How to help parents downsize

Helping a parent to downsize from the family home can be an emotion-charged experience. Guest blogger and Psychologist Ellen Jackson shares four tips to help make the process easier.

Happy couple on front porch

When Sue’s dad died she and her sisters knew that their mum would struggle to maintain the family home on her own. She suffered with arthritis and needed help to get around. Their parents had bought the house 45 years ago as a family home for five. It was too big for one woman in her late seventies. She needed something smaller, with a compact garden and people close by who could assist her quickly if she needed it.

Sue and her sisters had a place in mind. Her mum had seen it and had agreed to downsize, reluctantly. Now the time had arrived to organise the move. Sue’s mum was struggling. It was all too much, she kept saying. The packing. The moving. Leaving her home filled with memories. She was sad and angry. She knew it was the right decision but still she did not want to go.

Meanwhile Sue and her sisters faced the daunting task of sorting through possessions, packing, cleaning, paperwork, and finances. There were so many decisions, such a long list of tasks. They were juggling their mum’s move and emotions with their own feelings, jobs and families. It was exhausting.

Managing emotions when it comes to change

Helping a parent to downsize from the family home is an emotion-charged experience. There is the practical element of moving which is exhausting in itself. Then there are the many mixed emotions that we feel when we transition from one life to another.

How do you make the process easier on everyone? How does Sue help her mum, herself and her siblings as they leave one life behind and embark on a new one?

These four tips will help.

1. Acknowledge feelings and take it slowly

We experience many transitions in life, from starting school to marriage, to moving house, to loss. A major change in your living arrangements comes with big emotions, both positive and negative. Often, when we’ve got a lot on our plates we try to push emotions aside. We box them up with other belongings, putting them away while we get on with practical tasks.

Unfortunately, ignoring or repressing emotions only slows or even halts the process of transition. If Sue’s mum is fearful of starting a new life, sad about losing the memories tied to her family home and angry about the need to move, she will benefit from talking about and sharing those emotions with her daughters and others. This will allow her to process the emotions, acknowledge what she feels she’s losing but also begin to look to a new future.

2. Prepare yourself for difficult conversations

Sue and her sisters will have some confronting conversations with their mother while they traverse this move; discussions about health, aging, safety, money and the future of treasured possessions. Emotions will run high for everyone. The important things to remember are:

  1. Talk early. It’s tempting to delay awkward conversations but if it has to be discussed it’s best to get it done early so that decisions can be made and everyone can move forward.
  2. Timing is everything. Pick a time with few distractions so that you can give the conversation your undivided attention.
  3. Share your concerns and desire to help. Acknowledge that this is a difficult process for your parent and that you are there to provide support, not take control.
  4. Ask questions. Explore your parent’s goals and hopes for the future. What’s important to Sue’s mum at this time? What most worries her? What does she want from her new home and lifestyle? Focusing on the future helps to make the transition easier.

3. Get assistance 

If Sue, her mum and sisters are finding the task of sorting through belongings, organising a move and downsizing too great or emotionally overwhelming there are options. They might look to trusted friends or extended family who are not as emotionally invested to undertake specific tasks. Perhaps they have a friend or relative who is an excellent cleaner and another who can help to sort through and advise on books and paperwork? Seeking help from experts such as Senior Move Managers can also lessen the load.

4. Look after yourself

It is natural for Sue and her sisters to focus on their mother’s feelings and concerns during this process but it’s important that they don’t neglect their own. They may grieve the loss of a family home and its many memories. They have the additional burden of helping their mum on top of an already busy life. There may be disagreements and conflicting views on how decisions should be handled. All of this will be stressful. If you’re facing the same situation, make sure you look after your own wellbeing. Check on your expectations of yourself. Are they too great? Check on your emotions. Are you feeling sad, angry, frustrated, distressed? Do you have others you can turn to right now? If need be, take time out, make sure you maintain your usual sleep, diet and exercise routine and seek professional counselling if need be.

Sue, her mum and her sisters successfully traversed this big move. They took their time, sought assistance and dealt with emotions and difficult discussions with love and care. Sue’s mum is enjoying her new home, has made friends with her neighbours and is looking forward to this next phase of her life. There is no denying that downsizing was a challenge for everyone but like all of life’s transitions, everyone has grown from the experience and you will too.

Guest blogger Ellen Jackson from Potential Psychology is a psychologist and specialist in fulfilling your potential. She writes online about human behaviour and why we do what we do. When she’s not at the laptop she’s talking to people at work about great people management and how to be resilient.

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