Helping your folks downsize and move as they get on in years can be a daunting task. The emotions of leaving a place that has been home for many years — along with that elephant in the room, aging — are heavy burdens.
We have recently assisted with three moves with varying degrees of success, and have these helpful hints to get you through this emotionally charged time of life.
We were lucky; our parents were all making moves that they wanted to make (well, at least to some degree). This did not mean that the transitions were not emotionally draining.
Remember, your parents are not only saying goodbye to a house. There are cherished memories, close neighbors and treasured keepsakes that must be left behind. They may also be feeling a sense of helplessness at the prospect of giving up independence and freedom.
There will be tension. They will squabble with each other. You may even end up in the line of fire. Be calm, patient and forgiving.
Set an agenda
It is imperative that everyone involved in the move is aware of everyone else’s time constraints. Coordinate ahead with your parents and siblings. The varying degrees of busy lives will dictate the amount of time each person will be able to dedicate to the move. Knowing these limitations ahead of time will lower tension and make the move go smoother.
Lists are essential
Ask your parents to make out lists. The asking is important in and of itself; by suggesting they take the lead, they will feel more comfortable being proactive and you, in turn, will feel less like a child being bossed around.
Assigning tasks for each helper will make the job go faster and the lists will lend insight into what is most important to your parents. Ask them for overall task lists then, as the move progresses, have them write out specific daily lists as well.
Everyone’s a hoarder
It’s true. Your parents may call it collecting, thriftiness or any number of names, but in your eyes, it’s going to look like hoarding (just as your own attic would look to outsiders).
Help them go through their belongings and chose what to let go, then get it to Goodwill or the dumpster as quickly as possible before they change their minds.
Avoid commenting on the astounding masses of junk — it’s not junk to your parents. It’s their memories, their lives. Don’t be insensitive.
Be kind to the primary caregiver
We’ve been through the relocation process from both the position of primary family caregiver and as the caregiver’s supporting cast. Go out of your way to help the caregiver through this trying time. Every opinion they have regarding your folks is valid and should be considered.
The caregiver was there before the move and will be there afterwards. They will be left to deal with any problems that came up during the move after everyone else has gone home. Do your best to be helpful, deferential, and sensitive to his or her unique feelings.
Don’t be pushy
This one seems obvious, but the parent/child relationship can be tricky. You may only have a limited time to help, you may want to get as much done in a small amount of time as possible, but your folks will be overwhelmed. Be gentle.
After the move
Planning and implementation is important, but don’t forget about after the move. When setting the agenda for moving, remember to schedule time for unpacking. Leaving your folks in a new environment surrounded by boxes is not a successful move.
Watch for David and Veronica’s debut memoir, Going Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All, coming in February, 2015