Chances are good that your mom or dad has lived in the same place for more than a few years. And most likely, it’s full of furniture, appliances, books, photos, tools, dishes and can’t-part-with family heirlooms, each with its own history and sense of importance. Now, if they have decided to move to a retirement residence or long term care home, it’s time to decide what to do with all this stuff. What will be given away, or sold, or passed onto family or friends? And which items will come to the new space?
- Dr. Amy D’Aprix.
These are tough decisions. Just as difficult is being the person coordinating the sorting and packing, the on-hand ear to listen to stories, the shoulder for crying on. That’s your role. You’re here to help your mom or dad to work through this process, and eventually begin to pack up and move on. You’ll likely be doing everything except making decisions.
“Downsizing isn’t so simple for the parent,” says Dr. Amy D’Aprix, co-founder of Essential Conversations Project, Inc. and a life-transition consultant and author specializing in helping seniors through moments like this. “To you, it’s a task, something that needs doing. But to them, it has great emotional significance. We have to acknowledge the emotions involved.”
We know the feeling. It’s so tempting to take charge and become the decision-maker. For one thing, it may seem to be taking forever, and you’ve got lots of other things to worry about, more pressing ways to spend your time. And so the urge to toss things into bins and decide who gets the silverware and what to do with the furniture takes over.
“If helping someone downsize, listen and understand their needs,” says Vicky Riley Keyes, founder and president of Red Coats Moving Solutions, a Toronto-based company focused on helping seniors downsize. “Empower them to make choices. Don’t take control.”
Let’s be clear: it’s an emotional ride for everyone, not just your parents. The simple act of opening a photo album or standing in a room in which you’ve spent countless hours can spur joy and sadness in an instant. This is your home, too, in a sense, and now it’s time to pack up for good. Because this isn’t just another move, is it?
Slow it Down. Talk it Out
Downsizing isn’t just about packing boxes and decluttering. It’s also an opportunity to share memories and tell stories. How often have you tried to clean out a desk drawer, only to be sidetracked as you flick through things? It’s therapeutic, and it’s an integral part of the journey.
“Talking about memories is key,” says Riley Keyes. “Spend the time and listen to what [your mom or dad] have to say about their things.” This is part of the process. Rushing through it will only cause havoc when it’s time to actually move, as you both begin second-guessing what will come and what will go. And more than this, it will eliminate the deeper value that comes from sorting through all this stuff.
Speaking of talking, right now isn’t a good time to argue about who gets what. Siblings often quibble over items, when really, the decision isn’t yours to make. A better way to spend this time? Talking about who might host the next holiday dinner, and how best to preserve the spirit of the house. Find ways to honour memories and carry on traditions, such as a memory box filled with personal mementos, or a photo album made up of the best pictures from a number of albums. This will help your mom or dad focus on the future, not the past.
And so between tears and laughter, stories and the silent packing of boxes, you’ve got another job — to help your mom or dad remember that this isn’t the end, but the beginning of something new. After all, moving into a new home is always an exciting time. Focus on this. For your mom and dad, and for yourself.