Last week I started out by saying that the decision of whether or not an aging parent should move out of the family home and into a senior community is often one of the most complicated aspects of helping plan for the future of an aging parent. In addition to the often extensive financial aspects (discussed last week) of the decision, the accumulation of “stuff” can put efforts into making this decision into a tailspin.The “stuff”
Quite often there are people who know they want to move out of their larger homes and into either a smaller condo or senior community. They may have even been touring some options – and could even know where they would like to move. Then they go back to their homes, stand in their kitchens looking around at all the “stuff” they have accumulated and think that there is just no possible way they could possibly move. It would take them years to go through everything to decide what to keep and even more years to figure out what to do with everything that they no longer wanted.
The challenge here is moving from thinking in a form of blob and instead thinking in a line. It is quite overwhelming to look at each and every object in your house and say to yourself “what do I do with this? And what do I do with this? And how about this?” Four hundred open-ended questions like this later and no wonder the process looks impossible.
Common tips on organizing and efficiency will tell you that you should “only touch things once” and that is certainly an option. But what I have found after almost five years of physically helping families downsize is that we are not talking about normal circumstances here and its often much better to turn all the open-ended “what do I do with this” questions into a simple yes or no question and take this one step at a time.
Start with a floor plan of the new home, and go room by room in the current home asking one yes or no question as you look around: “Do I want to keep this?”
There are plenty of ways to take care of the rest of the items, but the answer to the question “Do I want to keep this?” is the key to it all. Turn thinking in a blob to thinking in a line and make a plan: decide what to keep, what items to give to family members, sell or donate what you can – and the rest is just garbage removal. But instead of trying to decide that answer for each item at a time, do each step at a time.
Just like with assistance finding an affordable and suitable new community, there is of course also professional help for this challenge. My own company, Caring Transitions, for example specializes in helping families get through these types of challenges.
I have seen families who have put off moving for years because they were overwhelmed by what to do with all of the “stuff”.
One helpful tip here, and while there are certainly circumstances where it does not apply, it is something I have observed repeatedly. One of the challenges often experienced here is that the person who needs to move is not comfortable letting go of their “stuff” and is determined to take everything with them. What I have often found is they are not necessarily needing to keep everything, its just that they don’t want the stuff they are attached to – that holds their memories – discarded like garbage. If they know it will be appreciated (sold or donated) it can often help them move forward.
Next week we will spend a minute talking about the emotions that come into play that can make or break these decision.