Downsizing can be a daunting task for aging parents. It can be overwhelming for anyone sorting through a household to move to a smaller place. But when aging parents move to a smaller house, apartment, condo or assisted living residence, it brings a flood of emotions attached to what was and what will be. Although it can be difficult, it is time for you to help your parents downsize with love and compassion.
Downsizing with Respect and Care
When helping your parents sort through years of collectibles, knick-knacks, household items, and clothing, be sure to treat their belongings with respect. Just because you may not like an item or an item might be older than you, does not mean it belongs in the donate or trash pile. Downsizing from a home where your parents have raised a family and lived a lifetime is not easy. It can make your parents feel old. You have to support and talk to your parents through the process of downsizing. You need to move at their speed.
AARP (the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on empowering Americans 50 and older) put together an excellent resource to help those preparing to downsize their home. It is part journal, workbook, and scrapbook. Downsizing the Family Home: A Workbook: What to Save, What to Let Go by Marni Jameson offers advice, checklists, and a place to reflect and record family history even as you let go. It is a resource for both you and your parents so you can slow down and focus on the feelings related to downsizing.
Downsizing Does Not Mean Selling Everything
Remember often times sentimental value is the value. Do not be too quick to post your parents’ items on ebay or the local online selling site. Listen to the stories of where the ceramic statue of the little boy fishing came from or why Grandpa still wants to keep the tiny wooden box with the broken clasp.
Listen to the story of how your grandmother made your mom pick out a set of silver to serve 16 when she was just 18 years old. Some of the stories, you may have heard many times, and some you will hear for the first time. Downsizing is a process. It may not be as quick of a process as you would like depending on the size of the home, as well as your parents’ readiness. Be patient. Your parents need you.
Packing a household and deciding which items to keep and which to get rid of is emotional. Sure, your parents know now is a great time to sell. They know their home is too big for them to take care of by themselves. And, they know that one of them can no longer handle the stairs. But they know this is the home where they raised a family and where their grandchildren have been coming for the past 16 years. The height chart of the kids and grandkids is marked on the molding in the kitchen. The dining room has seen countless birthdays, Thanksgiving turkeys, baby showers, and graduation dinners.
They are excited to be moving to their new beach condo but at the moment their heart is in the past as they slowly pack the items they want to keep and have trouble deciding what, if any, items to let go of.
Helping Grandparents Downsize Their Home Can Be a Lesson for Your Children
If you have school-aged children or older, make downsizing the grandparents’ home a family affair. It’s the perfect time for them to help. Teamwork makes everything better. Children can help pack clothing, vacuum, and dust. And, those that are big enough to help move boxes will take great pride in that. Having the grandchildren along for the ride shows your parents that the whole family is there to support them in this downsizing transition. It teaches your children that part of being a family is helping each other. Your children will enjoy some special conversations with grandma as they pack boxes and decide what to keep and what to let go of.
Sometimes having the grandchildren over to help with the downsizing process makes everything seem normal as your parents move to the next chapter of their lives. It helps everyone accept the fact that the family home is going to be sold. Your son might even help Grandma make dinner for everyone who is helping with packing and organizing.
Think Maintenance, Accessibility When Downsizing
When helping your parents find a smaller place, be sure to think about maintenance and accessibility. Depending on finances and abilities, now may not be the time for your aging parents to get a fixer-upper, but rather a move-in ready home.
Take note not just if the house has two stories but if the home has a three or four stair entry. Those stairs may not be an issue today but in a few years, your parents may be second-guessing a home with any stairs. When deciding which realtor to use when house hunting, you should search for one who specializes in working with seniors. They will know exactly how to help find a new smaller home that will fit your parents’ needs in the coming years.
Downsizing is never an easy task for anyone. But know that helping your parents through the process now is much easier for you than doing it alone after they are gone. By helping your aging parents downsize you will grow closer through the process and build new memories to treasure.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on How to Explain Grandparents Divorce to a Child.
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