Monday, October 21, 2019

Helping Your Parents Downsize: Easy Ways to Get Organized

Image Credit: Pexels CC0 Licence 

Managing a large home is hard enough for anyone and, even with help, it may quickly become impractical for older relatives. This is why it’s so important to have an open and honest conversation with your parents about what they hope for later life and what the most practical options might be. 

Making the family home work for as long as possible is usually the goal for older people but moving on to a smaller property or to an assisted living community will definitely make life easier. Deciding the best time to make the move is something only you - and your parents - can choose. But once you’ve made the decision, it’s time to start getting organized.

Downsizing is tough for two reasons: first, you can’t take everything with you and second, you need to know exactly how much space you can fill. The problems usually arise when trying to choose which loved items simply can’t make the move and where they go. But let’s come back to that in a moment. 

The good news is that there are plenty of tips for moving house that still apply here. We just need to tweak them a little bit. Older people tend to be a bit slower and are likely to have a lot more stuff - they’ve had more time to accumulate!

So, here’s where to start.

Create a Timeline

A crucial element of moving is the timeline. You need to work back from when your parents are planning to move and then get to work. The longer you have, the easier it will be to organize one room at a time. Of course, if you are selling the house, you may find that this timeline shrinks once an offer has been accepted.

However, you can’t always pick your time perfectly, so you may find that your predicted timeline and your actual timing don’t quite match. This is fine. If you aren’t selling the old house just yet, simply continue as you would, ferrying the things your parents still want and need to their new place as you go. If you are selling, this is where a storage facility really comes in handy!

For your timeline to work, you need to know when your parents plan to move and how much help they will need. Most families take a few weeks to pack up all their stuff so it is definitely wise to assume you will need several weekends dedicated to packing. With decades worth of things to go through, and a slightly slower pace of life, it’s worth carving out enough time for breaks and reminiscing, which will both benefit your parents enormously. 

Keep, Charity, Bin

You should start by simply decluttering each room, one by one. This usually means that you are just getting rid of things that don’t have any emotive qualities. Stationery is often a good place to start as you can quickly get into chucking out boring stuff like staplers and balls of elastic bands that have seen better days. Using bins labelled ‘keep’, ‘charity’ and ‘bin’ will help you categorize and deal with each item appropriately. 

Once you’ve got rid of the clutter, you will need to start making some more difficult choices. Sentimental items are always the most difficult to get rid of because they are reminders of people and good times past. However, going through theses items with your parents is much easier than going through them once they have passed because this is a good time to find out what they really value. 

Though your parents may not be able to take everything with them, you can take photos of their things and talk about the story behind them. Passing these items on to other people who can use and enjoy them is a good way of giving each thing a second life. Having the pictures may not be exactly the same but you can at least continue to talk about them and remember the stories attached to them later on. 

Early Inheritance

Another good compromise to reach on sentimental items is an early inheritance. Instead of having to choose a charity for things to go to, this is a good time to pick out a few meaningful items you would like to keep in the family. Again, doing this with your parents around is a nice way to reminisce about old times and show them what is important to you too. 

This method may also work with relatives who hate to get rid of things and don’t want to downsize at all. If your parents are struggling to understand what’s happening - and this is common with people who have dementia and can no longer look after themselves - it may be kinder to use ‘love lies’ and tell them you are looking after their things and property while they are away. 

Buying New Things

Of course, downsizing isn’t just about getting rid of things. You should also start looking for new things to make your parent’s place feel more comfortable. Replacing old and worn items with something new can feel like a new beginning, which is always exciting. Exploring different design ideas for a smaller place is also a fun way to help them downsize without too much heartache.

The idea of nesting is really important; this is what turns a space from an impersonal room into your own, private area. While old sentimental items really help with this process, shopping for wallpaper, paint and carpets to create the perfect color scheme will help too. Try to help your parents see this move as an opportunity to do something new and explore different ideas. 

Helping your parents downsize is always going to be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. But if you are prepared and well organized, it can be an opportunity to reconnect and bond over long lost memories. If you can take your time, this is well advised but if you can’t, prioritize packing up the most important things your parents choose. 

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