearby, or a small rug in a corner of the living room may indicate a child’s toy box isn’t far away. Similarly, differently-textured baskets, bins, and buckets can store different items for easy identification.

For many, a well-organized, clutter-free home would be considered a luxury. For those with a disability, however, it is a necessity. It is imperative to approach home organization in a mindful, deliberate fashion, keeping accessibility and ease of use first in mind. In some cases, that may mean rearranging existing pieces, purchasing new ones, or even throwing some out. In the end, the peace of mind and lessened risk of physical harm is well worth the challenges along the way.