6 Steps to Organizing Your Parent's Move (Without Getting Disowned)

6 Steps to Organizing Your Parent's Move (Without Getting Disowned)
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Step 1: Get the whole family on board

Moving an older relative from his family home to a new -- and usually smaller -- residence is labor intensive for you and emotionally disruptive for him. Tempting though it may be, it's not a good idea to "surprise" a family member by sorting through his stuff when he's not around. If you try to make an executive decision about his belongings, chances are, you're headed for a run-in with him or others in your family.

To help prevent emotional flare-ups and ensure a smooth process, schedule a meeting with the whole family, if possible, to discuss the plan of attack well ahead of the move-out date. (If you can't get together, do it by phone.) Hash out some guidelines: Under what circumstances will you call each other on "keep or discard" decisions? When will you consult the person who's moving? What key possessions would you and your other family members like to keep in the family?

Encourage the person who's moving to actively participate in decisions. For example, adult children often want to throw away old furniture and buy newer, more attractive pieces for their parent's new home. But the parent should be able to pick what comes with him, says Dollar. "Let them take their own furniture if they want to -- they know what will make them most comfortable in their new home, and sentimental value often counts for more than aesthetics."

Step 2: Work slowly when packing up -- think months, not days

Your relative's home is more than just a roof over his head: It's the place where he feels most comfortable, a museum of his memories and life stories.

SEE ALSO: Find Assisted Living Near You

Complicating matters, if he lived through the lean Depression years, chances are he's spent a lifetime saving and collecting. Decades of squirreling away can add up to a house that's packed floorboard to rafter with stuff. As you begin organizing for a move, keep in mind that seemingly worthless belongings may have huge sentimental value for him, and he'll need time to sort through his things on his own terms. Try to resist the urge to execute the move as quickly as possible.

"It really needs to be a three- to four-month process. You need to give an older adult time to go through the love letters, the report cards, and the photographs from the Grand Canyon," says Jacqueline Dollar, a geriatric care manager in Des Moines, Iowa. "It's a wonderful chance to go back and reaffirm the full, productive life that he's had."

Step 3: Get real about the size of your older relative's new place

"In almost every case I've been involved with, people take more stuff than will fit in their new space," says Gayle Grace, a moving coordinator in Oakland, California. "Many times I've been called back in to help do more weeding out after the move."

Avoid this situation by first getting a sense of how much square footage and storage your relative will have in his new home. What he can keep will depend on how much room you have to work with. Getting realistic about space constraints up front -- even sitting down with him to sketch out what can go where -- will help force some of the harder decisions about what to get rid of.

SEE ALSO: Find Assisted Living Near You

Step 4: Work room by room when organizing the move

Take on one room -- even one drawer -- at a time. Evaluate the items one by one and sort them into piles located in separate rooms in your relative's house: one for items to move to his new home, one for those you and other family members might be interested in keeping, one for those to keep in storage, one for those to donate, one for those to sell, and one for those to throw away.

If your thrifty relative is uneasy about tossing anything, donation may be the way to go. Many organizations will arrange a pickup at his home; check your local charities (salvationarmyusa.org, redcross.org, goodwill.org) for pickup policies. Tip: Be sure to get a receipt so he can deduct the value of the donation on his next tax return.

Furniture and belongings that will go with your relative to his new home should be labeled with their specific new location (living room, kitchen, bedroom) and mapped out on a floor plan of the new home so that the movers know exactly where each item goes.

Step 5: Accept your relative's choices about what to keep

"It can be difficult for a child to understand why her father wants to take a bowling ball with him when he's not in any condition to bowl again," says Dollar. "But clearly that bowling ball means something to him, and he should be able to take it with him."

Obviously, you'll have to make some hard choices about what will and won't fit into his new home. If he insists upon keeping more than will fit, you can try to find storage in another relative's home to ease your his anxiety. However, there are limits. "If your mother wants to keep her antique spoon collection, she may have to relent on other nonessential items," says gerontologist and home sale expert Cathie Ramey of Walnut Creek, California.

When push comes to shove and your relative is still unwilling to get rid of something, it can help to suggest an alternate route. Taking a photo of the item, keeping a few pieces of a large collection, or finding a good home for a beloved chessboard are some ways to do this. No one wants to see their belongings tossed into a dumpster.

The bottom line is that you'll need to be patient with your family member and allow him to adjust to the changes. If the tension between you has stalled the project, consider calling in a professional to assist you. Professional move managers specialize in assisting older adults and their families with the emotional, physical, and organizational aspects of relocation. You can find a professional in your area on the National Association of Senior Move Managers website.

Step 6: When all else fails, move first and purge later

For any aging person, moving is a loss, says Dollar. "It's a loss of familiarity and personal things -- and it's really tough emotionally." If your family member is showing his anxiety by clinging to every last Tupperware lid, you may need to get him moved first and worry about purging the nonessential household items later. "After he's been in his new home for six to eight weeks and he's settled in and removed himself from the old environment, it's much easier to get rid of things."

Lisa Trottier

Lisa Trottier is a journalist whose rich background includes writing or editing on topics such as family issues, lifestyles, travel, food, and health for San Francisco magazine, Via magazine, and other publications. See full bio

11 months, said...

This has all been very helpful as I am trying to plan a move for my father from one state to another to live with me. It's hard trying to put all the pieces together and know what to do first and how to put things in perspective.

over 1 year, said...

I am a relatively recent widow - my husband died very suddenly (18 months ago) with no warning as he was not ill at all. Because I am relatively young (only 70) I am still living in our home. However, because I have several chronic lung conditions I know that my time for a senior living facility will be sooner than for others. I have also see the real trauma other elderly relatives have gone through in downsizing, and it wasn't pretty. So I am doing the downsizing now while I can make these decisions about stuff myself. I am dividing up pictures and books and mementos for my kids. I also realize that when the time comes I will still need to get rid of stuff once again. But if I can make a huge dent in the amount of my possessions, it will be easier on everyone. The attic is now basically empty, and I will just continue to whittle away at stuff. But it will be my decision for all of this.

over 1 year, said...

For the young lady with the abusive father below....I was reading this article on this site which had some good tips on talking to dad: https://www.caring.com/articles/difficult-conversations-with-seniors. Scroll down inside the article, if Dad resists and is a danger to himself, then perhaps other measures need to be taken: Total resistance means it's time for a third party (not the adult child) to try, Robbins says. "This conversation may need to be more direct," he says. "It may have to include a discussion of the risks and the possibility that if they don't voluntarily yield, say, their driver's license or residence -- there is a risk that others will take over because of the dangers involved, and then they may have less say in what comes next. They can be told it's better to work on it voluntarily with someone who loves them and only wants to help them get what they need." If the issue is critical and the person still won't make a safe choice, it may be time to get a family doctor and lawyer involved to evaluate competency and, if appropriate, activate a power of attorney or appoint a guardian who can make safe choices on the person's behalf. See How to Make Difficult Decisions When Your Loved One's Mental Capacity Is Failing here: https://www.caring.com/articles/geriatric-experts-advice-how-to-make-difficult-decisions

almost 2 years, said...

What do I do with my Dad?? He will fight it all the way. My Father is a drink and having that drink BEFORE noon is a must have. He gets so drunk he falls talks dirty to me his daughter. How can a very abusive ((,mentally) He sits on the deck for hours in the heat drinks his beer than eats naps and wAkes up depressec.. Im lost as to what to do he also has a lot of memory problems. Dementia

about 2 years, said...

Lisa, I love your point about packing way in advance and going room by room. It seems like moving your parents out of their home could be a sensitive thing to do. I would also assume that hiring a professional moving company could also help, especially if there are heavy items like furniture.

about 2 years, said...

The first thing that stood out to me in this blog post was when you talked about thinking twice before sorting through and throwing out a family member’s items when they are not around. When I am approached to help clean my mother’s house, I have definitely been a culprit of throwing things out without her approval because they did not seem important to me and I wanted to get things cleaned for her, but I will definitely think twice about this now! I also liked when you talked about thinking of the moving process long-term and not all at once, that makes the process doable with time and smaller tasks. I love the idea of taking a photo of the item a family member might not want to keep so they still have the sentimental value and are able to throw away the item. Here is my tip: I heard a great tip from Oprah for downsizing utensils. She suggested putting all your utensils in a box. As you use them, take them out of the box and put them away in your drawers. After one month, take all the utensils that are still in the box and haven’t been used, and dispose of them. What do you think? Thanks for the great tips!

over 2 years, said...

When my mom dies and I have to get rid of all the complete junk she has held onto for decades, I am going to literally HATE her for leaving me to do this alone. Trust me, your children will have enough to do with their own lives when you die. Go through your crap now and get rid of things you don't need. Don't leave them with this burden. You might think they will have fond memories of things as they go through them, but it is far more likely they are just going to throw away everything or pay someone to get rid of it for them.

over 3 years, said...

Good article. Gives me things to do and think about while preparing for the move. There will not be any arguements because Ii will already have made my decisions. I just need their help in moving.

over 3 years, said...

I am considering a move into an indendent living facility. My children WILL NOT tell me what I can and cannot move. I am of sound mind and can make my own decisions, (I'm beginning the weeding process now before I have decided on a plce to live). I am moving only because it will be more convenient for them if/when I get sick/die. They live in one stat while I live in another.

over 3 years, said...

I loved all of the content. I think the initial reaction is to move quickly. This gives me a way to plan and absolutely love the room by room approach. Thank you.

over 3 years, said...

My memories of all the things I lost in my last move HURT! BUT it was a matter of moving or not...I am now living in FL and will soon have a home in an assisted living faculty hopefully...I moved from NE Iowa to central FL.

almost 5 years, said...

I not sure what I need, a place to live a way to pay for it, and a life, I know it's not much, but I don't have the required experience to do it right. I have been down before but wish to move on to better things(I am 60) been run over last year, almost recovered but am running out of time. I have tried (ADRC) but have not followed up on it. I called but was a busy day and could not get through

about 5 years, said...

Regarding reducing your acquistions, getting fair value depends on where you are located, like CA versus Iowa, and if there is still a market for your particular item(s), AND if anyone else who collects it is willing to pay what you want. Sorry to be so negative, but I've been in the business since the 70s, and this is the worst I've ever seen it. I belong to a large antiques dealer community on the east coast, small end to upscale, and we rarely buy from individuals anymore unless WE can get a very good deal. Instead, we go to auctions for our stock,. Forget using Ebay unless you have tons of time and can take a chance on an item going too cheap. . It IS a good place to see if your particular collectible is really in demand anymore, tho. See if anyone else's Roseville or First Edition Cross Creek or whatever is getting any bids, and what it sells for. As for consignment shops, owners report most items just sit and gather dust these days because sellers price it too high, but this depends on the location, too. We do have an acquaintance who does flea markets in CA, and he often buys his stock from people who need money but don't have time or the will to sell off a lifetime collection of 1920s cookie jars or Civil War tintypes.. He offers a quick fair cash price for large collections. Some dealers will do this if there are outstanding pieces among the mediocre. Bear in mind we are all In Business, and we can't possibly give someone anywhere near market value, even at today's lousy prices. Our stock isn't turning over, and none of us feel this is going to change for at least another five to ten years. Civil War quilts I bought for $200 in 1995 are not getting $45, even the unusual ones in mint condition. I can't give away small Occupied Japan, and Depressionware sits on the shelves. If you have truly incredible pieces, like Jumeau dolls or native american trading post blankets, then seek out the big auction houses like Skinner's, and get their opinion about value. For small items, look for collector clubs or small online auctions. And please bear in mind, most buyers want a good deal, and these days, they can usually find one. Please be flexible about your "maximum price" so that everyone is happy and your acquisitions find homes where they are appreciated and enjoyed.

about 5 years, said...

As I begin to reduce my life's acquisitions, I want to know how to sell the genuinely valuable off for the maximum price. I'm not talking about sentimental value, but small things that sold for a good buck back then, and are still on the market for a good buck. How do I get a fair (not original) price for them?

over 5 years, said...

Thanks for the article, but I think three-four months is not realistic in many cases. My mom can't let go of anything. It has been an exasperating three-year ordeal to separate the sentimental from the monetary valuable from the junk, so that a move can happen to a smaller home near my sister.. My frail mom lives in an old two-story house that is unsafe for her to negotiate because of the clutter and stairs, but clings to it. My siblings and I have bad memories of the place, and have never considered it "home," therefore we are not as neutral as we should be. While respecting her feelings about 12 rooms of personal property, how the H do you get a mentally fit person to admit it's time to consider a smaller, safer place? All siblings and grandchildren live and work over an hour away, and, constantly take turns staying with her but the grands would like to spend some time with their friends and dating,. These "kids" are not selfish, and have given up a lot to make sure their Gramma is safe in her own home. As they get older and have more responsibilties of their own, I find myself getting irritated with Gramma's stalling. I will check the article you recommended for 1222, who had the same problem.