The moment you realise you need to downsize is daunting and upsetting for anyone, especially if you have lived in the same property for many many years. For some, downsizing is an exciting prospect to de-clutter, but for many it can be emotionally fraught, overwhelming and practically challenging.
To make life a little easier our partners at Leaders have come up with some top tips that may make downsizing a little easier if you are helping your elderly parents to do this.
An organised approach
First thing to say is it can help to approach downsizing by room and then by category: Kitchen, Lounge, Bedrooms etc, and then by clothing, dishes, cookware, furniture, books, knickknacks, pictures, linens, etc. Assess your parents needs and take a good look at what is used, regularly worn, read and that they want to keep. Some people want to keep everything and really struggle to let things go. Others want to get rid of almost everything, but they are in the minority.
Hopefully you should be somewhere in the middle!
1. Start planning the move as soon as you can
Downsizing is not easy, particularly if it has been the family home for years. What goes to the new place is key to emotional happiness and so if you can help them get started on this as soon as possible it will make life easier. Our advice is to look at each room and get your parent(s) to tackle this mentally before physically going through the items one by one.
It can be hard enough to think about the next 6 months and everything that is changing. Whilst your parent(s) might find it hard, you need to think much longer term as you don’t want to have to repeat the move in another 12 months’ time. Consider potential long-term health and care needs; level access, walk-in showers, proximity to shops, GP, public transport etc. If you can bear to, think about the worst-case scenario – whatever that might be for your family – and work backwards from there – which could be single level living and full disability access.
Keeping the lawn mower because it’s only 2 years old or 3 electric fans just in case the heating breaks down is not a practical solution for downsizing. Also taking old electrical equipment into a Care Home will possibly cause a problem as many electrical items will need to be PAT tested to ensure they are safe. Consider the age of your electrical items and if in doubt, try and dispose of responsibly.
4.Plan what will go where in the new home
Aiming to re-create a home from home is a great idea and will be less traumatic for your parent who isn’t looking forward to the upheaval and the change. However what goes/comes with them is really difficult both practically and emotionally. Just remember less is definitely more. You don’t want to be doing another cull once you arrive at the new home or find that you have too much furniture or that it is all too big.
We also recommend clearing out everything that you don’t want first so that you can see what you are moving with. Our tip is to put a brightly coloured label, or Post It Note on every box that IS going to the new home and for the house clearance people to ignore anything that is not labelled up.
5.Keep things in the family
Something that will keep your relative’s mood bright is if they know some of their treasured furniture and pictures that can’t go to their new home, will be shared amongst other family members. This lessens the wrench of letting a lifetime’s worth of treasured belongings go to the tip. When they know it will remain in the family and be put to good use, it gives them a better sense of well-being and positivity. It’s also nice to be the recipient of these items too.
6.Choose a charity
Before you even start with the removal of furniture and other items, look up local charities in the area who accept house clearance furniture. Check in with them to find out what they will, and will not take. The Martlets in Brighton and Hove for example will take all sorts of furniture, as will Age UK, The British Heart Foundation, Emmaus and Magpie Recycling.
For items that charities won’t take, and that you are not taking with you there is a plethora of house clearance organisations in Sussex.
There are removal companies which specialise in moving older people. We recommend that you are available on the day of moving for practical and emotional support. However, if this is not possible the removal company can do everything – from packing everything at the old house – to helping your parent(s) unpack boxes in the new house.
In severe cases of anxiety, it might be better if you take your parents away from the activity completely and take them to their new home when it is all in place and everything (such as the TV and phone) are plugged in and working. If you can fill the fridge with some lovely food and drink, this will be a nice surprise too.
8.Don’t under-estimate …
Don’t under-estimate the emotional trauma such a move brings. Some may feel incredibly liberated and have a completely new lease of life in a smaller, easier to maintain home! Others may not. Find allies and support amongst siblings, aunts, uncles, friends of your parents, anyone who can help them to make the really hard decisions.
Remember that it will take some time to adjust life to fit a new home.
Finally, some Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t keep clothes that don’t fit
- Don’t keep clothes that don’t get worn
- Don’t keep things just because they were a gift or inherited – if they are not used, liked or wanted – get rid – or re-gift!
- Don’t keep things that are broken that you have never fixed even though you think you might do this “some day.” If that is true, make “someday” “today” or kiss it goodbye
- Don’t forget to let the GP about the move
- Do think about all of the positive things downsizing will bring
- Do consider some storage if you are unsure about larger items
- Do hire a skip if you think there are a lot of items that are not worth recycling
- Do put rubbish in black bags and items to keep in coloured bags
- Do let the neighbours know about the move and the new address
We hope that these tips on helping elderly parents downsize benefits you and all the family.
Leaders is one of the UK’s largest residential property groups with over 120 branches across the UK specialising in lettings, sales, buy-to-let and investment finance. Established in Sussex in 1983, Leaders is known for its financial probity and rigorous standards. Membership of ARLA, SAFEagent and The Property Ombudsman gives customers complete peace of mind. To talk to us about how we can help don’t hesitate to contact your local branch or visit leaders.co.uk for information on our services.
Do you have experience of helping elderly relatives or friends downsize? What are your top tips? Share your experience or see others’ advice in our Age Space Forum.