When a loved one reaches the stage in aging or illness where it is no longer practical or possible to live alone, a transition to a care facility or to the home of a relative may become necessary. Moving is a stressful process for anyone, but for an elder, moving away from the family home and sacrificing total independence bears an additional emotional impact. Adult children and other caregivers can help to make the process as smooth as possible through careful planning well in advance and, if needed, seeking professional help with the process of downsizing and decluttering.
Having “The Talk”
Opening the conversation about major lifestyle changes with an elder parent or loved one can be a daunting task. So many emotions and memories may be tied to the elder’s belongings and homestead, and beginning to think about parting with those objects may cause the elder to fear that he or she will also part with cherished memories. It may be helpful to reframe the conversation so that the elder finds some emotional benefit in parting with his or her belongings. For instance, you might suggest donating useful items like clothing or furniture to charitable organizations and point out that this could be an important way for your loved one to share his or her blessings with those who are less fortunate. You might also suggest that instead of buying holiday or birthday presents, your elder loved one could gift family keepsakes on special occasions. This will gently begin the decluttering process and also assure the elder that precious items will continue to be cherished by the family.
While some moves are sudden and do not allow much time for advance planning, it is best whenever possible to begin thinking about decluttering six months to a year before the move, perhaps even before the final decision to move has been made. Regardless of whether or not the elder ultimately decides to move, decluttering and getting the house in order is not a bad idea and may help to prepare the whole family for a later time when the move might become unavoidable. Begin making lists of what needs to be kept and what can be discarded. Organize all legal, financial, and important medical documents in one place. If adult children have kept their belongings in the home, ask them to collect those items and store them in their own homes. Spread out the downsizing process over a long period of time, working on it only a couple of hours a day to avoid burnout and to minimize stress.
If downsizing is too stressful for the elder (or you!) or if a change in health status does not allow sufficient time for planning, you might consider hiring a professional to help make the process go smoothly. Several local services, such as DunnRite Transitions and Space & Time, LLC, can help attack the problem of organizing things quickly and ensure a smooth transition. If you have already done the organizing but need help getting rid of a lot of “stuff,” you might consider contacting one of the organizations to the right to help you dispose of unwanted belongings.
Managing the Move
When the move is imminent, take a little time to plan out the move day to ensure a hassle-free transition. Things to think about include:
- who will manage the move,
- who will pack remaining belongings and move them to the new home,
- who will unpack and arrange belongings and how those belongings will be arranged,
- how pets will be moved to and accommodated in the new home, and
- what to do with remaining unwanted belongings.
If time is of the essence and resources allow, hiring a move manager may help to make the process less difficult for the whole family, reducing the burden on adult children and leaving them with more time and energy to tend to the emotional needs of their elder parents. If hiring a move manager is not possible, making a plan for the weeks leading up to the move and the move day itself will help to minimize stress. Hire movers as soon as the move date is decided. Make a scale-model floor plan of the new living space, measure furniture, and map out where the furniture will go so that each item goes directly to the right spot and you don’t spend weeks after the move figuring out what to do with misplaced or ill-fitting pieces. Arrange for the transportation of pets so that the elder doesn’t have to worry about the well-being of his or her companion animals. The better the move day plan is, the faster the process will go and the less stressed both you and your elder loved one will be.
Helping an elder prepare for a major change in living circumstances isn’t easy, and the process of decluttering and moving can dredge up a lot of family baggage and emotional turmoil. As with most major transitions, planning ahead will help to ensure the smoothest possible transition. Hiring a move manager, professional organizer, or decluttering service may reduce some of the burden on family members assisting with a move. As you go through the process, take time to relive memories with your loved ones and assure the elder that the memories and relationships which matter most will not be lost because of the transition. Even though the situation might not be ideal, point out the silver linings – opportunities to contribute to charities, make new friends, or pass on precious belongings to grandchildren – to help the elder see the positive side of the move. With good support from compassionate and thoughtful loved ones, an elder can make a smooth transition to a new home with minimal stress.