After meticulously protecting and displaying valued possessions for years, the very thought of parting with any beloved treasures is often a tortuous proposal for seniors. Whether older adults face downsizing from their homes because of retirement, finances, health, death of a spouse or coaxing from family, letting go of longtime belongings can be a daunting roadblock. Seniors may resist while their families persist.
“For older adults, decades of memories are typically built around their home,” said Tracey Schlosser, President, Right at Home Hamilton. “Also, one’s personal identity can be closely tied to a home and belongings, so living without these valued possessions is distressing. Navigating the downsizing process for seniors involves recognizing the emotions and planning for the practicalities of transitioning from the familiar to the unfamiliar.”
Fortunately, there are workable solutions for the elderly leaving a long-term house for the smaller square footage of a condo, apartment or townhome. Ways to help seniors tackle downsizing include the following:
Plan for the reduced space. There are companies that specialize in downsizing for seniors. Check on-line for services in your area or with your local realtor. Obtain a layout of the new home and make a plan. Stay positive through this process as it will be difficult for seniors to imagine not taking everything.
Treasured Items. Now would be a good time to sit with the senior and talk about treasured items they would like to give to a special friend or family member. Parting with these items on their terms will give them great joy knowing that someone will be enjoying this treasure.
Recruit family and friends. Moving is meant to be a team effort. Every bit of help makes the process more manageable. Downsizing is often the perfect time to make legacy gifts of special belongings to children, grandchildren, friends and others.
Start small. If you have time before the move, be gentle and start small. Talk to the senior and discuss with them what they should expect. Give them small tasks to do during the day like cleaning out a drawer or a box in the closet. Start with a room that has less sentiment like a bathroom, kitchen or spare bedrooms. Doing these small tasks will help them get used to the idea of moving.
Create sorting categories. Set up piles for keep, toss, to give away and donate. Relocation experts advise to only handle the item once. Some moving pros discourage a “maybe” pile, but indecision is natural in parting with long-held possessions, so allow some flexibility when seniors express reluctance in the sorting process.
Sell, donate or recycle. If time is on your side, a “moving sale” attracts more buyers than a garage sale. With bigger items like furniture or appliances, advertise in the local newspaper or online directories. Consider donating items to charities, and for certain antiques and memorabilia, check with museums, schools and libraries.
“Assisting older adults through or after downsizing involves a listening ear and help with adjusting to the new home’s surroundings,” Schlosser said. “Sometimes that’s demonstrating how to use the stove or simply sitting down to look through old photo albums together.”
Schlosser offers these suggestions for family caregivers helping an aging loved one downsize:
1. Communicate openly. If possible, start talking early about the eventual realities of needing to reduce clutter and limit items to fit into the new home. Together, discuss the nonnegotiable items to keep. Offer reassurance that the move will prove to be beneficial in the long run (e.g., less household maintenance, lower utility costs, little or no yard work, etc.). Allow enough time that your parents don't feel rushed. Sorting through years of stuff is difficult and sometimes emotionally painful. Give them time to absorb the change.
2. Show respect. Many possessions of older loved ones are handed down for generations. What may seem like a pile of junk to others may hold priceless significance to the elderly. Honor the senior’s choices in what is most valuable. Avoid the “let us get rid of all this for you” approach to helping older loved ones downsize.
3. Practice patience. Allow the senior time to process decisions. Many older folks deal with limited hearing and slowed thinking and reflexes. Control your opinions about what needs to head to the trash. Stay calm if the downsizing process takes longer than you’d like. Preserving the relationship with your aging loved one is one cherished possession that can’t be replaced. Allow the senior time to say goodbye. If they take longer to clean out the desk drawer because of a stack of pictures they found, let them take the time to remember. This is a very important part of the process. Be patient. Listen to their stories.
4. Get them involved. If you have access to the new home, take your older loved one there, introduce them to the new space. Do this on their own time, when they're ready. Let them tell you how they'd like it to look and make a plan to prepare the space accordingly.
“Not everyone has to move. We can assist in keeping people in their home for as long as possible. If our client “has” to move or “wants” to move, then there is a right way of doing so,” said Schlosser. You can make it a positive experience.
Right at Home Canada offers both non-medical and medical care to seniors and disabled adults who want to continue to live independently. Right at Home Canada offers a unique approach to care delivery including a Care Team approach that leads to a higher level of quality and care experience. Each caregiver is thoroughly screened, trained and insured prior to entering a client’s home. Right at Home is a global organization with offices in Canada, the United States, China, Brazil, the UK, Ireland, Japan and Australia. For more information on Right at Home Canada, visit About Right at Home Canada at www.rightathomecanada.com or contact your local office at www.rightathomecanada.com/hamilton at, 905-628-1200 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.