Fear is the primary emotion affecting seniors in the downsizing process: fear of relationships, fear of possessions and fear of the unknown. Fear is very real. Being aware, acknowledging, appreciating and accepting this emotion is the first step to aiding in the transition process.
Emotions run very high when a senior is getting ready to move. They are leaving the house that they have invested 30, 40 or even 50+ years. They are leaving the community and neighbors where they raised their family, played bridge once a week, depended upon one another for that missing ingredient to finish dinner and watched over each other’s children. The safe and secure environment is being left behind to be replaced with uncertainty.
Family relationships are also taxed during this time. There hundreds of questions being asked, coming from all directions and sometimes even a lack of family support. The senior asks: Why don’t you want my prized possessions? While the children are overheard saying: Why did she throw that out? I wanted it. Why did Sue get the lamp I was taking? Who gets what? What goes where? Family members often begin to fight among themselves. Each person is an individual and everyone has their own way of doing things. Road blocks are formed and the task becomes a very bumpy ride.
A house full of “stuff” can be daunting. Imagine forty years of ”items” packed into a 1400sq ft home. Every crevice full, from the attic to the crawl space and do not forget the shed and garage! There is a fear of having to rush through the packing and the possibility of tossing out treasured items. What do I do with all the stuff? How can I accomplish this on my own? Where can I get boxes? What am I taking with me? What will fit into my new space? What do I trash? Will this go to charity? Does Mary want this figurine she gave me? This is going to take forever and I don’t have the time. The house has been sold, and the possession date is coming.
Moving to a foreign location is unsettling. Tasks like figuring out where to get groceries, where to do laundry, and where to catch the bus may have been exciting in our younger years, but for many seniors it is a fearful experience. Will the neighbors be helpful? Will I still see my friends? Are the phone and TV working? They are all very real concerns.
Some seniors are unable to participate in the process due to failing health as they have either been hospitalized or relocated to a care facility. They become anxious about not being able to oversee the packing of their items. Can my family do my memories justice? Are my treasures just seen as trash to them? What will happen to my mother’s lace tablecloth? Will I be able to find the picture, painted by my granddaughter, or has it been filed in the trash? The fear of not being in control haunts many.
There is light at the end of the tunnel! Emotions of relief are dominant, once time is made available to sort through belongings. Items no longer needed are let go of and the joy of displaying prized possessions, and therefore memories, is obvious. Rooms become safer for mobility as the decluttering continues. Peace of mind comes to the senior; they are still in control.
Caregivers/adult children also feel relief as things and details are taken care of and their family member is in a safe and comforting place.
Sure, navigating the emotional journey of downsizing is difficult- it’s filled with ups and downs for both the caregiver/family and the seniors. This is in fact why some families have shown increasing interest in the services of a “third party” to guide them on the path.
Shannon Lang owns Edmonton’s Elder Move Inc. and specializes in senior’s re-locations. For more information, please call 780-668-9767, e-mail Shannon@eldermove.ca or visit www.eldermove.ca.
Whether familiar surroundings offer safety and comfort or the people they are with offer companionship and support, we all know what it is we like. Whether you are elderly and frail or a senior with lots of energy and vigor, a routine can help to give predictability and assurance to the way life unfolds. Our possessions, carefully collected and looked after through the years, can offer comfort and familiarity, too. Possessions can be a source of powerful emotional reminders that make downsizing and relocation hard to do, even though they will be going to somewhere that is comfortable and safe. For active seniors who also have activities and friends nearby, it can be almost impossible to convince them about the benefits of downsizing and moving, and so we advise that you stop trying to convince them. Provide them with information they need to make these decisions for themselves, whenever possible.
Shannon Lang, founder and owner of Elder Move Inc., often says that, “Our goal is to work with people who are able to make decisions for themselves and to do things they want to do, hopefully long before their health or circumstances forces them to be doing things like moving somewhere they aren’t going to be happy with.”
For fit, active seniors the decision to move to a new home where they have access to services they want can be pretty simple. Lots of early retirement and supportive living communities offer a range of activities that active people love, like gyms, gardens, kitchens, and woodworking. Shared lounges with game tables, big screen TVs, and themed events help people to make friends and stay in touch easily. Access to transportation, health care providers, and services like hairdressing and vision screenings are also a benefit in many places.
Preparing and planning for the move
Whether you are the one moving or you are assisting elderly parents, family members, or friends, once the decision is made it’s a good idea to start your moving preparations. There are a lot of things to coordinate if downsizing and organizing are part of the plan, and these activities can take considerable time. Lots of people struggle with the idea of parting with possessions that have sentimental feelings attached to them and so the process is a lot more involved than just putting things in boxes. Often, the new home may be smaller and unable to hold many belongings and downsizing is a must, and although they know they must eliminate a lot of things, the actual decision making and managing the feelings that come along with it can make this process a lengthy one. Additionally, if they are moving any distance, the time needed to coordinate travel becomes a consideration, too.
It’s important to be careful and thoughtful when sorting someone else’s household and personal items, even if you are doing it to help out your spouse or your own parents. Emotions can run really high when people feel forced into downsizing and they have to get rid of things they aren’t quite finished with. Often, having a senior move manager available makes this process much less tense, because where you and Dad might argue and fight about golf clubs that haven’t been used in years, Dad is thinking about his love of the game and a loss, whereas you might be thinking about the practical notion of where to store all those clubs. A qualified senior move manager can help to mediate a conversation, encourage some give and take, and help everyone come through the transition together. We certainly recommend that you consider hiring a moving and downsizing company qualified to work with seniors if there is one in your area.
One tip for helping prepare seniors for a big transition, especially if they happen to be people who collect things, is to take pictures of meaningful items so that there are always pictures for them to look back on. A photo album or a digital frame can be a great gift for them, and one that is especially appreciated at a time like this. Another tip is that while it’s sometimes possible to sell some belongings for some extra cash, an equally good idea is to donate reusable items to local charities.
Hiring a downsizing and moving company
Hiring a professional service provider is a great way to lessen the stress of downsizing, moving, and relocating. We recommend that you hire a company that specializes in moving seniors and has experience in dealing with the complexities of sorting, packing, and the emotional toll that it can also create. Fortunately, there are numerous reputable elder care and senior move companies offering full sorting, packing, and moving options.
Once you have a moving company in mind, book the initial consultation as early as possible to help ensure you have the help you want on the dates you need it, and that you know to expect throughout the process.
You don’t have to worry about moving at a particular time of year when you hire the right company. We live in a winter climate where there is snow and ice on the ground for seven or eight months of the year, and a good company doesn’t bat an eye if you have to move in bad weather. That’s simply part of the job and it’s factored into the moving plan.
It is a good idea for you to ask for help when searching for a professional senior move manager to lead a project, whether you are downsizing and staying put, or planning a relocation. Ask your friends, building managers, care providers, and realtor for referrals. You can also check with your local chamber of commerce, the better business bureau, and look for reviews online.
The right senior move manager does more than act as a relocating company for seniors. They will not only coordinate and organize belongings, but the team will also offer support along with peace of mind during hectic moments that can be part of any downsizing, relocating, and moving adventure.