All the pictures, collectibles and decorative elements of a home tell the story of the people residing within its walls. Our homes, in many cases, reflect our identities.
And yet our homes should also meet our needs for a quality life. And as we age, our needs change, and sometimes our homes can’t meet them as effectively.
To remedy this, many older adults move to smaller living spaces, assisted living communities or skilled-nursing settings.
Often family caregivers find themselves at the helm of the housing transition, looking at listings and touring senior living communities in search of the next place their loved ones will call home.
Once those details are squared away, the focus shift s to the former home and all the memories it holds — and the possessions tied to them.
Preparing a home for sale comes with a seemingly endless list of duties, including making repairs, sprucing up fixtures and cleaning carpets.
Amid these tasks, there’s also the need to pack up belongings. And when older adults are downsizing, that means not everything has a place in the new home. Letting go of possessions is hard, and caregivers can play a vital role in helping older adults navigate the process.
Time often isn’t a luxury caregivers and families have in times of emergencies, but experts say those who do have ample time should start planning a move as far out as possible.
The Family Caregiver Alliance recommends planning housing transitions six months to a year out. As part of that process, caregivers and loved ones can start taking small steps to let go of possessions. Decluttering a home takes time and is easier to do in small doses rather than a whirlwind weekend of cleaning and sorting.
Patience is key as loved ones sort possessions and determine what they want to keep, donate or discard. Instead of pushing loved ones to fill up trash bags and donation boxes, caregivers should give them time to reminisce and talk about the memories some objects may stir.
Professional organizers also caution that rushing a loved one to part with items can create resistance and an air of mistrust, which can add more stress to an already diffi cult process. Sometimes, if a loved one doesn’t think a caregiver understands how meaningful some items are, he or she may feel the caregiver doesn’t have his or her best interests at heart. For many people, belongings acquired over the course of a lifetime can’t be shed in one day, so taking time to let go can keep a decluttering process running smoothly.
Preserving the past
The reality is that no matter how dear the memory, not every belonging can accompany an older adult when moving to a smaller space.
Boxes, bags and labels are the usual tools used to tackle clutter, but a camera can also play an important role in the process. Taking pictures of treasured collectibles helps preserve their memory, but in a form that takes up less space when printed — or even zero physical space if stored digitally.
Decluttering can be exhausting for caregivers and their loved ones, but honoring the past during the process will help older adults refl ect on the lives they’ve lived and ease them into the next part of their journey.
DOWNSIZING A HOME: A CHECKLIST FOR CAREGIVERS
Not sure where to begin? Find your way with this detailed guide.
PREPARE TO CARE
This 30-page AARP guide helps families plan ahead for managing an older adult’s care, including checklists for housing needs, important documents and more.
A CAREGIVER’S GUIDE TO SPOTTING CLUTTER CREEP
Learn what to look for when it comes to unsafe clutter.
Brandi Jewett is a writing specialist with Lyngblomsten, a Christian nonprofit organization that provides health care, housing and community resources to older adults in the Twin Cities. Lyngblomsten is a member of the Metropolitan Caregiver Service Collaborative.