Senior Downsizing

Family Helping a Senior Downsize

Make Their Move Stress Free

Is it time for your parent or loved one to move to a smaller home? Downsizing, while an essential part of the moving process, can be emotionally wrenching for seniors. Faced with getting rid of possessions that have a lifetime of memories attached to them can be overwhelming. Your senior may have many treasured items that he or she believes have a high monetary or emotional value, only to discover that the value of these items has been greatly overestimated. Whether it is a favorite dress or a broken lawn mower, anything can trigger memories. Therefore, it is important to respect the emotions that are attached to these objects. When such issues are handled with dignity and compassion, downsizing will be just another part of moving, rather than an enormous roadblock. How can you help your senior loved one downsize? Here are some strategies to make the process easier.

Start the Move Early

People tend to put this task off as long as possible, but that is a mistake. It is far better to do it when your loved one is mentally and physically healthy. Don't wait until your family member has had a stroke, developed dementia, or suffered a tragic loss. By starting the process early, you will not need to force decisions on him or her, but rather to do the job with them. Be aware of your loved one's situation and start downsizing well before the current home is listed for sale, or before a serious decline in health occurs.

Where to Begin?

Start simply. Choose a spot with little or no emotional attachment, such as the linen closet, the medicine cabinet, or the junk drawer (almost everyone has one of those.) Cleaning out old tubes of ointment, worn and frayed towels, or broken rubber bands is gratifying. Things quickly look better, and your senior will feel encouraged. Another likely starting place is outdoors, in a shed or garage. These areas usually contain items that will not be needed in the new living space.

Wherever you begin, sort out and eliminate multiples. Extra gardening gloves or hammers can go. How many calendars or barbeque skewers does anyone need? Doing this helps reduce the time spent debating about each individual object. Remember, if an object has not been used in a year, it is probably not needed. If it is needed at some point in the future, practically anything can be purchased online and will be delivered.

Make a Plan

Once you have successfully decluttered a few easy spots, then proceed to the essential rooms, such as the living room, or kitchen. These tend to contain frequently used items as well as items with high emotional value. Sort everything into four categories: keep, give to family members, donate, and trash.

When choosing what to take to the new space, don't guess. Measure the new, smaller spaces. Measure the furniture. Make a diagram to determine what will fit and what won't. You may be arguing that the couch is too big, but if you show your senior loved one the measurements, that may settle the dispute. Resist the temptation to cram as much "stuff" into the smaller space as possible. Crowding the space will only make it uncomfortable, hard to move around in, or even unsanitary.

What is the Value of Items?

Most seniors who are preparing to downsize struggle with the worth, or monetary value, of their possessions. Over the years, they have probably accumulated items handed down from their own parents or grandparents, which they consider to be family heirlooms or antiques. They also may have furnishings, china or collectibles for which they worked and saved. These things are important to them and are a matter of pride. Unfortunately, their children or grandchildren may not want these things or have room for them. Modern generations often live a mobile, minimalist lifestyle. If nobody in the family wants these things, selling them may be the only option. Selling brings another problem. Seniors may feel that their treasured furnishings and collectibles are being undervalued and discounted, money wise. The truth is, those items from earlier generations often do not retain their value.

In this situation, you should try to help your senior loved one understand that the value of their possessions is actually the memories. Try to find a way to hold onto the memories, while letting go of the items. Treasured clothing can be made into quilts. Other articles can be scaled down and used for display. It also helps to call in a professional. As a family member, it may be hard to explain that nobody wants these possessions, but a professional can explain the situation from a business point of view, without the emotional wallop.

Give Things Away Whenever Possible

When faced with downsizing a senior family member, you may have a very different viewpoint than the person who is being downsized. It is important to understand that anxiety and fear of losing control is a major problem. Seniors should be encouraged to make decisions themselves, without excessive pushing. This will affect how they feel about the process at the time, as well as afterward.

Seniors may be waiting to give family items to children or grandchildren. They wait for a child to get married, to have a child of their own, to move from an apartment into a house, or to simply be old enough to appreciate the gift. But by waiting, seniors are missing the joy of giving to their families and telling the stories that go with these treasured possessions. Encourage your senior to tell the stories now, when younger family members can ask questions. The stories are the real treasure. 

Professionals may also be able to suggest or manage distribution systems. Perhaps each child or grandchild could choose something that has meaning for them. Old photographs could be digitized and made available for the whole family to enjoy. Even papers, such as a stack of hand written sheet music, can be turned into a beautiful piece of art.

Donate Unused and Unwanted Belongings

Donating to organizations such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill is worthwhile and may be the easiest solution, but there are other ways to make a meaningful donation. Does your senior loved one have a special interest in local history? His or her collection would be gratefully accepted by the local historical groups. Items such as Civil War memorabilia may be best suited for a museum. A collection of musical instruments could be donated to a school's music program. Cookware could be used by a local soup kitchen.

Hold a Moving Sale

Your help is essential here for hauling boxes, displaying items and advertising in social media. Group items together, such as books, record albums (these are actually coming back into the mainstream), or tools. Some items, such as mattresses or upholstered furniture, will likely be a tough sell. Do some research ahead of time so you know what to expect.  But when holding a sale in anticipation of downsizing, the most important part is what to do after the sale. Don't fall into the trap of taking items back and endlessly trying to find a "home" for them.  Once your senior has committed to selling something, if it does not sell, do not put it back in the house. Be prepared to have a donation truck pick up any unsold items. The tax deduction for the donation may be as valuable as any money that would have been received from the sale.

Downsizing is a Fresh Start

While your hard work and emotional support are invaluable, don't hesitate to ask for help. A professional knows how to handle all aspects of the downsizing process, from packing, sales, delivering, and setting up the new home. Care, compassion, and respect can ease the transition from one home to another. For more information, contact us.  We are here to help.

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