For many older adults moving from a beloved family home to a senior community, assisted living or nursing home can be, at best, a daunting thought, and at worst, a traumatic experience. As a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, I received training designed to build sensitivity to the special needs of older clients and their families. But there is no substitute for experience, and my most useful lessons have come from clients themselves. Listening carefully to the senior I’m helping move is key.
First of all I tell my clients that they are “resizing,” not downsizing. Moving to their new homes represents the next chapter in their lives, not the end. I try to get them to think about what they’re gaining rather than losing. Then I bring patience to the process and listen carefully for clues that will help me gently help a client make decisions regarding possessions that hold literal, and more importantly, sentimental value for them.
For example, I recently helped move an elderly woman who had several sets of china. She could not take all of them, so I spent time chatting with her about each set and the memories they held. As she cradled a particular cup in her hand, she reminisced about the favorite aunt who had passed it along to her. Later I suggested that she might want to pass along that set to a favorite niece. This helped her let go knowing that the china and its memories would stay in the family and have meaning to the young woman who would inherit it.
I always keep in mind when I help a senior move that he or she, as well as their families are under tremendous stress. It is my job to be a calm and organized source of support. I think to myself, “these are your possessions, but I will move them as if they were mine.”
Here are five tips to help you “resize” to a smaller space:
- Start early. Give yourself plenty of time to go through your possessions so you can gently let go of those items that you will no longer need or have room for.
- Start with the living areas, including the living room, dining room, kitchen and bedrooms. (Attics and basements can wait.)
- Decide what belongings you want and which ones you need. Those possessions in the “need” category will obviously take priority over those you want.
- It is always helpful to obtain a floor plan of your new home. This will help you determine what furniture you will be able to take with you. A professional can help you through this process and even help with some interior design suggestions that will help you select the best furniture to take from a design perspective. This can be very helpful in decision-making.
- Think ahead of time about what you want to do with possessions you will need to part with. You may have a synagogue, church or favorite charity that would love to receive donations. Enjoying the sense that you are giving and not losing your possessions can help you with the transition to your new life.