In later years, this can simply become too much to contemplate. The prospect of packing up a beloved home with decades of accumulated belongings and years of memories can seem overwhelming and for many, this becomes a reason to delay or defer a move.
Supporting someone with a lifetime of possessions to move means much more than simply packing up boxes and calling in a removalist. It is important to recognize and understand the physical, emotional and cognitive changes faced by an older adult and the impact this will have on their ability to participate in the moving process.
Even if fit and well, an older adult will have less energy, will tire more easily and become mentally fatigued more quickly than a younger person, or even compared to their former self. Health conditions such as heart complaints, breathing difficulties or arthritis may be manageable on a day-to-day basis, but mean special attention and support is needed during moving. Memory loss or confusion may lead to extra stress as the person tries to understand and cope with the changes.
Tips for Downsizing & Moving:
- Be realistic: Assess the size of your current home & the logistical impossibility of taking everything to smaller accommodation
- Draw up a floor plan of the new accommodation. Make it as accurate as possible (include doors, windows, etc). This will help you decide what will fit in and how it will look.
- Be disciplined: Downsizing is about sorting, making wise decisions about what to keep and focusing on what items will be supportive in the new home and lifestyle, not what was needed for previous life stages.
- Keep your parent well hydrated and nourished. If possible, undertake the clearing and packing in several smaller time allotments rather than setting aside one period (a weekend) to achieve it all. This will allow the process of clearing and packing to be achieved calmly and positively without exhaustion, panic and frayed tempers all round. If it is necessary to do it all in a short space of time, plan for frequent breaks.
- In reality, your parent may not be up to it. It may be kinder to them (and you) to move them into their new accommodation, focusing on what they can take and their “must have” special items, rather than encouraging them to sort through every item in the home.
- Do not underestimate the emotional impact that clearing and sorting a lifetime’s possessions will have – the process will involve rediscovering forgotten possessions, reliving memories that may be bitter-sweet and making dozens of decisions that will have permanent impact.
- Take photos of special items or collections that are moving to other homes.
- Be prepared for the most common reasons given for saving stuff – I paid a lot for it, it may come in useful some day, I’m saving it for my children/grandchildren, I will use it for a craft project, I inherited it.
- Often it is much easier to let go of things if we feel they are going to benefit someone else, so recycle, sell and donate where possible
- Dispose/de-own rather than rearranging or storing. Do not be tempted to move things to a loft, garage or storage facility as it is only delaying the decision and can be costly.
- Go for quality rather than quantity – keep a favorite vase or two but give the rest away. Be realistic about changed needs – are a dining table and eight chairs really needed?
For anyone supporting an elderly person with decluttering and moving, don’t forget to acknowledge the impact this will have on you. You may be dealing with the realities of the changing needs of your parent/s, the shifting of your roles as you become the caregiver, new living arrangements and the loss of your childhood home and the memories it holds for you as well. This is emotionally and physically draining work, so take care of yourself and be sure to get the support you need to stay positive and well. Be kind to yourself!
Remember, you don’t have the shoulder it all – enlist help, especially if you know you are not good at letting stuff go. A friend or relative can be an ally but consider asking for outside help. Sometimes a caring professional is more supportive than those you are close to and likely to fall out with.
– call all sorters if you need help