When would you ever use this old cassette tape player again? Or why do you need 30 tubs of old soup containers? You may find yourself asking similar questions to your older parent, especially if you are in the process of downsizing their things in preparation for moving them. Whether they are moving into your home, assisted living or elsewhere, moving your parent is an incredibly tough and overwhelming undertaking. I’m sure it took a lot of discussions and convincing just to get to this point. Moving from a home that holds so many memories can be absolutely gut-wrenching, when having to leave it all behind and move into a completely new environment. However, there are strategies and tips as to how to work through the process of downsizing and prepping for the move, and the actual physical move, that can make it all just a little bit easier on everyone involved.
Perhaps the more you begin to really sort through your parents stuff, the more you become completely bewildered by some of the things they are holding onto. Is your parent fighting you on every little thing that you are trying to get rid of, including those VHS recordings of MASH? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons behind why they may be holding onto things. It might shed light on how to handle the downsizing moving forward.
Sentimental Value – Honestly, sentimental value is the reason most people hold onto things if it is not just for practicality purposes. Older adults in particular tend to be more sentimental. A great deal of people in their lives have now passed, so particular item(s) might be helping to keep memories alive or may be a way of honoring them. I’m sure it also has to do with the fact that with age comes more life experience and knowledge. They have learned what truly is important in life and what holds meaning.
Loyalty Towards Others – A lot of older adults believe that getting rid of something that was a gift is disrespectful towards that person who gave it to them, or again it holds sentimental value.
Amount of Belongings – Your older loved one has probably been in their home for some time now – 30 or 40 plus years. They may have gotten behind in decluttering, and now it just seems too big of a project to tackle that they would not even know where to begin, so they don’t.
Desire to Conserve – If your older parent grew up in the depression era, then they had no choice but to conserve and to make do with what they had. That way of life was so ingrained in them that many of those habits continued well throughout their adulthood.
Fear of the Future – They would certainly not want to have to repurchase something they had, but then gave away. They may feel it is better to hold onto it, just in case, for security purposes. They never know when they might need that particular something in the future. This mindset can possibly be traced back to their past of not growing up with much, so they need to hold onto all that they have. Also, they may have lost a lot, or feel they have lost a lot, along this aging process, so they cannot bear the thought of giving up more.
Changes in Health – If they have started to show signs of dementia or another chronic illness, they may not be able to physically keep up with all the day-to-day things. Then bills, mail and other things may begin to pile up.
Every older adult is unique, but many share similarities as to why there is this great accumulation of things, and why it has been a battle to get rid of things.
Strategy for Downsizing and Moving Preparations
Where do you begin? It would be best to start by talking to your parent about their experiences and meaning behind some of these things. It will show them that you care and that you don’t just want to throw out anything or everything (even if it feels that way). This builds trust and they may begin to relax a little. Then try to get creative with some of these things that hold sentimental value. For instance, with old clothes, it can be made into a quilt. With some other sentimental items, explain that you would like to display these items in their new place, rather than to have them packed away in a box. Then calmly talk about picking and choosing the things that hold the greatest value, as there is only so much room to display these items.
In terms of the things that are gifts from others, if they truly cannot be used, talk to them about giving these things to others who are less fortunate. You could suggest that it is something that person would want you to do with it. “The gift that keeps on giving.”
If you are looking at a large amount of just plain clutter and old paperwork, try not to look at it in its entirety, because then it really will just make you feel completely engulfed in papers. Just take one box at a time and sort through it. Try to be cognizant that you don’t criticize during this process, as it truly can get difficult for your loved one to keep up with everything.
Acknowledge their conservation efforts first, before pointing out some of the areas and/or things that may be time to throw out or to donate. If at any time during these challenging conversations, there seems to be some irrational thinking, then that may be a signal that you will have to take care of a lot of this on your own. You may not be able to engage them in some of these aspects.
If it does not spark joy, then toss it or “Marie Kondo it.” Have you ever heard of Marie Kondo? She is an organizing consultant and author. She also has her own show on Netflix, where she helps families get organized. I highly recommend it! It may provide you with some great tips, while in the throes of the downsizing process.
Once you have sorted through things, it is important to get these things out of the house, whether it is meant for trash or charity. If it remains in the house for any period of time, your parent may be tempted to rummage through it.
Getting rid of things, and then packing, always takes so much more time than you think, so be sure to allow yourself plenty of time prior to the actual moving day. Allowing more time will also give your older parent the time to adjust to the idea of leaving their home. Then they will not feel rushed as they go through the emotional and physical demands of a big move. Remember this cannot be done all by yourself. Enlist the help of other family members and friends.
If possible, I highly recommend hiring professional movers trained in moving seniors or there are also what is called senior moving managers. They can help with anything from the downsizing process, to the packing and physical moving. They will also provide comfort along the way to all who are involved. If your parent has become increasingly pugnacious during this process, it might be prudent to hire a third party to help with the sorting and packing. There are so many emotions and big changes for everyone. Be mindful of that and know there is support and help available.
When looking at it all, it may seem beyond overwhelming, but don’t look at it as a whole, rather look at it in pieces. The key is to simply just start, even if it is just a few boxes a day, eventually you will get there. If you have been considering moving your older parent and need help navigating the entire process or certain steps along the way, reach out to Denver Senior Care Consultants. They can connect you with reputable organizations whose mission is to help with this very process.