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Making the Move: Helping a Elder With a Long Distance Downsize

Making the Move: Helping a Elder With a Long Distance Downsize

By Kristen Reed Edens

Are you the caregiver or family representative for a parent or other elder?

If so, you are likely to help that elder downsize in the future, probably sooner rather than later. If the downsizing involves a long distance move, then the process is more complicated. More than just packing up boxes and belongings, you and your elder will thin out a household of memories. The challenge is to do so while keeping your sanity—and that of your elder—in check.

According to Breeze Carlile, owner of It’s A Breeze Moving, a professional organizing and relocation service, downsizing and relocating is a process to start sooner rather than later.

In 2009, my father’s fall stunned us all, most of all my mother. She quickly realized their 3-level home on 2 acres was more than she could handle. She wanted to downsize but had a two-fold problem:

Mom believed dad would come back home.

  1. She couldn’t let go of ANY of the stuff they accumulated over their 50 year life together.
  2. It took 4 years to get her to move.

Following dad’s death in 2015 and the recent death of two friends, she’s ready to make another move, this one over 500 miles and closer to family. Once again, I’m helping with a second downsize and as part of my Helping an Elder Downsize series, this article covers planning and executing the move itself.

Planning to Downsize

Life events lead to changes that require downsizing: death, divorce, job loss, health issues. Any and all of these can hit us at any time.

For an elder, health or death are the top factors leading to downsizing. While most elders make a local move to an assisted living community, eventually many make a long-distance move to be closer to adult children. Regardless of the reason, thinning belongings is an exercise that is filled with emotion. Breeze Carlile recommends these steps to initiate and ease the process.

Start Early: Search & Rescue

  • Enlist the help of a trusted friend or a professional. An outside person will help make the difficult decisions.
  • Leave the cleanup for the friend or the professional. If left to the elder, you run the risk of the elder weeding through and reclaiming items destined for departure.
  • Start with the garbage. Beyond emptying the trash cans, this means identifying stuff that is not suitable for donation or hand-me-elder long-distance downsize getting rid of garbagedowns. Worn, broken, or stained items fall into this category. The family junk drawer falls into this category.
  • Tackle one room at a time.
  • Remove what’s no longer wanted or needed.
  • Separate what is most used from what is least used.
  • Use different rooms to sort what to keep and what to rid.
  • Have someone else haul away.
  • Discourage your elder from storing items. This not only postpones the thinning process, it’s an unnecessary financial burden for the elder and the caregiver or family representative.

Downsizing Don’ts

  • Don’t burden non-profit organizations with items you can’t make a decision on. Their warehouses are already burdened with more they can handle.
  • Don’t refer to the elder’s belongings as “junk”.

Downsizing Dos

  • BE CAUTIOUS: unfortunately, there are scammers and con artists out there who prey upon the elderly. Avoid inviting unknown people from coming to “help” or collect unwanted belongings.
  • Start early.
  • Get help.
  • Invite the elder to identify the most loved and cherished items that are a MUST HAVE.
  • Consult a professional organizer for the “overabundant collector of stuff” or the “chronically disorganized”.
  • Help the elder understand the limited space available at their new location.
  • Find alternatives to the standard donation centers like Salvation Army or Goodwill. There are plenty of charities to explore: refugee elder long-distance downsize donating items shelters, immigration services, women & children programs. Consider resources that support victims of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, mudslides, etc.

While every situation is different and involves a wide spectrum of emotions, the best tactic for you as the family representative or caregiver is to offer love, patience, and support throughout the process. Starting early is the best sanity-saver.

This post originally appeared on Kris the Scribbler and was reprinted with permission.

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Kristen Reed Edens is a content developer, blogger, entrepreneur, grandparent and caregiver. She’s the founder of the blog and community, Grandparents in Business, where she shares stories and solutions for those living in the Sandwich Generation.