Sometimes it starts with a phone call at 2 AM. “Your mom had a stroke.” Sometimes there is simply a gradual worsening of chronic conditions, and over time the home that worked so well for so many years is too burdensome. In either case, your life is turned upside down. There are hundreds of decisions to be made: where will your parents move, what will go with them, what will happen to everything else? Your parents are overwhelmed, and so are you.
If you’re a typical Boomer, you take pride in multitasking, getting things done, crossing things off your list. The problem is, your parents may have a different agenda. Faced with the multitude of losses that accompany old age, they may cling fiercely to independence and the need to be in control. They may also be focused on reviewing their life and creating legacy. These different agendas can create conflict and impede progress. Listed below are our top 10 tips for Helping Mom and Dad Move. The tips are designed to maximize your parents’ sense of control and respect their need to reminisce, because honoring your parents includes honoring their agenda, as well.
Tip #1: Let your parents’ emotional and physical comfort guide the process.
Your parents’ priorities and perspective may differ from yours. Seemingly insignificant items may be loaded with personal meaning and memories, and objects of great material value may be less important. They may prefer old, worn objects to newer ones in better condition. Honor their decisions.
Your parents may have a sequence in which they need to proceed that differs from your own. If books are very special to your parents, for example, they may need to determine what will happen to the volumes not going with them before they are willing to focus on other issues. Attempting to force your parents to proceed in a sequence that doesn’t address their priorities usually results in arguments and inattention
Tip #2: Try to replicate the old environment.
Your parents will be experiencing a lot of change. It will be comforting to have some things stay the same. Take photos of each shelf in the china closet, the arrangement of pictures on the wall, and of items on bureaus and end tables. The photos will help you recreate the feel of the former home with speed and accuracy and will make the new residence look and feel more like home.
Tip #3: Focus on sorting, not packing.
Preparing for a senior move is a major organizational challenge. There may be decades of belongings to sort through in attics, basements, spare rooms and closets. In addition to what is going to your parents’ new home, there may be things going to family members throughout the country, as well as the church bazaar, Purple Heart, an auction house, and the township dump. It is here, more than anywhere else, that your help is needed. Helping your parents sort and organize their belongings is the single most important thing you can do to reduce stress, save money, and ensure a smooth move.
Tip #4: Accept their gifts.
Your parents may want to give you items they cannot use, including things you don’t want. Take them anyway. Store them in your basement if you must, but accept them graciously. Your parents will be parting with a great deal. Knowing that cherished objects, and even ordinary things, are with family members makes it easier to part with things and reduces the feeling of loss. If your parents are warehousing things that belong to you or your siblings, take them now.
Tip #5: Be tactful.
Poor health, caregiving duties and failing eyesight can result in housekeeping practices that are less stringent than they once were. Tactfully clean things as you sort, but avoid making your parents feel embarrassed. If you find clothing that is torn or stained, suggest a donation site that recycles textiles or take worn towels to the S.P.C.A. Knowing that things will be used, regardless of their condition, makes parting with them easier.
Tip #6: Let your parents say good-bye.
Keep sorting sessions brief— 2-3 hours at the most. This may be difficult when you come to town for a weekend to blitz through things, but constant decision-making is exhausting and marathon sorting sessions usually result in diminishing returns. The sorting process brings up memories, so stories and reminiscing are natural. Accept that some days you will accomplish less than you had hoped for and let your parents enjoy their recollections. Storytelling is more than simply saying “goodbye.” Studies show that reminiscing calms people and reduces stress. You may find that after telling a story, your parents are able to focus more on decision-making. In short, storytelling is a productivity tool, not a hindrance. Listen respectfully, ask questions. Remember that in the long run, it is your parents’ stories, not their belongings, that you will cherish.
Tip #7: Be realistic about how much time you can devote to the process.
If your parents live in the family home, allow 60-80 hours for the downsizing process, 20 hours for items not going with them, and 50-80 hours for helping them pack, move, unpack and get settled. If your time is limited, spend your time with them doing “fun” things and providing emotional support, and hire professional help for the rest. Senior Move Managers specialize in this type of support.
Tip #8: Concentrate on the big picture.
Senior moves are stressful for the entire family. In addition to their own homes, families and jobs, adult children are often assuming caregiving responsibilities. Conflicts sometimes develop between siblings over the disposition of items, and more frequently, over the sharing of caregiving duties. As you work with your parents and siblings, keep three objectives equally in mind: caring for your parents, taking care of yourself, and keeping the family in tact.
Tip #9: Hire a Senior Move Manager.
Downsizing and moving are challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. A Senior Move Manger like Moving Solutions can provide expert planning, proven resources, and hands-on help to take the work and worry out of moving. You control how much you spend, and most provide a free, no-obligation home visit. Moving Solutions provides services throughout Southeastern PA, the Lehigh Valley, Delaware, and central New Jersey. For help elsewhere in the US and Canada, go to the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Hiring a Senior Move Manager isn’t an expense, it’s an investment in your health, your relationships and your peace of mind.
Tip #10: Looking Back
“Things” were important to my grandmother. Perhaps it was living through the depression. Perhaps it was burying both her children. Perhaps she was holding on to what she could in the face of so much loss. When she moved, at age 88, she offered me many things. I said “no” to everything. I had good reasons. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t have room.
Today, I regret those decisions. It’s not that I’ve grown to like the things she offered. It’s that I was thinking of myself, and I should have been thinking about her.