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Senior couple moving boxes

Chapter 8 - Helping Your Parent Downsize Their Home for Retirement

Let’s Pack Those Boxes - Make a plan

Now that your parent has made the decision to move to a retirement home, it’s time to help them prepare their current home so they can begin their next adventure. Downsizing a home for retirement living can seem daunting. After all, it’s more than just a bit of decluttering – it can be an emotional journey, complete with both laughter and tears.

Making a move means finding a way to honour the past, by keeping what matters most or by finding ways to preserve memories – and creating a new place to live that they’re excited to move into and set up.

Encourage your mom or dad to take time and enjoy the process without rushing. There are questions of logistics: what will they take with them, and what will they give away, or sell, or pass on to family or friends? What about their favourite chair, their books – they’re coming, too, right? Making a move means finding a way to honour the past, by keeping what matters most or by finding ways to preserve memories – and creating a new place to live that they’re excited to move into and set up.

Here are some ideas to help make this a smoother process, so your loved one can embrace the benefits of downsizing in retirement.

1. Make a plan
Encourage your mom or dad to start their planning with the future state in mind – what their new retirement home suite can accommodate, and how they want the space to function. Offer to get the measurements of the new space, including closets and additional storage; this will help determine what can fit, and what will need to be donated or sold. Think about recreating the floor plan for them by mapping out the new bedroom or living area. Using tape, block out the size of things to see what fits. That way, they’ll be able to better envision the flow and see what works and what doesn’t quite fit.

For example, there might not be room for their wooden desk and old computer. But would a laptop solve this problem? Do they have a favourite chair that simply must make the move? Does it fit into the new space? If so, help them plan the suite around it.

2. Start small
Prompt your parent to start the paring-down process well before they are scheduled to move – today, even. Let them know that investing a mere 15 minutes each day will make a big difference when it comes to thinning out their belongings.

3. Take the time
Preparing for a major move takes time. Trying to squeeze the process into a single day or week is way too much, emotionally and physically, on both you and your loved one. Start the process early and allow an opportunity to reminisce; sometimes things trigger strong memories. Each item – whether it’s the dishes they got for their wedding, the pictures they’ve hung on their walls, the antique desk that’s a family heirloom - will require thought and consideration, so it’s OK to go slow.

4. Let it go
As a starting point, help your mom or dad create a list that includes things they’re planning to keep and items they no longer want. Begin with obvious things, such as appliances or tools that won’t come with them.

Their goal is to take what they really need, what brings them happiness, and what fits in their new space in the retirement community. As you begin to help them go through their belongings, make separate piles for items they wish to donate, sell or gift; things to be thrown out; treasures they want to take with them; and a “maybe” pile. Encourage them to choose a limit when dealing with collections (maybe there is such a thing as too many shoes) or multiples (how many mugs do they really need to bring?). For example, if they have some cherished dishes, such as their wedding china, do they really need the whole set, or are four place settings sufficient? Remember: they’re the one making the final decision on what stays and what goes.

Is there something that is not going to make the cut but holds special memories? Take a photo of it for them so they can look at it any time – the memory is always more valuable than the physical item.

5. Share, sell, donate
As your parent gets closer to the move, it’s the perfect opportunity for them to share items with friends and family, if they wish. Remind them to try not to take it personally if they offer something like a piece of furniture and it doesn’t suit the other person – style changes constantly and everyone has their own taste. They should take it in stride.

Are they thinking of selling some items? Perhaps you can assist them in putting a post on Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji. Remind them to keep in mind that household items and furniture depreciate over time, so they may not hold the value your parent is expecting. Do a little research first to help them find a fair price.

There is always a need for charitable donations. The Furniture Bank in the Greater Toronto Area is one example, but there are places in virtually every town that accept furniture and household items, such as the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store, which accept everything from doors and windows to sinks and hinges.

Once these tough decisions have been made, reinforce the importance of sticking to them. It is very easy (and to be expected) for your parent to change their mind about small items. The best way to make sure they reap the benefits of decluttering and downsizing their home before the move to a retirement residence is to help them act on their decisions: once they have made their choices, take the initiative yourself to drop off donations, post the ad for that big armoire they don’t need, or put the garbage bags at the curb when they are full and ready to go. The time is now.

6. Bring in the professionals
As great as it is for you to offer to help with this process, sometimes families can be too close to be objective. Consider hiring a professional to help your parent downsize. Unlike family or friends, these pros don’t share your family memories; to them, it’s quite literally stuff, and their focus is on finding the best way to make the new space functional. By letting someone else take charge of the move-out, you and your loved one can save your energy and focus for the new retirement residence.

Downsizing to move into a retirement home is a big job that takes time. Once the process is complete, your mom or dad will feel a weight off their shoulders and will be free to focus on their next chapter. Their new retirement residence, and its many lifestyle and social benefits, is waiting!