Guide to Helping Aging Parents Downsize


Acknowledge that the move is necessary

Adult children often make decisions for their aging parents without fully explaining the reasons why. Communication is often neglected not out of malice but out of the expectation that the senior will not understand. However, most psychologists agree that it’s best to talk to those in the 65 and up crowd more like colleagues than kindergartners. Acknowledge that a move is necessary but don’t be demeaning or bossy. Instead, point out all the benefits of a planned relocation. This could be to allow grandparents to be closer to grandchildren, saving money, access to better health care, or safety.

Take baby steps

Many people mistakenly try to squeeze in an aging parent’s move over the course of a single weekend. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Moving in a rush opens up the potential for putting added stress on the senior. Failure to plan makes it harder on those doing the physical labor and can create a potentially dangerous situation for everyone. Start months in advance by decluttering unused rooms and donating or selling unneeded items. Allow the homeowner to participate as much as possible in the planning stages.

Keep special mementos within reach

The National Institute of Health reports that older Americans experience lower life satisfaction levels when denied access to cherished possessions. Older people often become attached to photographs, jewelry, handwritten notes, Bibles, and other treasures that remind them of the past. Keep these items close by while packing. A plastic craft bin is an excellent place to store jewelry and other small possessions. They are easy to open and close, even for arthritic hands, and having these items readily available may help shorten the adjustment period.

If downsizing, do so with compassion

A move later in life often requires culling personal possessions and decluttering for a smaller space. Older Americans, however, are prideful of their surroundings and may have lived in the same location for a number of years. They have grown to love not only their environment, but the belongings in their surroundings as well; they are comfortable and know what to expect day in and day out. Having to get rid of things they’ve lived with for years may seem like an egregious act and an invasion of their privacy. Allow the aging relatives ample time to choose which belongings hold the most sentimental value and additional time to say goodbye to those that simply can’t be moved. Recycle, when possible, as it is easier to let things go when it’s understood that they will be loved and cherished by another.

Invest in a reliable moving service

Once the downsizing process is complete, allow the move to be handled by professional movers. Seniors with limited mobility, especially, should not be expected to handle heavy boxes, which can be dangerous even with the slightest misstep. Do some research. Take some time to interview moving companies that specialize in senior transitions and find one that comes highly recommended and that the senior is comfortable trusting their prized possessions with.

Expect some pushback

Even if the move is necessary and cannot be avoided, the senior may protest throughout the process. This is normal and should be addressed. Listen to their concerns but remain resolute that the move is for the best. Understand that it may take time to come to terms with this new reality and be ready and willing to lend a helping hand or shoulder to cry on.

– Michael Longsdon