Often, when my clients are in their golden years, the process of downsizing and moving is very traumatic and challenging for them. Most have lived in their homes for a very long time and have accumulated a lot of stuff. It’s overwhelming for them to decide what to keep and what to let go of.
As your parents’ adult children, you want to do your best to help them and its beneficial to create a plan to better assist them through the process.
We all have an emotional attachment to our “stuff” and having compassion along with a non-judgmental attitude will serve you and your parents well to help it go easier.
De-cluttering and downsizing is difficult for most people. It’s natural to become sentimentally attached to items and objects that have been acquired over the years, so naturally we dislike the prospect of letting these things go. For seniors experiencing these emotions, its often more challenging.
It may seem like a daunting task at first, but it can be very rewarding to help them get their things in order for a new beginning.
These best practices will remove much of the hassle and stress related to de-cluttering and downsizing and will help guide you through the process to make it much easier for you and your loved one.
Patience is important. Give yourself and your loved one a proper amount of time and respect to make difficult choices about what to let go of. It will take time to guide someone into realizing that not everything can go with them, or that not everything they have will be needed. Work in small and manageable chunks of time and avoid trying to tackle the entire house all at once. If you attempt to getter all done in an entire weekend, most likely everyone will become overwhelmed. Instead, work steadily and regularly on specific areas of your home one room at a time.
Some decisions are easy. Most seniors moving to an adult living facility will need only a fraction of their kitchenware since most if not all their meals will be provided. Therefore, sets of formal dinnerware and silverware most likely not be needed. Help them decide what kind of clothing they will really need in their new life. They may not need multiple heavy coats if re-locating to a warmer climate or lots of dressy clothes or suits used in their previous life at work or in the office. In the bathroom, take stock of the multiple jars of lotions and creams that accumulate and take just one of each.
With sentimental items and collectibles gently talk with them about the meaning of their things, piece by piece, item by item and room by room. Ask them what are their favorite things? It could be a painting on the wall, their statues, their knickknacks and most likely family photos. Strive to keep the important things that hold special meaning to them, which will provide comfort in their new surroundings.
The painful reality for most seniors who are downsizing is that they will inevitably have to give up things they care about. But it makes the emotional process of letting go so much easier if you can find the right home not just for heirlooms but furniture and objects that have come to define a person. Ideally there will be offspring or other relatives who will value certain items that can be handed down.
Be sensitive. After the death of her beloved father, my client and I had helped her elderly mother downsize, and she learned first-hand how hard it can be. Her mother didn’t want to deal with the things that represented an emotional attachment. Letting go of a specific item felt like he was really gone.
Something to keep in mind is the emotional impact this has on that person and prepare yourself for that. The person who’s forced to making the decision about downsizing has a much different approach to the situation than the person who’s helping.
The loss of control is one of our parent’s greatest fears. To lessen the anxiety, it’s important to remember not to push. Make sure you’re not forcing them to make a decision their uncomfortable with, but encouraging them to do so. Respect their dignity and recognize It ultimately needs to be their decision.
Begin with the least important stuff. While it may be tempting to tackle the most sentimental items first, it’s better to take the opposite approach. One of the best things to do is go through a room that doesn’t have many items of real personal attachment such as the medicine cabinet, the linen closet or the garage. Cleaning out outdated lotions and creams or old towels is easy, comparatively speaking, and rewards your parents with instant gratification and inspires them to continue to move forward. Save the hard stuff for later. It’s natural to want to begin with photos and sentimental items, but these are the last things that should be decided on.
Ask closed ended questions. Open-ended choices allow doubt and indecision, raising stress and anxiety. Avoid asking the question ‘which pots and pans do you want to keep Mom?’ Sort them down yourself first, then ask a more comfortable yes-no question such as I’ve collected your favorite frying pan, a large pot, and a small sauce pot. Does that sound satisfactory? Creating yes or no questions provides your parent the opportunity to still feel in control. Assure them that the best items will have a prominent location in their new home. They’ll feel better about giving up the rest if they have a sense of control over the process.
View downsizing as a fresh start. Letting go of unnecessary possessions can improve everyone’s lifestyle situation. Having less stuff means less stress and more success! Helping your parents downsize their home could be challenging, both emotionally and physically.
Not to worry, though. Help is here. Most importantly, both parties need to recognize it’s a process. It helps to remember you realistically can’t downsize a 40 or 50-year-old household in just one weekend. You have to give it the time and dignity it deserves.
Share this with your friends on your favorite social media site!
Be sure to check back next month for another invaluable tip to help you live with less stress and more success!