How to help a loved one downsize

How to help a loved one downsize
Life is full of transitions – some welcome, some less so. Young people have to cope with countless life changes within education, relationships and jobs; the transitions faced by seniors (such as retirement, becoming grandparents and downsizing) may be less frequent but still require considerable adjustment.

Downsizing often becomes inevitable after retirement in order for seniors to maintain independent living arrangements, but it is perhaps one of the hardest transitions to deal with emotionally, and it can also be difficult on a practical level too.

If your parents or someone else you love are currently considering downsizing, they may need your practical help and emotional support to get through it: they may be feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of all the work ahead of them, not to mention at the idea of letting go of a big part of their past.
 

Getting them ready

You may need to reinforce the benefits of your parents of downsizing. These are usually that their new home will be:

• Cheaper to heat
• Easier to keep clean
• Safer to move around (e.g. with fewer stairs), which may be important in a few years’ time (they will not thank you for suggesting that they are too old for stairs already).

Knowing these benefits won’t simply switch off their feelings about their existing home, though. Before taking any practical steps towards a move, they have to be prepared emotionally for the change they are about to go through.

Be sure that they have come to terms with the idea of moving house, and that they fully believe that doing so is better for them than staying. If you or they are not sure, then talk with your wider family, church, social services, local Citizen’s Advice Bureau or anyone else your parents trust about what support they would need to be able to stay where they are.
old wedding photoWhen they are ready, don’t do anything at all until you have gone round their home just as it is and taken lots of photographs (and maybe a video) of not only possessions but of things like how pictures are laid out on the walls. Those photographs will act as a lovely keepsake and it may ease your parents’ minds to know that all those special memories won’t fade to nothing.

Once they have mentally said farewell to their old home, they’ll be ready to make a new start.
 

Get organised

When packing up and sorting belongings, you will need to work closely with your parents and respect their choices over what is being kept or disposed of. This may take time because many items will bring back memories and prompt reminiscence. Take time to listen to their stories, remember past events together and don’t rush this part of the process.
post it notes for organising movePrepare a lot of post-it notes (you could label them, or use different colours) to sort the boxes and larger items into the following categories:

• 'Take' (to take to your parents’ new home),
• 'Store' (until they can make use of them again),
• 'Donate' (to friends, family or charity),
• 'Sell' (at auction, a car boot sale or online), or
• 'Bin'

Taking one room at a time, your parents will need to look at each piece of furniture and each possession and ask themselves:

• Do I want it?
• Do I need it?
• Will it fit in my new home?

If they don’t need or want it, label it ‘bin’, ‘sell’ or ‘donate’. Those are the easy items to get rid of.

If they really need or want something and it will fit in their new home, label it ‘take’.

If they really need something but it won’t fit in their new home, label it ‘store’.

If they really want to keep something but don't need it and won't have space for it, don't just get rid of it. Chances are, these are the items that mean most to them in terms of sentiment. They are steeped in memory and nostalgia even if they serve no practical purpose.

Your parents may offer them to you, but if you don’t want or need them, then you could either take them anyway (and perhaps put them in storage yourself), or take photos of the items so that they have something to remember them by, and then help your parents to say goodbye to those keepsakes. Reassure them that it’s okay to feel sentimental about items, but that the most important thing about them is the memory they represent: they should keep the memory but donate, sell or bin the item.
 

Storing items

Alternatively, if it lessens the sting, your parents could put those tricky items in storage until they can bear to part with them. They should take this at their own pace: be careful not to inadvertently rush them into getting rid of things that are very special to them.

Your parents might also need to store their belongings between leaving their old home and setting up in their new one, to keep them safe whilst their new property is decorated or renovated. Or there may be items that you or your siblings may need in the future (perhaps when starting your own families) but that you don’t yet have room for in your own homes – storing them securely will prevent waste and will help your parents to feel that their belongings will go to good use at a later date.

Your parents could also leave oversized belongings (like winter clothing, or Christmas decorations) in storage to save space in their new home.

Whatever the reason for putting them there, items that go into storage will be kept clean, safe and dry until needed.

Once your parents have moved in, you can help them to move all of those belongings labelled ‘take’ into their new property and make it feel like home.

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