Downsizing Mom or Dad’s home and managing the move

Moving is a high-stress life event. Whether it's cross-town or cross-country, tackling the organizing, packing, discarding, cleaning, paperwork and the myriad of other tasks is a major challenge. For the older adult who has decades' worth of memories and possessions, moving can also represent a tremendous emotional challenge.

While a move may offer a sense of freedom and can help reduce feelings of isolation, relocation can be an unwelcome admission of frailty, loneliness, possible serious illness, and a loss of independence. It is also likely that your parent has lived in his or her current home for many years and has developed strong ties to community, family, friends, healthcare providers, social life and daily routine. Moving away from this familiar and comfortable setting is difficult and can cause great sadness.

If you have the luxury of time, and if your parent is willing, think about beginning to declutter six months to a year prior to moving. While clutter is not a problem unique to seniors, conditions of aging can lead to more advanced disorder and chaos-often referred to as hoarding-that can threaten a senior's home safety.  In our post "Conquering your clutter: Understanding the problems of seniors and hoarding," we address how a lifetime accrual of belongings combined with a daily influx of junk mail, bills and newspapers can quickly overwhelm seniors who may already be struggling physically and emotionally.

If you are facing a crisis, such as moving a parent into an assisted care residence after a life-changing event, like the death of a spouse or a slow recovery from a serious illness, the process will be condensed and planning time will be minimal. Open communication will help ease the way through these challenges.

While you help your parent pack, talk through the difficult feelings, acknowledge the loss that your parent is experiencing and reassure him/her that you are all making the best decision possible. Allow time and opportunity to reminisce. If your parent is not moving into your own home, reassure him/her that you will still be involved in his/her life regardless of the living arrangements. 

Where to Start

  • Set a firm date for the move. Get estimates from moving companies. Some fees may be negotiable if you plan ahead and schedule the move for nonpeak times.
  • Shred, toss or give away obvious items such as old cancelled checks, outdated food or medications, clothes, or extraneous household items that just take up space. Don't go overboard in purging items to take-you can keep some collectibles to make the new residence to look like a home, not a motel room!
  • Collect important papers in one place: deeds, wills, Durable Powers of Attorney, medical records, military records, diplomas and degrees, birth certificates, passports, leases, etc. These can be in a file cabinet or safe-deposit box, but key family members should know where they are. If you're not sure what records need to be retained, ask an accountant or tax person.
  • Throughout the process, try to limit sorting and packing activities to no more than two hours per day for your parent. Try to keep it relaxed and companionable.
  • Continue this decluttering process monthly until you start the major activities of sorting and packing for the move. You'll be surprised at how much you can eliminate before you get into the emotional quandaries of dealing with prized possessions.
  • In some communities, there are specialized companies that will help organize a senior's move to a new location and arrange to sell or give away unneeded furniture and possessions for a fee. They will also help pack and unpack. If finances allow, think about hiring a move manager, senior relocation specialist or organizer. Geriatric care managers are good referral sources to find specialists, or get recommendations from friends, seniors' residences or senior centers. Regardless of services used, in most families the adult children still play key roles in this task.
  • Instead of selling your parent's home, consider renting it.  The rental income can help defray extra costs that the family may incur, or help pay for the care provided in other community settings, and offer certain tax benefits. In addition, renting the home can also give your parent a longer transitional period to adjust to new living arrangements. Selling a long-time residence can seem very final, and can add an extra dimension of anxiety to the transition.

If your parent has moved in with you and your family, he/she will need time to adjust to the new living environment and role with your family. If your parent is not living in your home, plan to check in often. Your patience and support will help make this transition smoother, however, an outside counselor may also be helpful. Adjusting to the new surroundings may take months. Individuals' reactions differ after such an upheaval in their lives. Many people feel relief at not being alone and not having to maintain a large house. Others may be withdrawn and hesitant about making new friends. Many grieve the loss of their old community and friends. And sometimes, the reaction is: "I should have done this years ago!"

Next post: What if you are the family caregiver and you need to take a business trip… a vacation… time for yourself? What if you or your spouse needs extra recuperation time after a brief hospital stay? What if you need a daytime or an overnight care option? We'll talk about respite care options to help you handle these "what if's." In the meantime, please visit our website at  for more resources for family caregivers.

Reflections from your editor, Cindy Sher, on people living their Jewish lives each day. ... Read More

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