Helping Seniors Move: What to Do When Loved Ones Are Downsizing

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Transitioning to different homes is a frequent rite of passage during adulthood. We move out of our parents’ homes, get our first apartment, our starter home, and possibly our larger home. As we grow older, the “big house” becomes a lot to deal with. Maintenance, repair, taxes . . . these can all take a toll mentally, physically, and financially. For many older adults, downsizing is the solution.1 This can mean moving to a smaller house, townhouse, apartment, condo, assisted living, or even a nursing home.

But this is not always an easy transition. Old homes are full of memories and traditions, and it can difficult to let go of their tangible reminders. However, there are many ways to offer support when helping seniors move.

Tips for a smooth move

Plan ahead. This is an important part of moving that people often forget, and it’s especially important for older adults. Not only this, but you should also plan for more time than you initially think you may need. Physical conditions (such as frailty, fatigue, low vision, etc.) may slow your loved one down, and not allow them to accomplish tasks as quickly as you think.

Start small. Whatever you do, don’t try to tackle the move in one day or even over a few days. Use part of the first day to make out a “battle plan” with your loved ones – who will do what and how they will do it. Next, work on smaller rooms first, and take frequent breaks if your loved ones require it. Doing even one room in a day may be too much – try starting with a desk, dresser, or closet instead.

Do the practical rooms first. If smaller rooms contain too many memories for your loved ones to tackle right off, consider packing up the kitchen or bathrooms first. These areas may have less sentimental attachment associated with them, and your loved ones may be able to see the practical value in disposing of items here.

Downsize the possessions. The less your loved ones have to take to their new place, the less stressful and overwhelming the move will be. And while it’s not uncommon for all of us to hang onto things we don’t need or use, that doesn’t make getting rid of them easy. Your loved ones do this by sorting items into three categories: keep, donate, or throw away.

But . . .

Get your loved ones involved. Don’t do everything for them. First, this makes them feel less invested in the move and, therefore, less likely to view it positively. Second, it can remove their sense of control and dignity. Encourage them to accomplish whatever part of the move they wish to do and are physically capable of completing.

Be patient and compassionate. In addition to their physical difficulties, moving with older adults may seem to take a long time because of the emotional aspect of moving.2 It’s hard to go through decades of personal items on a rushed schedule. Their home may seem like just random objects and rooms to you, but to an older adult, they are infused with memories. Give them the time they need to look over these things – finding closure is an important part of the process.

Helping seniors move is just the beginning

Helping seniors move is often just the beginning of other important transitions in their lives. If your loved ones downsized because they were having trouble caring for themselves or their home, now might be the time to consider getting outside help. A home health aide can assist with important tasks around the house, such as cooking at light housekeeping. This care is in addition to the care they provide for your loved one’s personal needs. But no matter what changes life brings, the tips above can help your loved ones enjoy this next stage of their golden years.

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. “When Should Retirees Downsize Homes?” January 25, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303448204579338571140024380
  2. “Senior Housing: The Emotional Side of Moving Your Elderly Parent,” https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/Moving-Elderly-Parents-from-Home-to-Senior-Housing-136651.htm
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