Downsizing to a smaller home is a logical step for many seniors, but frequently not a welcome one. For younger people, moving is often the result of a positive change: a new job, a more desirable location, making room for a new baby, etc. For aging seniors, moving is more likely to be associated with age-related challenges. This can make downsizing feel less like an adventure and more like a painful step backward.
So where do you begin when it’s time to have “the conversation” with your parents?
First, helping your parents downsize is going to take a lot of patience and compassion. Many seniors experience downsizing as a loss of freedom and independence. This can be true even for those who are not moving into assisted living.
Secondly, downsizing is all about letting go of space and stuff. This can sound pretty straightforward, as long as it isn’t your space or your stuff. For seniors, in particular, their space and their stuff often give them hope: hope the grandchildren will visit and need the guest room, hope they’ll feel like woodworking or sewing again and need all their tools, or hope for …. whatever they have space and stuff for. So, while you might want them to get rid of the extra rooms and the mountains of stuff, it’s important to help them do it in a way that leaves them with hope.
Here are 6 few tips to help you help them:
1) Respect your parents’ decision. If they aren’t ready to move, don’t try to force the issue.
2) When they’re ready to talk about downsizing, ask them what is missing where they are currently living. Then try to find a destination that will provide it. This may not always be possible, but when it is, it can make the move a much more positive one. For example:
- Is there something they’ve always dreamed of doing that they can’t do now? Can they move someplace where they can do it?
- Will the move save enough money to enable them to fulfill some other lifelong dream?
- Are they lonely? Can they move somewhere that they will be closer to family, or able to meet new friends?
3) Give them plenty of time. Downsizing requires a change of heart, not just a change of place. People are slow to make big changes, particularly when a change is likely to be irreversible.
4) While your parents are getting used to the idea, you can move forward with some of the logistics, including:
- Helping them declutter a bit at a time, as they get used to the idea of downsizing.
- Helping them organize what they want to keep in preparation for the move.
- Sharing their search for a new location.
5) When downsizing, one of the most important things you can do for your parents is to give them emotional support. Listen to their stories as they reminisce over the things and the place that they are getting ready to leave. Give them plenty of hugs. Stop and relax together over lunch. Play their favorite music while sorting through the house.
6) Find other people who are going or have been through the same thing with their parents.
8) Don’t assume your siblings will all have the same level of commitment that you do.
6) Recognize that some parents are never going to agree to downsize. Others will wait for a crisis and then when circumstances are most difficult, agree to move. If these are your parents, the only thing you can do is to set a limit on how much help you are willing and able to give them in their current location. Try to maintain as much balance in your own life as possible.