All of us need a little extra help as we age, and your parents are no exception. A move to an assisted living community can often provide the extra assistance they need to fully enjoy their retirement. This is especially true if their health needs are changing or expected to change. As they begin to plan their move, however, many older adults find that the process of downsizing from their current home to an apartment or cottage poses an unexpected challenge: what to do with a lifetime of accumulated treasures. This is why it can be so tempting to bring more than will realistically fit into their new space. Some pre-planning and decluttering will be required well before moving day to ensure that they are right-sizing their lives for this next chapter.
If you’re planning to help them, use these downsizing tips to ensure they enjoy a successful transition to an assisted living community.
Why Should Your Parent Downsize?
Many older adults will be transitioning to assisted living from a large family home. As adult children move out and priorities change, your parent or loved one may find themselves overwhelmed by the upkeep. However, a move to a cozier, maintenance-free apartment or cottage setting comes with its own challenges. They may be moving from a 3,000 square foot domicile to one just a third of the size.
While your parent is moving in part because they don’t need as much space as they used to, it’s easy to become attached to the objects that inhabit those spaces. To get an idea of how much space your parent or loved one has in their new residence, ask for a copy of the floor plan. This will help give a realistic idea of the space. It may also be useful for you to join your parent on a walk-through of their new residence.
When to Start Downsizing
The process of downsizing can begin at any time, but should start no later than six weeks before your loved one’s planned move to assisted living. This will give you enough time to go room by room through the home and work through any possible resistance (or surprises!) you may encounter. The logistics of downsizing can also take some planning, as you may want to have other family members there to pick up weighty or heirloom items that may not fit in your parent’s new space.
Before you begin downsizing, ensure that you have planned ahead and that your parent or loved one has a clear timetable for when the move will be completed. There should be no surprises in the days ahead as you coordinate with family, friends and any third-party services to help you move, donate, or sell items.
Walk through the home and try to get an idea of how much will need to be sold, donated or thrown out. This can help you determine what kind of services you may need to assist, whether that is an estate auction house or someone who can haul away non-saleable items. Also consider employing a professional organizer who can help your parent with this process in a non-judgemental and objective way.
The move to assisted living will be a big change for your parent or loved one. It can feel overwhelming to go through decades’ worth of belongings and decide what to keep, give away, donate or sell. You, your parent, and your family may all have a number of different reactions and emotions during this process. It’s important to be patient, Don’t be afraid to take time to pause and regroup and to acknowledge your parent’s feelings throughout this process.
Establish a Strategy
Create a system for how you will determine which items to keep, donate, sell or throw out during the downsizing process.
- Keep. Depending on how the first pass goes, you may need to go through the “keep” items a few more times to whittle down only what can fit in your parent’s new space. While it may be tempting to put some of these items in storage, ask your parent if it makes more sense to give them to someone who can enjoy having them in their home every day.
- Sell. Valuable items in good condition can be sold, either by an auction or estate sale service or simply collected and put out in a garage sale. You may be able to find unique items a home via an online marketplace. Ensure that your parent is realistic about the value of these items, however. Remind them that an object of incalculable sentimental value may not have much resale value.
- Donate or pass on. Gently used items that are still in good condition but have a low value should be donated. Depending on where you drop these off, your donation may also be tax deductible. There may be other objects your parent meant to give to friends or loved ones when they passed on that they have no room for in their new residence. Encourage your parent to give these items away now, as they can enjoy seeing the pleasure it gives someone else without paying for storage costs.
- Throw out. This could be your largest or smallest collection of items, depending on the state or breadth of your parent’s estate. Depending on how much needs to be thrown out, you may need to order a dumpster or arrange for a bulk pickup.
Begin with Non-Sentimental Items
Start downsizing in rooms which are rarely occupied or which are used primarily for storage, such as the attic, basement or garage. Because items stored in these areas are not handled often, it may be easier to move through them quickly, even if they are quite full. Sort items according to the criteria you established for what to keep, sell, donate or throw out. If there are heirlooms that need to be picked up by family members or friends, set those to one side. Do let family and friends know when the deadline is for picking up anything being passed on to them.
After tackling the rarely-used areas, start going room-by-room in offices, bedrooms and closets. Most downsizing endeavors save the bathrooms and kitchen for last, as they often get the most daily use. In your downsizing plan, you may have one room per week or per day listed. It can help to have your loved one sit with you as you go through belongings. This is also a good time to reminisce about the past and discuss the future, too. It may be that you have conflicted feelings about this move as well. Sharing those feelings with your parent or loved one can help you both with the transition.
Set Realistic Expectations
How often will your parent be cooking or hosting guests in their new home? It can be tempting to bring a full set of china or a host of kitchen gadgets, but with meals provided on-site (some or all are usually included in the monthly community fee) how many are really needed? Two pans and four sets of dishware should be more than enough for your parent and the occasional guest.
Collectibles should also be pared down to a handful of treasured pieces. The rest can be given to a loved one or even a neighbor with a similar passion. That way the items are not “lost,” but simply re-homed, and can be revisited if they truly miss them.
Explore Assisted Living Options at The Stayton
As your parent gets older, they may find they need a little extra assistance to live life to the fullest. The Stayton at Museum Way is the perfect community for vibrant, urban-loving seniors who still want to enjoy all the entertainment and recreational activities in the big city, but want to do so in a supportive, comfortable and elegant community setting.
If you or your parent would like to learn more about The Stayton, we invite you to contact us or schedule a tour. Walk one of our residences to see a floor plan firsthand, or enjoy a meal at our Skyline Restaurant, which offers breathtaking views of the Fort Worth skyline.