Tips for Assisting Your Aging Parents in a Downsize

For seniors facing the move to assisted living or a smaller living environment, the prospect of downsizing can be challenging and heartbreaking, to say the least. Letting go of long-cherished household items, precious mementos, and personal space is never an easy task for anyone.

And for children helping their parents make the move, this can be an overwhelming process—on top of the emotional (and physical!) baggage that comes with downsizing, you may find it hard to make time to help your loved ones with this transition; your schedule may be limited, or you may not have the physical capability to help move a bunch of heavy furniture and other items.

Luckily, there are ways to make the process easier on you and your parents. Here are some helpful tips for assisting your aging parents in a downsize:

Have a plan and set realistic goals

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re feeling intimidated and perhaps unsure where to begin. Having a plan and setting some realistic goals can help with this. To start, you should divide the downsizing into smaller parts rather than tackling everything all at once. Focus on one area of the home at a time or appoint different people to different rooms. Decide what day(s) of the week you’re available to help and try to stick to a schedule. It’s also infinitely helpful to create a home inventory on a spreadsheet, so you can keep track of everything and easily divvy up items between family members.

Start slow (and early)

Though everyone’s situation will be different depending on the size of the home and the amount of stuff to get rid of, it’s important to start early, and start slow. This means, rather than waiting until the last minute and haphazardly throwing everything in boxes, setting aside just an hour or two each day (or as much as time allows) to organize, declutter, and pack. Not only will this help make the whole process more streamlined and less stressful, but it’ll also help get your parents used to the idea of moving.

Get organized before decluttering

First of all: Children of aging parents should expect there to be clutter in the home, and lots of it. Deciding what to do with all that clutter can be tough, especially because your loved ones likely have strong emotional attachments to most of their belongings. It helps to have a plan and a few key organization tactics in place before attempting to declutter and get rid of stuff. One great way to get organized is to make four piles in each room: Donate, Gift, Trash, and Keep. Have different colored stickers to put on items (or another type of marker) on hand so you don’t have trouble remembering what goes where. Decluttering is time-consuming and energy-draining, so it’s crucial to be as efficient and organized as possible.

Be patient and treat your parents like adults

Maybe this doesn’t bear saying, but the truth is that in these situations, parents can often feel like they’re being treated like children. Make an effort to thoughtfully communicate your feelings to your parents, ask questions, and don’t condescend to them. Be patient with them, and with yourself—even when downsizing is wholly necessary and the best option, sometimes, the process takes time.

Make downsizing as enjoyable as possible

You already know that helping your parents downsize is bound to be difficult, so why not make it more enjoyable? Bring over pizza and wine one night, make a playlist with some of your parents’ favorite music, invite the neighbors over, and try to create a stress-free, enjoyable atmosphere whenever you can.

Enlist help

Enlisting help from trusted friends and family members is always a good idea; plus, having others around can help make downsizing much less painful. Hiring a moving company that’s specialized in senior moves is also recommended, especially if you’re feeling daunted by the size of the task or are simply physically unable to move things on your own. There’s no shame in enlisting personal or professional help; scheduling movers especially can help lift the weight off your shoulders (literally and figuratively!)

Make the new space cozy and homey

Hang onto some of your parents’ furniture and keepsakes so you can help them make their new space as homey as possible. This means family photos, precious souvenirs, cherished jewelry items, and anything else that they can’t do without. It’ll help them feel much more at home.

The bottom line…

There’s no doubt about it: Downsizing is often an incredibly emotional and physically draining experience for all involved. By following the above tips, you can help make things easier for everyone, especially your aging parents. Above all else, take care of yourself and have patience for your loved ones during this difficult life change.

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