For seniors, moving from a home filled with memories and mementos of sentimental value into an assisted living facility or condominium is incredibly difficult. Along with many other adjustments to their lifestyle in order to transition to assisted living, the move also includes having to part with many belongings to accommodate a smaller space. This process of downsizing can be emotionally and physically taxing.
Here are some tips to make the project of downsizing easier to tackle.
Start with items that hold no sentimental value.
To start out, going around the house with a trash bag and discarding whatever your parent regards as ‘clutter’, or unnecessary is a good idea. Throwing away magazines, newspapers, or advertisements lying around the house can clear out a lot of the clutter from the get-go without too much emotional labor. Then, you can move on to the more difficult stuff.
Use the right wording.
Talking about downsizing with your parents can be a very delicate and emotional prospect. Instead of phrasing the process of cleaning out your parents’ things as an order, such as ‘Mom, we have to get this done,’ you can suggest it as more of a collaborative activity.
Also, make sure you aren’t patronizing or dismissive when your parent has difficulty parting with an object. Try and avoid language like “Why do you still have this thing anyway?” or “Why can’t you just get rid of this trash already?” Understand your parents’ point of view and try not to be overly critical, because causing tension can screech the organization process to a halt.
Declutter by category rather than by room.
Tackling organization by category makes the process much more expedient, and it can be easier to make decisions when items are grouped. Additionally, finishing a whole category can give you a better sense of accomplishment than sifting through items, one room at a time. It’s best to try and break down the categories as small as possible. For example, instead of simply labeling a category as ‘clothes,’ try and break it down into ‘tops,’ ‘bottoms,’ and ‘sweaters’ to make it easier to purge items.
Work in increments and take breaks.
Going through all of your parents belongings accumulated over years can be a herculean task. In order to not get too daunted by the magnitude of the undertaking, make sure you schedule cleaning sessions over the span of a month, or even two. Decluttering and downsizing will probably take more than a couple of weeks, and trying to jam-pack the entire process in a short period of time can only make the process more stressful.
According to experts, cleaning sessions shouldn’t last for longer than four hours, and it might be a good idea to prepare some snacks and drinks for breaks. Your motivation and energy can only last so long, and don’t try and push yourself too hard.
You don’t necessarily have to purge. Just make items more compact.
It can be very difficult for seniors to part with items that hold strong sentimental value, such as photo albums, or letters. You don’t necessarily have to force your parents to purge these precious items to decrease clutter…you can simply make them smaller, and more compact. For example, for printed photographs, instead of placing them in bulky boxes, you can scan and store them digitally in a flashdrive or on DVDs, if your mom or dad feels comfortable with digital media.
There are many other inventive ways to preserve sentimental items in a more easily storable form. Other ideas might include: setting up an e-Reader for books; taking pictures of sentimental items to store digitally; or sewing a quilt out of clothing with emotional value.
Know your parents’ lifestyle and adjust accordingly.
Does your mom or dad love to cook? Do they spend a lot of time reading? Are they moving to a warmer or colder location? Will they have to entertain guests in their new home? These are all important questions to consider when choosing what to keep and what to get rid of when helping your parents organize.
By sitting down and communicating with your parents about their new lifestyle and habits moving into their new home, you can help them decide what kinds of clothing, kitchenware, decorations, etc. that they should bring with them.
Try and make the process a bonding activity rather than a chore.
Shifting your mindset can make a world of difference when helping your parents get organized. Instead of viewing downsizing as a chore, try and view it as an opportunity to spend quality time with your parents.
This could be an opportunity to bond with your parents and reminisce about old memories. Who knows, you may get some great stories about their childhood or past going through nostalgic items. Playing some of your parents’ favorite music, like some Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, or Van Morrison could lighten the mood and make organizing more enjoyable.
Help your parents make their new home feel like their old one.
It goes without saying that the transition from house to apartment, condominium, or community living is challenging. A way to ease this transition can be incorporating elements from their old home that makes the new one already feel familiar. Anything from arrangement of furniture, decor, or memorabilia can help with the move.
Many elders have grown up in generations where it was necessary to save and ration items in order to get through tough times. It can be difficult for them to let go of items that might seem worthless or replaceable to us. It’s important to be patient and understanding during this often emotional process of transitioning from their home to assisted living and help them build a new home from their old one.