1. Be kind. As loving family members, it is so difficult to see our parents start to change physically and cognitively. What is often clear to us as urgently-needed action steps is frequently difficult for a loved one to hear. Seniors are many times emotionally tied to the home they are living in and the idea of making a change can bring out profound sadness and anxiety. Be sure to allow them to grieve the loss which will help the transition go more smoothly. Kindness must also continue when you are helping them physically move. Sorting and packing is an extremely intimate experience. Seeing or touching certain items in the home can bring up memories that the senior needs be allowed to process. Please also remember to refrain from showing outward disdain if you come across poor housekeeping. Try not to criticize when you come upon surprises.
2. Click...take a pic. Before you start the process of sorting and packing, take the time to take a picture of each room. Part of a smooth transition is helping set up their new home in a way that looks like the way their old home was set up. Having the home set up similarly can decrease confusion and help with a sense of belonging.
3. Baby steps. Your loved one probably does not have the same level of endurance or drive to get the job done. Try to tackle smaller spaces first and then move to larger ones. Break up the home into areas that have varying amounts of emotional weight. For example, your deceased father's bedside table will probably be harder for Mom to go through than, let's say, the linen closet. Mixing up what you do on a given day can make the process more palatable.
4. Enlist help. Encourage siblings or other close family members to help with the job. You may, however, have some relatives who can come in and be better than others at helping Mom make decisions and provide the emotional support your senior parents need. Or, you may need to get outside help as well. If you do, there are specific companies that specialize in moving seniors known as senior move managers. These folks help the senior make decisions in a way that can be less emotionally charged than having family members involved.
5. Sort and organize. Instead of making every decision all at once, place items into separate groups, such as:
- sentimental items to be given to other family members
- items to take
- items to be sold
- items to be donated
- items to be thrown out
6. Clean and repair. Frequently, seniors are embarrassed once things are moved around in the home. You may find an entire cat's worth of hair under a huge old china cabinet or find the dishes aren't as clean as they used to be. Again, remember the kindness. Use humor when appropriate and enlist the help of close relatives to do the cleaning and repairs before putting the home on the market.
While moving day is an actual event, getting from A to B is a process and that process needs to be honored and respected. It begins with the first moment you even contemplate a move, then goes to the conversation with your parents about moving, and so on. It is normal for you and your parents to feel sad, overwhelmed, and even angry at times. When emotions bubble up it is usually time to step back and take a little break. Working the process by being intentional and present in the moment without thinking about the endgame will make all the difference in the world.
If you find yourself needing to have this type of conversation with a loved one, join our online community of caregivers to continue this conversation. We have more than 200 family caregivers supporting each other and sharing resources.