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Downsizing for Aging Loved Ones

As our population ages more and more of us are faced with the difficult and emotional task of downsizing for our parents and older loved ones. Moves to apartments, assisted living facilities, long term care facilities, or a move into your own home require families to work together to make these transitions as smooth as possible -- Not always an easy task when some family members live far away, may be working, or have families of their own. Often these moves happen after a long illness, which can add even more tension to the situation. Moving is stressful at any age, but for those who have lived in one place for many years, getting rid of things that have accumulated over decades is a large barrier to overcome. When families are trying to help make these decisions together it is difficult for everyone to agree on what is the right thing to do in that moment.

Many years ago, my mom sold her home and made the decision to move to an apartment, as she no longer wanted the upkeep that came along with owning her own home. This would prove to be one of five moves over the next 15 years. Mom was and still is a very spirited lady. To prepare for the move she organized where she was going to live, began to declutter her place, and seemed to have it all under control. It appeared that all I needed to do was to arrive and assist with the move. I lived five hours away and had two daughters in elementary school, so I had some planning to do before I could be there. The confident attitude my mom presented throughout our phone conversations prior to the move collapsed when I arrived at her house. She was so anxious and apprehensive about the furniture and knickknacks she had chosen to take to her new space. She worried about taking too much or to little. My mom lived in that house for 46 years and previously lived in her family home until she got married, so her roller coaster of emotions were certainly justified. There wasn’t much that I could do at that point to keep things calm, but, we got though it! We moved into the apartment, but my mom (someone who loves everything in order) wanted the new residence to be set up immediately and perfectly. The next few days were extremely difficult for us both.

Looking back on that first move, I have gained a much better understanding of how to prepare for the downsizing of senior loved ones and the new lifestyle that follows. Having more discussions well in advance, to find out how they are genuinely feeling, letting them know they are not alone, while reassuring them they are an important part of the move helps to alleviate some of their concern. Then, talking openly about what it would be like to live in an apartment or other facilities, while focusing on the advantages helps to take away the fear of the unknown. Equally as important is having other people (an objective third party or parties) who can look at things non-judgementally. A third party often helps prevent some emotional moments, which are not unusual when families are having to make difficult decisions about loved ones. An objective person or persons can assist in making decisions about the personal belongings, assist with sorting and packing, and even help find a new home for those special treasures. They could be friends, relatives, or someone who is hired to help. There are people out there who will help - you just need ask.

Transitioning to a smaller or more convenient space can be an emotional time and making this time as tension-free as possible is everyone's goal.

I like to think that we got better with each move. By move number three, I think we nailed it. Due to health concerns, my mom moved closer to us. This move was done quickly, but planned very carefully. With the help of my family and two close friends we made the transition quite seamless. In fact, by the time mom travelled to her new apartment - everything was in its place!! Her last move was to a long term care facility and she just recently celebrated her 89th birthday and was able to do so at lovely local restaurant. Yes, even for this move her special things were placed in her room upon arrival. Sadly, there are now fewer personal belongings than before, but the important ones are still there to remind her of home.

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