For most seniors, moving from a long-time home into a senior living community is difficult. For some, it’s nearly paralyzing. In addition to countless other adjustments, the move to senior living typically comes with a significant reduction in living space, even at high-end assisted living communities. Downsizing can be challenging for anyone, but when it’s more or less forced upon a person because of age or infirmi
ty, the process becomes even tougher.
Remember, this move is very hard for your parents. They are leaving behind a home and countless belongings that symbolize years of their lives. At the same time, they are adjusting to the reality that they are losing a bit of their independence by making this move. Empathy and gentle encouragement are crucial for ensuring this process goes smoothly. The following tips can help you respectfully move things along.
- Think before you speak. Don’t say things like, “How come you hung onto this anyway?” Being critical of a loved one’s possessions and decisions to keep or toss certain things can bring the packing process to a screeching halt. The goal is to build trust and support your parents’ move however you can.
- Plan for their new home and needs. If possible, ask the assisted living facility for the layout and specifications of the residence your parent(s) will be moving into. Making a rough scale drawing of the new room or rooms they’ll be occupying will help everyone be more realistic about how much space there will be and what furniture will work in it.
- Avoid getting overly sentimental. If certain things hold emotional value for you, then you need to either take home your own mementos with your parents’ permission or get rid of them
- Don’t make keep/toss decisions black and white. If your parent needs time to think before putting something in a keep box, a discard pile or a donate bin, provide a third “undecided” option for them. Sometimes this is a necessary step, especially if they have a lot to go through
- Emphasize the positive changes to come. If stress leads to bickering, hurt feelings or anxiety, help everyone involved focus on what lies ahead. Acknowledge that what your parents are doing is difficult, but remind them that they have a new life waiting for them with less housework, no home upkeep, additional friends close by and opportunities to enjoy new hobbies and group adventures. In other words, try to concentrate on the positive aspects of their move even if they are hung up on the negative ones.
- Use visual cues as incentives. Display the colorful brochures most assisted living facilities use for marketing on a prominent wall while packing and purging. These will serve as reminders to your parent that this move is not the end of the road but rather a transition to another kind of living where countless opportunities await.
- Appeal to the senior’s charitable nature. If your parent is fond of helping others, take advantage of this characteristic. Research local thrift stores and charities that might be able to use any of the items they must dispose of in the downsizing process. If your parent knows that their donations may help troubled children, homeless families or veterans, they may not feel so upset over having to part with their belongings.
- Safeguard special memorabilia and keepsakes. Make sure that there’s a designated safe place for photo albums, gifts from grandchildren and other precious possessions while cleaning out your parents’ home. In the chaos of moving, invaluable items can get misplaced or thrown away easily.
- Consider hiring a professional. If the packing and purging hit a rough patch or failed to take off in the first place, it may be wise to bring in a professional organizer to help your parents through the downsizing process. A neutral third party can provide sound guidance and help seniors feel safe and supported during this vulnerable time.
We often hear that it’s the little things that count the most. Your parent will likely get over leaving behind favorite furniture pieces, clothing and even décor. It’s the items that represent a life well lived and preserve cherished memories that should be kept. Let your loved one be your guide in this process, but stash away items that you think they’d want, even if they don’t say so. You can always weed through those things again later. Try to be generous with your time and your own storage space, at least for now. Your understanding and thoughtfulness could make all the difference in how they accept this move.