When my stepfather passed away, my mother was almost 82 and suddenly faced the need to downsize to a more senior-friendly home that would be safer for her. My mother has some mobility issues, so getting around on her own is a challenge. My brother, my husband and I helped her decide to move to an assisted living community.
One of the most appealing aspects of assisted living for my mother—and most seniors who choose an assisted living community—is the balance of social interaction with privacy. My mother’s apartment is spacious and comfortable, with plenty of room for many of her cherished pieces of furniture and artwork, which made her feel right at home from the beginning. In the building, there’s a dining room where residents eat their meals, a game room where she plays Rummi Q, Scrabble and cards; a movie theater, and a bistro for happy hour cocktails. She gets her hair and nails done at the on-site salon and does chair exercises in the workout room. When she needs a break from the activity, she can relax in her quiet apartment. The ability to do as she pleases makes her living situation very comfortable for her. What she gave up regarding space is replaced with security, community, and—for me and my family—peace of mind.
Find the right property for your family member
The first step in downsizing to assisted living is finding the right property for your senior’s budget and lifestyle. Some questions to ask about a potential home include:
- Is there a physician on-site 24 hours a day?
- Is there a nursing staff?
- Are visitors allowed anytime?
- Are the spaces furnished or unfurnished?
- What is included in the monthly payment?
- Is transportation for doctor’s appointments, shopping, and other activities?
- How many meals are included?
Once you’ve decided on an assisted living community for your loved one, visit it a few times to encourage a sense of ownership and enthusiasm about their new home. Ask the community manager for a floor plan to help decide which furnishings to take and which can be passed on to family members, sold, or donated. It’s also helpful for your senior to have the floor plan as a reminder of how their new home will look and feel.
How to start the downsizing process
Before you begin, it’s essential to understand what a significant change this is for your parent or loved one. In many cases, downsizing involves leaving a home of many decades filled with memories and belongings that hold sentimental value. Carol Bradley Bursack, author of “Minding Our Elders,” said, “Prioritize compassion over your need to get things over with. Gently remind your loved one that they will not have as much room as before, but understand that your parent may need to weed through belongings more than once to make confident decisions.”
The downsizing process may take a lot of time, but allowing your senior to choose carefully what will go with them and what will be donated or discarded gives them control over a very emotional situation.
Make a schedule and stick with it
Patience is one of the most critical parts of downsizing. You may want to get through it quickly, but consider how overwhelming this can be for your loved one. Whether room by room or day by day, having a schedule will make it easier for everyone involved.
A reasonable timeline for moving should include:
Phase One (four to six weeks before the move)
- Find and hire a moving company.
- Get a storage unit if needed.
- Start a list of what’s going, what you’re donating and what needs discarding.
- Order or purchase packing supplies.
Phase Two (two to four weeks before the move)
- Start the sorting process. Begin with the least used rooms in the house.
- For large homes, hire an estate sale company to sell items not going to the assisted living property.
- Make a checklist of all services that need canceling, forwarding, or turning off (utilities, cable service, newspapers, magazines, prescriptions by mail).
- File a change of address request with the USPS.
Phase Three (one to two weeks before the move)
- Complete packing the items your senior plans to take to their new assisted living home.
- Pack a suitcase with items that will be used during the first few days such as toiletries, clothing, medications, sheets, blankets and towels, and any memorable photos or objects.
- Confirm all arrangements with the mover and the assisted living property.
- Take some time to look over the property’s activity schedule and have your loved one pick a few to do during their first few days.
Whatever time you have for the moving process, make sure to allow for conversation, reflection, and breaks. My mother needed frequent discussions and time to reminisce as we went through her things and decided what to take and what to give away. She also needed a few naps to refresh her energy. Follow your senior’s lead and pay attention if they are feeling sad, tired, or anxious. With proper planning, everything will get done before the move, and there’s no reason to make it more challenging than it has to be.
Encourage your senior to participate in the preparation
Rather than sitting back and watching everyone else prepare for the move, give your loved one tasks they can comfortably manage to help them get ready to live in their new home. For example, if mobility is an issue, have them list what they need, where things should go and what they would like to replace. If they are able, ask them to fold their clothing and towels or wrap breakables for packing. Make sure they feel like they are part of the decision-making process from start to finish.
If your senior cannot physically help with the move, keep them informed every step of the way about what you’re doing.
Hire a senior move manager if necessary
There are professionals who specialize in senior move management if you are having trouble taking care of your senior’s move—whether it’s because of relationship or logistical problems. You can find a local senior move manager through the National Association of Senior & Specialty Move Managers (NASMM), which requires continuing education and other professional training for its members.
You’re making the right decision
Downsizing involves a lot of physical work and a lot of emotional ups and downs for you and your loved one. My mother and my family had some conversations that were filled with happy memories and teary reminiscing. However, through the entire process, we were all certain that the decision to downsize from her two-bedroom and two-bathroom home to a one-bedroom and one-bathroom apartment was the right one. Living alone wouldn’t have been good for her, and being around others at her current stage of life has given her an entirely new community to be involved in. It may seem hard while you are going through the downsizing process, but it will be okay when the bed is made, the pictures are hung and your family member has finally settled in.