Where others may see “trash,” elderly family members and friends may see “treasures.” As America ages, more and more of us are trying to help family and friends move to smaller homes or into independent living communities. Talking to seniors about downsizing and releasing decades of treasures is not easy.
Avoid tackling the whole house at one time. It may be more efficient for you to go full steam ahead, but elderly family members may be stressed emotionally and physically. Think in terms of months rather than days for helping elderly family members move. Tackle one room at a time to make this easier on you and them!
Ask yes-or-no questions rather than open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are more stressful. Rather than asking, “Which pots or pans do you want?” present a manageable question such as, “I have your best frying pan, a large pot and a small sauce pot. Does this work?” This makes it easier for seniors to make a decision faster.
Use the new space as a guide. Find out how much closet and cabinet space there will be in the new home and fill that space only. How big are the rooms? Mark that information off on a diagram to see exactly what space you have to fill and use. There’s no reason to bring too much stuff.
Encourage giving a gift now. Urge your parent not to wait for the next holiday, birthday, or other milestone to bestow; remind him that there’s no space for storage. Ask, “Why not enjoy the feeling of giving right now?” (And if you’re the recipient — just take it, and encourage your relatives to do the same. You can donate the item later, if you don’t want it, but the immediate need is to empty your parent’s house.)
Target recipients and charities for specialty items. It’s time-consuming to find willing recipients for everything, but it may be worth the effort for items that your parent would be relieved to see in a good home. Examples: Schools may welcome musical instruments, old costumes. Auto repair shops and community maintenance departments may take tools and yard tools.
Call on the professionals. A fast-growing specialty, senior move managers specialize in helping older adults and are skilled at both the emotional and practical dimensions of late-life transitions. These experts can defuse a parent-child emotional clash, while handling everything from sorting and packing through hiring movers and unpacking in the new place.
Encourage seniors to focus on their most used items and let the rest go. What seems useless to you may be the most comforting item a senior has. The newest item isn’t necessarily the most favored item. Learn the story behind something…find out why the old plastic tumblers are preferred over new, sparkling glasses.
Aging is a fact of life. Taking a few steps at a time can help make any move easier.