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From Downsizing to Rightsizing: A Practical Guide to Parting With Possessions But Not Memories

Moving is stressful regardless of your age. But for seniors who have lived in the same place for years or decades, the process can be especially emotional and physically challenging. Packing up lifelong belongings and heading to an Independent Living, Assisted Living or Memory Care community — whether with family or professional help — brings along plenty of opportunities for going down memory lane, but it also can create anxiety about parting with possessions.

As people grow older, their needs change, and precious memorabilia can become an obstacle. That’s why creating a safe environment and adapting a new home to current needs are fundamental. Taking this adventure in your own hands is a great amount of work, but if you’re up to the challenge, here are some tips on how to do it successfully.

Just Do It Yourself

Avoid tackling the whole house in one go. For seniors, it can be stressful dealing with their memorabilia all at once. It is better to take it one room at a time. This process can be time consuming, so it’s better if you make it a regular activity where you set aside one day a week or one hour a day after deciding to downsize or move into a senior living community

Frame decisions as yes/no questions: Open-ended questions about whether to keep small treasures or furniture can add more stress to your senior. Instead of asking: “Which pots and pans do you want to keep?”, rephrase and say: “I have your best frying pan and favorite chair, does that sound good?” Simple responses make your senior feel successful, and it’s easier for you to move to the next item.

Focus on most-used items instead of newer items: You might prefer certain belongings over others because they are a newer model or have more features. But your senior loved one might prefer an item that he or she uses the most. Maybe it’s old, but if it brings them comfort and joy, that’s the item that’s worth keeping. Let’s say you want to buy a new rocking chair, but your Dad or Mom prefers his or her old chair — the one where he or she rocked you and the grandchildren. When moving, it is important to establish a balance between the necessary items and the ones that hold a sentimental value to your senior.

Selling and donating: Part of downsizing is parting with many items. At this point, it is time to decide and give some of your memorabilia to someone special in your life or perhaps your favorite organization such as a church, charity or hospital. You can also organize a garage sale and sell gently used items. If, after completing this task, you found yourself with a considerable number of items that you want to toss, there are several companies that can help you.

Memories, memories and more memories: If you are wondering what to do with boxes of pictures from holidays, vacations and birthday parties, you may want to consider digitalizing them. Surprise your senior with a digital frame featuring all of his or her pictures. Other options including copying your pictures to CDs or external memory drives and starting a scrapbook, which could result in a new hobby.

Disposing of household hazardous waste: It’s common to find old paint, sprays, oils and other chemicals in a garage. When cleaning, it’s important never to pour hazardous materials down a sink or storm drain. It could contaminate groundwater or flow into larger bodies of water. To recycle, find out if your community is part of any program that picks up hazardous materials. If it is, make sure these items are separate from your regular trash. If your community isn’t part of a program, Waste Management features a recycling option that makes it easy to keep harmful materials out of the environment. Best of all, you’ll receive a certificate that says you’ve helped the environment!

Pack a one day bag: Everything is packed and moving day is here. Put together a moving day bag with medications, toiletries, a change of clothes, important papers, snacks, disposable cups and plates, basic tools, cleaning supplies and any payment for movers if you’re using a professional company.

Get Professional Help

There are hundreds of companies that specialize in helping seniors move into a new place or downsize in their own homes. National Association of Seniors Move Managers (NASMM) is a leading organization in this field and has over 2,000 members in the U.S., Canada and overseas. This entity can help you find a professional that’ll give your old belongings a new purpose and make the transition process seamless.

A senior move manager is a professional that families hire to assist older adults with the emotional and physical aspects of relocation and/or aging at home. These professionals have a background in gerontology, social work, health care, nursing and psychology.

While “downsizing” may be associated with “declining,” Jennifer Pickett, Executive Director of the NASMM, prefers to call it “rightsizing.”

“It is the action of taking things that are the right size for your new living style,” says Pickett. “These changes are positive adjustments for the seniors and their families, that’s why a professional senior move manager will assist you in bringing everything you need for your new space”.

When looking for a company to help your senior loved one downsize, the expert recommends finding a member of a recognized organization since these professionals have the skills, training and experience of working with older adults. “We are very strict with our members,” Pickett said. “We require liability insurance, offer recurrent courses in ethics and safety and provide the latest news and trends in the industry.”

When you find your potential candidate, some important questions to ask are: What kind of training do you have? What is your code of conduct? What experience do you have?

Pickett recommends interviewing two or three companies before making a selection. Feeling a connection with your movers is important. They will take care of your “treasures” and memories, and you should have a rapport with them. Never get anything started without signing a written contract and knowing how much it will cost.

We Found The One, Now What?

Once you’ve chosen your new place to call home, a senior move manager will take care of your downsizing process from start to finish. You’ll first have a consultation where an expert will visit your current home and determine how the process will transition. Then, with your new floor plan, the professional will recommend what items to bring with you in relation to your space. They’ll also sort everything and help you determine which items are to keep, donate, sell or toss.

Their experience and strategic thinking will help improve the moving process. They’ll take care of simple things like making sure that your medicines are accessible at all times instead of stored in boxes and that your kitchen pots are the last things to pack and first things to unload. But their job is way more than that. They also will help you part with your possessions without parting with your memories.

Whatever your senior’s decision is, try to make the best out of this process. An expert can handle everything, from sorting and packing to unpacking. If you opt to do it yourself, make it a family activity. On the upside, you’ll spend quality time with your senior while helping him or her settle in a new space.

Sources: The New York Times, National Association of Senior Move Managers, Judith Moves You, Paper Moon Moves., Wall Street Journal

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