Moving Elderly Parents: Avoid Common Mistakes
What’s the biggest mistake I see families make when they try to help a loved one move? They think the first step is to get rid of the extra stuff.
“Oh Mom, you don’t need the sewing machine. You never use it anymore.
“Oh Mom, you haven’t worn this jacket in 20 years.”
“Oh Mom, you don’t need all of your special cooking equipment. When is the last time you decorated a cake?”
Mom hears these questions and thinks…
“She’s right. I don’t use the sewing machine anymore, because I can’t see well enough. I sure did used to enjoy making those quilts and Christmas decorations.”
“Yes. I suppose I haven’t worn that jacket in 20 years. I haven’t been skiing since I took that fall and twisted my ankle so badly. I’m afraid to even walk in the snow anymore.”
“Dang. I can’t even decorate cakes and cookies anymore with these shaky hands. And I did such beautiful work once. I feel so old and useless.”
Mom gets more and more depressed; she takes longer to make decisions. She puts off letting you come back to help her sort again. You know she’s not safe living alone in her home, so you insist. Finally she puts her foot down, “I’ve decided that I’m not going to move!”
Sound familiar? It’s a common enough story. Some families back off and let Mom continue to live alone even with the risk. Others force their way through the move and make the decisions for her. Neither path is likely to have a happy ending.
But is there any other choice?
Divide and Conquer!
Sorting out what to take and what to leave behind is usually the biggest, hardest, and most emotional part of a downsizing move. But there is a path through it. Instead of asking your mom what she can do without, ask “What do you use the most?” This puts the focus on what she is going to take with her instead of what she is losing or has already lost. It’s a small change with an enormously powerful impact.
Ask her what furniture she uses the most? The bed? The dresser? The nightstand? These are the things that your mom needs to think about taking with her. In the closet, she can pick out the clothes she is presently wearing the most. And then she can think about what she wears the most in other seasons. Just put the clothes she plans to take at the end of the closet and leave the rest of what will be left behind.
In the kitchen, sort the things that she uses the most to the lowest shelf and leave things like the turkey roaster and the cake decorating equipment up high, on a separate shelf (just for items being left) or in the back (behind items that will be taken). You can sort shelves with “use the most” and “don’t use as much.” You can sort drawers with “taking” and “not taking.” This makes it easier to slowly pack just the items of importance for now and leave the rest to sit.
After you get the most used items identified throughout the house, there will, hopefully, still be room for a few sentimental items you can take.
Wait to Donate
As for those items you are not taking, don’t take them to charity yet. This gives her time to decide she may wish to take something which she can’t bear to part with, if there’s room, of course. Move out the things that she is taking with her, but as much as possible leave the things she isn’t taking in the home. It’s far easier for a person to walk away from their belongings than it is to have their belongings taken away from them. This allows your mother to remember the home pretty much the way that it was. Even if she isn’t using any of those things anymore, watching her home and her life get whittled away can be emotionally devastating.
The good news is that this approach is not only easier for your mother, it’s easier for you. After your mother has moved and taken everything she wants to keep, you can call in an estate sale or auction company to deal with the rest in one fell swoop.
Maybe later we can talk about the second biggest mistake helpful family members make. (Hint–don’t clean up.)