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How To Help Aging Parents To Downsize

If your parents make the decision to downsize, to move to a smaller home or condo or any other type of living arrangement – the process will be difficult.  Both physically and emotionally.

But there are some ways that you can make it easier for them and you.

5 Tips On How To Help Your Aging Parents To Downsize:

  1. Start talking to your parents about downsizing early
  2. Treat them and their possessions with respect
  3. Don’t force your parents to make the decision to downsize
  4. Listen to their needs and wants
  5. Go through the process slowly

Your parents’ decision to downsize is usually brought on by a specific event such as a medical decline or financial difficulty.  This makes the process more difficult because it’s a situation that is forced upon them.

But if it could be made prior to such an event – the process could be easier.  Just something to think about and talk about with your parents.

Let’s go over each of the steps I mentioned above in more detail.

1. Start Talking To Your Parents About Downsizing Early On

It’s much easier to go through a life changing event such as moving if you’ve been thinking about it for awhile.  Having time to process the pros and cons can make it less stressful.

So, bring up the topic of moving to a smaller home while your parents are younger and healthier.  Keep the conversation light.  You’re not there to tell your parents what to do or how to do it – you’re there to help them make the best decision for them.

2. Treat Your Parents And Their Possessions With Respect

Most of us know the old adage, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31).

In other words – you would want your children to give you the respect to make your own decisions about your housing and your possessions.  Do the same for your parents and senior loved ones.

A friend’s father was a very curious man – he was interested in many topics.  Everything from gardening to politics to financial planning to general carpentry and so much more.  He would spend hours and hours reading books and articles online about wherever his curiosity took him that day.

I really admired that about him.

When he passed away at the age of 92 – the office in his home was filled with very large stockpiles of articles that he had printed off the Internet.  I’m talking about several piles of articles at least 3 feet high each.  Many of them were just articles on growing specific kinds of roses and plants.

I wanted to help so I got the job to clear out his office – to clean it up so that his wife could get to the important papers and do what needs to be done after someone passes away.

Without thinking and just focused on cleaning things out – I took 90% of those articles and threw them away.  Several were years old so I just didn’t think they were going to be of any importance to anyone in the family.  But I was very, very wrong.

My friend was very upset with me that I did that.  She said she may have wanted to go through all those articles and she was absolutely right.  What seemed very unimportant to me was very important to her and I should have respected that.  I just didn’t think it through so I was very much in the wrong.  I still feel very bad about that incident.

Point here is just because you think your parent may be wrong about deciding not to downsize or you think that they are holding on to the wrong kinds of possessions – it’s not your call.  You can give them your opinion and why you have that opinion – but in the end – it’s their decision on what to do.

I do understand that if your parents are dealing with some form of cognitive decline – that has to be taken into consideration.  After all, if their judgement and reasoning is impaired – then I recommend that you work with a professional counselor to help you discuss these issues with your parents.

3. Don’t Force The Decision To Downsize To Your Parents

My mother lived in a townhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for many years.  She was fiercely independent, worked two jobs for decades and enjoyed living in the South Florida area.

When she first became ill and retired it became very difficult for her and for us to care for her.  The closest child to her was my sister who lived in Orlando and several times my mother was admitted to the emergency room and my poor sister would have to do the 4 hour drive down to Fort Lauderdale to help my mother and be her advocate.

After a handful of these events in a 12 month time span – we had to begin the process of talking to my mother to move to Orlando.  This was not met with any sense of compliance.  My mother fought this decision for over a year until she finally came to conclusion that it was the best move for her and for us.

We had to be careful not to force her into it – we had to keep talking about it and laying out the facts and try to be as reasonable about why we thought the move would benefit everyone.  It wasn’t easy, and we didn’t always succeed – but we tried very hard to leave our emotions out of the conversations.

As I said she finally did move but honestly – she was never ever happy about it.  Resented it until the day she passed away and she let us know that she resented it daily.  But, my sister and I know that we did the right thing for her.  Sometimes, you just have to stay focused on the facts and put away the emotional factors so that you can make the best decisions possible.

4. Listen To What Your Parents Need And Want

In the case of my mother, we tried very hard to listen to what she needed and wanted so that we could work with her to give her those things.   For example:

  • She insisted on living in a one story home vs. an apartment.
  • She insisted on having a back yard with a view.
  • She insisted on having a living room that would accommodate her furniture.
  • She insisted on living nearby my sister.

It took many months but a home in my sister’s neighborhood came up for sale that fit these criteria.  And although some renovations had to be made – it ended up being a great home for my mother.  (Even though she kept insisting her 2 story townhome iin Fort Lauderdale was much, much better!)

Working to give your parents what they want and need can go a long way in alleviating any fear of downsizing, for most adults.

But again, if your parents are dealing with any form of cognitive decline, please take that into consideration when working with them to downsize.

5. Go Through The Process Slowly

Inch by inch is the best way to proceed with a task that is not desirable.  And let’s face it, cleaning out our spaces, decluttering and downsizing is not necessarily a pleasant task for most anyone.  I learned that when my husband passed away.

What I ended up doing really helped me through that decluttering process.  So let me share that with you.

  • I first asked friends and family if they wanted anything and many of them took something that they could remember my husband by (which was very sweet).
  • I then made the decision to donate items vs. having a yard sale (I just wasn’t emotionally up to doing a yard sale).
  • The next step was to create a list of all the areas in my home which was a very large house.  We had 19 rooms plus 2 screened in porches and 2 outdoor decks.  Also there were 11 closets plus 2 kitchen pantries. (I know, it was ridiculously large but we fell in love with the lot which was right on the river.)
  • I then made a schedule.  Three days a week I would tackle one section of a room or a closet.  It could be just a drawer or a shelf or an entire closet.  Whatever I could manage to do on that day.  No matter what – no matter how I felt – I stuck to the schedule!  That was very important.
  • I would put the items I cleared out of the area in my car and every week I took these items to Goodwill or a pet shelter.
  • It took over a year to get rid of the majority of the stuff in our home so that I could downsize and move – but I did it.

Although this is a very slow way to do the job – it was the best way for me.

One tip that I can give you is that many older adults don’t want to “get rid” of their possessions but yet they may not have room for them.  So, I would recommend to simply remove these items from their living spaces and store them either in a storage unit or at someone else’s home.

Just knowing that the items are still in their possession can go a long way to helping them to remove them from their living quarters.

At What Age Should Seniors Downsize?

I wouldn’t say that there’s a specific “age” as to when seniors should downsize.  Instead, I would say that the decision to downsize depends on…

  • Finances – Do your parents need the equity in the home to live?  Are the expenses of the home getting too high?  Is the act and/or cost of maintaining the home unmanageable for them?
  • Physical – Are your parents having a difficult time in the home (i.e. managing the staircase, difficulty getting in and out of the garage, bathrooms are too small to modify and make them safer, etc.)
  • Cognitive – Are your parents having cognitive and perceptual problems that makes it unsafe for them to live alone?

How Do You Help Your Parents Declutter?

For children of aging parents, convincing them to get rid of their stuff is no easy task.  It’s not easy for anyone but it’s much worse for older adults.  Professional organizer Vickie Dellaquila has years of experience with this, so much so that she wrote a book on the topic.  Check it out – Don’t Toss My Memories In The Trash.

In her book, the author outlined 10 reasons why older adults have such a difficult time decluttering:

  1. The Sentimental Attachment
  2. The Sense Of Loyalty
  3. The Need To Conserve
  4. The Fatigue
  5. The Change In Health
  6. The Fear
  7. The Dream Of The Future
  8. The Love Of Shopping
  9. The History And Memories
  10. The Loneliness

I wrote an extensive article on this topic and went into more detail on each of these 10 reasons – so check it out here at Decluttering Tips For Seniors.

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