Written by Kristen Edens, St. Louis business writer, Managing Midlife
This blogpost was originally published on Kris the Scribbler.
Are you the caregiver or family representative for a parent or another older adult? If so, you are likely to help that person downsize in the future, probably sooner rather than later. If the downsizing involves a long distance move, then the process is more complicated.
More than just packing up boxes and belongings, you will be thinning out a household of memories. The challenge is to do so while keeping your sanity — and that of your older friend or family member — in check.
In 2009, my father’s fall stunned us all, most of all my mother. She quickly realized their three-level home on two acres was more than she could handle. She wanted to downsize but couldn’t let go of ANY of the stuff they accumulated over their 50-year life together. It took four years to get her to move. Following dad’s death in 2015 and the recent death of two friends, she’s ready to make another move, this one over 500 miles and closer to family.
Planning to Downsize
Life events lead to changes that require downsizing: death, divorce, job loss, health issues. Any and all of these can hit us at any time. For an older person, health or death are the top factors leading to downsizing. While many older adults may make a local move to an apartment, condo, or assisted living community, there are some that may make a long-distance move to be closer to adult children. Regardless of the reason, thinning belongings is an exercise that is filled with emotion. It’s A Breeze Moving, a professional organizing and relocation service, recommends these steps to initiate and ease the process.
Start Early: Search & Rescue
- Enlist the help of a trusted friend or a professional. An outside person will help make the difficult decisions.
- Start with the garbage. Beyond emptying the trash cans, this means identifying stuff that is not suitable for donation or hand-me-downs. Worn, broken, or stained items fall into this category. The family junk drawer falls into this category.
- Tackle one room at a time.
- Remove what’s no longer wanted or needed.
- Separate what is most used from what is least used.
- Use different rooms to sort what to keep and what to rid.
- Have someone else haul away.
- Discourage your older friend or family member from storing items. This not only postpones the thinning process, it’s an unnecessary financial burden for the person and the caregiver or family representative.
- Don’t burden non-profit organizations with items you can’t make a decision on. Their warehouses are already burdened with more they can handle.
- Don’t refer to the older person’s belongings as “junk.”
- Start early.
- Get help.
- BE CAUTIOUS: unfortunately, there are scammers out there who prey upon older adults. Avoid inviting unknown people from coming to “help” or collect unwanted belongings.
- Invite the person you are helping downsize identify the most loved and cherished items that are a MUST HAVE.
- Consult a professional organizer for the “overabundant collector of stuff” or the “chronically disorganized.”
- Plan out, including on paper, how items kept will fit into the new location.
- Find alternatives to the standard donation centers like Salvation Army or Goodwill. There are plenty of charities to explore: refugee shelters, immigration services, women & children programs. Consider resources that support victims of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, mudslides, etc.
Downsizing and moving can be a positive change for many people, however it can also mean unexpected changes in social connections, support, and other resources. In addition to taking time to make decisions on reducing material items owned, plan for your family member or friend needing time and effort to adjust to their new environment.
Here are some additional posts I have written on this topic:
- Helping a Parent Downsize: Simplify the Process to Maintain Sanity
- Why Do Our Elders Hold onto Paper?
- An Eye for Safety: Helping a Parent Age in Place
- Helping an Elder with Long-Distance Downsizing
Here are some resources you may find helpful: