Most people want to “age in place,” or stay right where they are. The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) revealed that 89% of people 50 years and older prefer to remain in their homes indefinitely. I remember that my mother wanted to stay in her home.
But what happens when it is not safe anymore for a loved one to be alone at home? What then? For purposes of this article, let’s assume that in-home care will not solve the issues, and Mom is willing and able to move to an apartment in an assisted living (AL) community. What are we going to do with all her stuff? How are we going to move Mom without causing harm or undue stress? Is this even possible? These are questions faced every day by scores of elderly and their adult children, often referred to as the “Sandwich Generation.”
One solution is to approach the move as if it is temporary. Not a final, end-of-life-as-you-know-it move, but as if taking a trip or vacation. I am NOT suggesting that we trick or lie to our loved one; rather, that we reframe the move in simple terms of packing for a trip. A move to AL can be a respite from the responsibilities of taking care of a private residence.
How does one pack for a vacation? We pack essential items, things that provide comfort such as clothing, toiletries and medication. What other items does a person need to be comfortable? Here’s a short list to get you started:
- Reading materials
- Laptop, TV, phone
- Writing materials
- Portable projects (e.g. crosswords, knitting)
- Special blanket or pillow
- Framed photographs of loved ones
- Bed, favorite chair
- Favorite coffee or tea cup
Easily three quarters of the items in the homes of our elders are no longer relevant to life as they are living today. China, crystal, fancy clothes and shelves of photo albums will not be missed at assisted living homes. In reality, most of these items have not been needed or enjoyed in recent years. It’s shocking, I know, but today we are facing facts.
It makes the move less overwhelming for both the senior needing to move and those helping to facilitate it. Fewer decisions need to be made, and only items of essence are packed and moved. To know what a person needs to pack will mean being observant and asking questions. Plenty of communication will need to happen between you and your loved one. In cases where family is not available to help, a Certified Professional Organizer® can fill the role with kindness and compassion while getting things accomplished in a timely and professional manner.
Once my mom moved, her home became less and less important to her. She began to develop a life around the staff and other residents at her AL community. It’s true; the old residence sat for a time as a storage closet of sorts. It certainly costs less to do so as compared to renting storage space. We also “put off” taking care of business at Mom’s (and ultimately, at our own) expense. Her home had low carrying costs, giving us the precious ability to spend time with Mom instead of working on clearing her home.
We started clearing out the home six months after Mom’s passing, which was five years after she’d moved to AL. My sister and I took our time, and clearing out the family home became therapeutic. Throughout the process, we treated ourselves to good lunches, talked, laughed and cried. Overall, we knew it was the best and right decision for our family to initially move her out of the home as if for a short respite, as if she were going on vacation.