For some people, one of the most challenging times of life is when either they or their senior parents move away from the family home and into a smaller dwelling. Three years ago my family helped my grandparents transition from their farm, where they had lived for 53 years, to a two-bedroom apartment in a retirement community.
It took a lot of planning, a lot of physical labor, a lot of patience, and a heck of a great auctioneer to pull it all off. I learned a lot from that experience, as well as from the seniors I’ve worked with over the last several years, so today I’d like to share with you five tips for working with the senior population as they prepare to move to a smaller home.
1. Plan as far ahead as you can.
This may not be practical for everyone. Sometimes physical or mental challenges push forward the need for moving into a different home faster than you had hoped. As soon as you realize the need to downsize, it’s time to start planning.
2. Have patience.
Many times seniors have lived in their homes for a very long time – take my grandparents for example – 53 years is a long time to live in the same place. There are lots of emotional ties that can get stirred up when preparing to move. Seniors may need space to shed a few tears or say goodbye to their homes or their belongings in a way that feels right to them. Sometimes the harder you push to move forward, the more resistance you will feel from them. If you’ve planned far enough ahead and allowed yourself and them plenty of time, this step becomes a whole lot easier.
3. Work in short sessions.
Although the younger generation may feel gung-ho about hauling items to the donation shop or to the dump, this may not be healthy for older adults, especially if the situation is compounded by health issues. In these situations it can serve everyone better to work on decluttering and purging old items for an hour a couple times per week instead of 3-4 hours on the weekend. Keep tuning into the person you’re helping downsize and take note of his or her energy level. If she looks exhausted, it’s time to stop for the day.
4. Set up a sorting station.
Instead of the senior having to climb stairs to the basement or attic, set up a sorting area in a location that’s easily accessible. Set up a chair that is comfortable for your senior to sit in and have a table that’s a good height for sorting. Card tables can work well and can be taken down between sessions if need be. The helper can bring items to be sorted to the sorting station while the senior remains comfortable, which can make it possible for him or her to work longer without physical discomfort.
5. Hire a pro.
Although our whole family pitched in to help with moving my grandparents, we still needed help from an auctioneer. His team coordinated many of the details of getting rid of stuff easily because the staff had the local resources we didn’t. The times I’ve worked with seniors has often been when family lived too far away to help with the sorting and purging process even if they were coming down for the move itself. If you find yourself in this situation, hiring a professional organizer is invaluable.
Are you working with a senior parents or are you a senior yourself downsizing and moving? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!