Although some seniors see downsizing as lightening their load, others find the process excruciating. They may be emotionally attached to some (or all) of their possessions and they might feel overwhelmed by having to decide what they should bring to assisted living and what should they sell or give away.
The key to making downsizing as stress-free as possible is to start the process early—at least a couple of weeks, if not months, before the move—to allow for enough time to sort through every item. Remember that the sorting process will bring up memories and emotions in your parents, so it’s best not to rush it.
On a practical level, one of the first things you should do is gather and safely store your loved one’s important financial, medical and legal documents and records. Once that is done, systematically go through each room, starting with a closet or a laundry room before moving on to bigger spaces like the basement or garage.
As you sort, place colored sticky notes on each item so that you can easily determine what to pack and what to or get rid of. For instance, put pink Post-It notes on possessions your parents plan to keep, orange on items they want to sell, and blue on those they wish to donate or give away. Yellow sticky-notes can signify items they want to throw out and green, items to recycle.
Early in the process, you’ll also want to ask the senior living community for its recommended packing list and exact space measurements and to find out what items are already provided. Also, be sure to ask the community’s rules—it’s not uncommon for them to prohibit expensive jewelry collections.
In most cases, storage space will be limited, so focus on bringing items that will be used frequently. If your parents haven’t used an item in more than a year, it’s probably a sign that they should get rid of it. But don’t go overboard with streamlining—remember that photographs, artwork, books, and special heirlooms or mementos can make a new place feel like home. (If your parents collect artwork or other items, ask them to consider letting go of most of their collection and to take high-resolution photographs of whatever they sell or give away.)
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s a basic packing list to help you and your loved ones figure out what to take to their new home:
- Shoes and non-skid slippers
- Dish soap
- Dish washing cloths and drying towels
- Window cleaner
- Bathroom cleaner
- Laundry basket
- Laundry detergent
- Dusting clothes
- Music system (again, make sure your loved one knows how to use) and CDs
- Desktop, laptop, or tablet computer (if your loved one will use it)
- Tool kit
- Hobby supplies
- Bath towels and facecloths
- Waste basket
- Health and beauty items
Finally, don’t assume that this transition ends once the initial decision and move are over. If one parent has spent years caring for a spouse, the transition to living alone can be jarring and rudderless. In this case, you might need to encourage your parent to keep active by visiting friends, volunteering, or taking a class. As well, make sure they realize they still have a practical role in the care and upkeep of their partner, says Koffend. “It gives purpose to the visits, even if it’s as simple as bringing a few products and a hairbrush to help maintain physical appearance.”