Downsize With Care

Just about everyone over the age of 45 has a story to tell about helping an elderly loved one downsize to a smaller place, whether it is a senior citizen apartment, a bedroom in a daughter’s home or a room in an assistant living center.

The stories are similar. There is the sheer amount of stuff that has to be sorted, discarded or sold. But on top of the logistics are the memories and tears that come with knowing that this move means the beginning of a different season for both the one moving out of a long-time home and the child or grandchild who is helping her do it. Memories of children born and holiday dinners, of happier times and painful good-byes. The senior is saying good-bye to a lifetime of independence as well.  And it might hit the children hard that future generations won’t know that place where so many good times were had.

From the collection of the Nelson Family, Flickr CC

A woman sits in a family room in the 20th Century

As seniors are living longer but may not be able to “age in place” by staying in a cherished home until the end – maybe because it is too big or too far away from relatives who can help out or because the sale of the family home is the only way to pay for future care — downsizing is increasingly a reality.

Here are a few tips that might help with the transition.

  • Enlist the care recipient in sorting through belongings that could be donated to younger families in need. Church yard sales or donations to Good Will might take the sting out of giving up dish sets, patio furniture or beloved books
  • Take old records or CDs to a store that buys music as a way to help a newer generation discover vintage soul – The Brother’s Johnson, anyone? – and to get some extra dollars
  • Make it a family affair with siblings or cousins who can be efficient in sorting or who genuinely want some of the old photos or retro furniture. Grandchildren just striking out on their own might appreciate that 1960s-style coffee table or ashtray. Mid-Century modern furniture is hot, hot right now and certain items such as 1950s-70s stereos, dinning room tables, coffee and end tables, sofas and chairs can bring in extra money that can help pay for some of nana’s extras in her new place
  • Keep a few items that can make an assistant living apartment feel like home. An easy chair, a deceased spouse’s favorite blanket and a few dear family pictures can make a room more familiar and comfortable
  • Hire a move management company if you don’t have the time or think the job might be too overwhelmingly emotionally or logistically. The company’s professionals can efficiently help with sorting, packing and even organizing an estate sale.  Visit the National Association of Senior Move Managers website to find a company near you.

Above all else, be kind to your loved ones, your siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and yourself. And use this opportunity to do a little house cleaning yourself because it might not be that far off before your children are helping you transition from a larger place to a smaller one. I always ask myself when I’m tempted to hold on to a pair of shoes or purse or award certificate from years ago if it is necessary to keep them. I think about my own pre-teen as a grown man having to sort through way too many memories that he knows were special to me way back when. I look at them, maybe take a picture and then let it go so he won’t have to.

Author: Retha Hill

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