What Stays and What Goes?

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Boxes2Moving can be a daunting task. Not only are you having to pack your entire life into a 20-foot U-Haul (or possibly several trips in a Ford pickup), but your home, routine and possibly your city will be completely changed. Maybe you are looking forward to the change, but the actual process can shake up even the most organized, easygoing mover. For most of us, packing can conjure up memories and emotions with each piece of our life that we carefully blanket in bubble wrap. However, for seniors who are transitioning to a retirement community, downsizing their possessions is a major concern. How do you part with a lifetime of possessions?

Storage options are typically quite limited in senior housing, forcing new residents to sort through years of memories to accommodate their new lifestyle. Fortunately however, with a bit of help from their loved ones, there is hope for making this monumental task manageable – for everyone.

Commit to Downsizing Before the Move

It’s hard enough for seniors – or anyone for that matter – to familiarize themselves with new surroundings; but also having to decide which things to part with in order to fit a smaller living area can be frustrating, stressful and exhausting. Having the distribution of belongings settled before the move will help your loved one adjust quicker and more easily – it also prevents having to move items more than once. “Include family and friends when planning and organizing your loved one’s move,” said Rodney Rueter, CEO/president of Lutheran Sunset Ministries. “Offer support and encouragement and let them know they are ultimately in control of what stays and what goes.”

One helpful tip in gracefully downsizing would be to take accurate measurements of their new living space – this should also include any available storage area. Knowing their limitations will help in the decision making process of packing. Consider drawing out a floor plan so that your loved one can more easily visualize the space.

Allow Ample Time for Sorting

Although it may be hard, do your best to accept and understand how difficult this is emotionally for your loved one. If they’ve lived in the same home for the last two decades – or maybe more – it’s going to be difficult to accept this kind of change. “Many of our elders grew up during the depression, or other financially hard times, and are afraid to throw anything away in case they’ll need it someday,” said Mr. Rueter. “It’s important not to discount their feelings in this process. They are having to part with a home and belongings and some are adjusting to the reality that they are now in a vulnerable position with their health.”

When searching online for sorting tips, many sites recommend four categories in which to organize belongings: Keep, Discard, Family and Charity. Other categories such as “Undecided” seem to prolong this already complicated process; however, in order to keep compassion above your need to get the process over with, this can be utilized. “Gently remind your loved one that they will not have as much room as they have at their house, but understand they may need to go through belongings more than once,” said Mr. Rueter.

A good place to start might be with discarding chipped, worn, stained and broken items. It may also be helpful to begin sorting in lesser used and less cluttered rooms. In theory, rooms used less frequently should be easier to sort and will help set the tone for more challenging areas of the home.

Finding a Compromise

Letting go of certain belongings doesn’t have to be a negative thing. If your loved one is fond of helping others, do some research on local thrift stores – many of them are run by charities or nonprofits. “Here in Clifton, the Pot O’ Gold Thrift Store has served as one of the primary fundraising projects of the Sunset Volunteer Auxiliary,” said Mr. Rueter. “Through the sale of donated items, Pot O’ Gold has provided funding for numerous projects and pieces of equipment for the residents of Lutheran Sunset Ministries.” Let your loved one know what cause their donated items will be helping to validate their decision.

Nothing says home like family photos. With this in mind, your loved ones are probably going to want to bring every photo, painting and precious knick knack with them to the retirement community. Consider taking photos of these keepsakes and either compiling a photo book or loading the images into a digital photo frame. This will take up less space, but allow them to look at the items whenever they want. If possible, offer to store family heirlooms – it may be adding to your own storage, but it will mean a lot to your loved one if they know the items are safe. It’s also important for them to keep items that have significant meaning with them in the retirement community – photos, books, etc. Just try to help them stay focused on the goal and to have realistic expectations.

The Move

Labeling and documenting accurately is very important. Mark boxes clearly to account for what has been sorted and packed and to help the move-in go smoothly. If certain items are going to various family members, those boxes should be clearly marked as well. It may also be a good idea to organize a list of items and where they will be stored. It will make trying to find them later much easier.

“When it’s all said and done, the ultimate goal is to help your loved one decide which possessions will make their new place feel like home,” said Mr. Rueter. “It can be a challenging process, but your love and guidance will help to provide a smooth transition.”

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