For most seniors, moving from the family home to an aged care facility is emotional and involves significant downsizing. Reducing your possessions is challenging enough for anyone, but it can be that much tougher when it comes from necessity rather than choice.
For those making a move from their home to aged care, the downsizing process can feel very sad as they leave behind belongings and cherished memories. Letting go of the familiar and recognising the many years behind them.
For the families, this is also a difficult time as they support their loved one emotionally and through the time-consuming packing and purging process. You may need to be a little generous with your own time and storage space, at least in the short term.
Find empathy and kindness.
First, do your best to appreciate how hard this move is for your loved one. Not only are they leaving behind their home, their neighbourhood, memories and belongings, but also letting go of their independence and adjusting to the realities this stage of life brings.
Have realistic expectations of time.
If you were moving to a new house yourself, packing might be done in a matter of days. However, in this situation, packing may take that much longer. Deliberating about what to keep, what to do with the things they can’t bring with them and who to trust to make sure the belongings are managed according to their wishes can add time. Your loved one may want to relive every memory an item evokes and tell stories you have heard many times before. The best thing you can do is allocate more time than you ever imagined, and it is less likely our patience will wear thin.
Plan for their new space.
Many aged care homes provide a move-in checklist which outlines the space and the belongings you can bring. The checklist is a useful guide for establishing a realistic view of what possessions can be accommodated and what furniture will fit when making those decisions.
Help create a structure for their belongings.
Encourage your loved one to sort their belongings into five piles. To give to family, to donate, to toss, to keep and undecided. Many family members feel good giving to family, and this pile provides them with that opportunity. Others get a great deal of satisfaction knowing their belongings go to charity to help someone else in need. Having an undecided pile can take the pressure off having to make decisions immediately. While this may take longer – prioritising compassion over getting the job over and done with is an act of kindness.
Protect valuable items.
Valuable items are often misplaced in a move and even more so in these types of situations. Ensure there is a safe place for any important paperwork, jewellery and precious items, keys of any nature and sentimental heirlooms. Sometimes, your loved one may not even realise they are tossing items of value or significance among the emotional experience. In this case, you may want to stash away belongings you think they will regret disposing of even if they don’t see the need – you can always review it at a later stage.
Now isn’t the time to ask why they have held on to individual belongings for so long or at all. Many of elderly have been through depressions and wars where goods were not in high supply. Being critical of your loved one’s possessions or choices is likely to make the process more unpleasant and upsetting for all involved. The aim is to show support for your loved one’s move in whatever way you can.
Avoid adding to the sentimentality.
While you will be dealing with your feelings of grief and sadness, don’t make it harder on your loved ones. If certain items hold emotional value for you, try and seek your parents’ permission to take them home. You don’t have to hide your feelings about the situation, but do your best to cope with grief and anxiety discreetly on your own—at least until the move is behind you all.
Avoid bickering with siblings.
The last thing your loved one needs is siblings fighting over possessions of bringing up old family wounds. If family members are going to be assisting with the move simultaneously, agree in advance the roles and responsibilities and how you will deal with family conflict. It may be beneficial to hire a Move Manager who helps seniors downsize in preparation for retirement or aged care living. A neutral third party can provide advice and ensure your loved one feels safe and supported during the process.
Emphasise the positive.
As important as it is to acknowledge that this is a difficult time for your loved one, it is also essential to highlight the positives that are to come. Remind them they have a new life waiting for them with less housework, meals prepared, additional friends nearby, added safety and security plus opportunities for new hobbies and group experiences. Display brochures or photos of their new home as visual reminders that the move isn’t the end of the road but a transition. Keeping some positive perspective to help balance the sadness is going to make the process easier.
While moving is hard enough at the best of times, your understanding and patience will help make all the difference in supporting your loved ones downsizing decisions.
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