Helping a parent downsize can be a rewarding experience. It’s also a lot of work – both physically and emotionally. While you might be tempted to just “get it done”, here are six things to avoid.
- Take Charge
Downsizing is an emotional process. It will go more smoothly and quickly if you take charge and handle the details yourself. Your parent is too close to it. They’ll also avoid all the hassle! When you’re in the driver’s seat, it’s easier for them and less emotional, too.
False. Downsizing and moving to assisted living can leave mom or dad feeling like they're losing control. It's easy to look at what they'll lose in the move, rather than what they'll gain. Offer advice and help, but let them decide what to bring, what to donate, give away or toss.
- Approach the House Without a Plan
Planning for downsizing will only make mom or dad more nervous. Plus, it's better to tell them how the process will go rather than have them try to dictate how it should go. They're too emotionally invested to make good decisions.
False. Planning for downsizing days alleviates stress for both of you. Asking for their input and involvement is respectful and affirming.
Decide together which spaces you'll tackle and on which days. This will put your parent’s mind at ease. They'll view you as a true partner in the process.
Remember your parent has less emotional and physical energy than you do. Tackling the whole house in one day isn't doable or advisable.
- Start with Areas with the Most 'Stuff'
Attics, basements and garages accumulate the most "stuff." Tackle these first, when you have the most energy.
False. Start with the main living areas of the house – kitchen, living room, family room – and finish one before starting the next. These rooms are packed and the sorting process will be full of emotion. Plan on working through no more than one of these per day. Remember that this time is also an opportunity to share stories with mom or dad.
What to keep and what not to keep can be excruciating. Make four piles: keep, give away/donate, give to family and trash. These questions can help you keep the sorting process moving.
Leave sheds, attics and basements until last. Other than holiday decorations or small gardening tools, items in these areas are less likely to be useful in your parent’s new home.
- Don't Come Armed with Information
Don't look too eager. Showing up with details like dimensions of their new apartment, places that accept used and pick up used furniture will make you look pushy.
False. You can't control what your parent thinks. What you can do is explain how the information you bring will make the downsizing process easier. It's meant to take some of the trouble out of the move for them. Some of the items that will help, in addition to the plan mentioned above:
- Room dimensions. (You'll know on the spot where a piece of furniture will or won't fit.)
- Which direction the apartment faces. (Will mom or dad need more lamps since her new home faces north instead of south and east?)
- Names and numbers of nonprofits that accept or pick up clothing, household goods, furniture and collections. (You’ll avoid sorting slowdowns if you can assure mom or dad that a particular group takes housewares or Dad's antique fishing lures.)
- Don't Start Early
You and your parent knows that assisted living is on the horizon. There's no need to start downsizing right now. It’s like pulling off a bandage. It’s less painful when you rip it off quickly. Do it slowly and it’s more painful – a reminder that they can’t take care of themselves.
False. The earlier your parent starts to downsize, the easier it will be. They can work at their own pace and schedule. Downsizing becomes something that's doable. They'll feel more in control of the next stage of their life.
- Don't Acknowledge that Downsizing is Stressful
Don't acknowledge the meaning or magnitude of the task to yourself or your parent. Your parent is probably already emotional and by reminding them, you'll make it worse. They don't need you to remind them of their losses.
False. Moving is stressful. Period. When mom or dad is moving from a home full of memories they’ve lived in for years to a much smaller apartment it’s even more so. They’ll need your support and patience through this transition. Your positivity and understanding will make the process easier and more enjoyable for both of you.
You can avoid these downsizing disasters with your parents by being open and supportive of this life changing event for them. Learn more about moving your parent to assisted living by downloading our eBook, Making the Move to Assisted Living.