How To Help Seniors Downsize and Declutter Their Homes
As a professional home organizer, I run into baby boomers all the time who are supporting their elderly parents through a move into a retirement community or with assisted living. They often ask me, “how can I be a support without causing problems?”
It’s difficult to watch seniors go through the emotional challenge of downsizing from a home that’s been a huge part of their life for so many years. We see them conflicted with emotions as they cope with the loss of having to get rid of furniture, books and personal items that have strong sentimental value. It’s overwhelming for seniors to sort through all of their things. They are conflicted by their emotions. It’s scary for them to say goodbye to this part of their life.
For this reason, I decided to write a blog offering tips for helping senior parents declutter their homes as a “how to” post for adult-children.
Your parents are being forced to make decisions about how to declutter the house based on their age and situation. They are struggling with having to figure out what to keep, what to sell and what to give away. To them, it’s a lifetime of memories, but to you it’s an enormous task that needs to be completed in a short period of time. As a way to help them navigate this process, I recommend the following tips as a way to offer your support.
Understand Their Emotions
The two different perspectives, your motivation and their fears, can cause tension during a time when everyone needs to stay calm and focused. It’s natural for aging parents to fear the unknown. Your mother or father will already be coping with the loss of control; especially, if they are having to move because of their declining health.
While you, their child, start to make decisions about “their” things, you may run up against some resistance. Your parent may not want you telling them what you think is valuable, and what’s not worth keeping.
I’m sure you can relate to feelings of procrastination when you are faced with a daunting task. Realize this is how they are feeling, and understand the emotions behind wanting to put things off. They are holding on to items for sentimental reasons, and are holding off from parting with them for the same reasons.
Take It Slow – Walk them through the process
Treat your senior parents with dignity as they navigate the process of decluttering their home. As a professional organizer, I have walked clients through this process many times, and I understand it’s really hard for them to part with years of memories.
Respect your parents attachment to their things. Letters from a dear friend of long ago, or a 40-year old Valentine’s Day card you crafted for them as a small child, may seem like clutter to you, but they have sentimental meaning to your mother and father. These items represent a special time in their life. Help them sort through the things that mean the most, and be supportive as they decide what can be discarded.
Reinforce the reasons why they are making the decision to declutter their home and why they are downsizing.
Take it one step at a time by focusing on one aspect of the decluttering process. They may be moving for health reasons, and by reducing their responsibility, they will be freeing themselves of the burden of a larger home. Help them focus on keeping the items that bring joy, and encourage them to get rid of the things they are no longer using. By slowly helping them detach from those items that don’t have a purpose or place, the decluttering process will become easier for them over time
Focus on the benefits of being organized
Paint the picture of a safer space where everything has its place. They will have a free flowing home with spacious floors for walking, decluttered steps for safety, and a spacious closet for better organization.
As people age, it’s easier for them to become confused. By making things easier to find when your aging parents need to make quick decisions, they will feel more in control of their life. In an emergency situation, they will be safer and better prepared.
Reinforce the emotional benefits of a decluttered home including reduced stress, more clarity, and an overall lightness of mood, because there is less to think about and less to take care of on a daily basis.
Consider a professional organizer to help with the process
If you have limited time to help your senior parents prepare for a downsizing, then I recommend considering a professional organizer. Your mother and father will benefit from someone with experience that also has systems for making these tasks easier. Professional organizers understand the emotions people experience during this process, and they are great at helping people take the necessary steps over time. This will also help you focus on the logistics of the move, rather than the decluttering process. It’s important to hire someone you trust, and someone personable that is a great fit for your parents.
These are simple tips that can make this transition a positive experience for you and your parents. By understanding the process, offering support and reinforcing the positive reasons for the move, you and your loved ones can get through the challenges and share in the excitement of their newfound freedom.