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Life Event Series: Sorting Through Belongings While Moving a Loved One Into a Retirement Home

When an elderly loved one is no longer suited to live independently, coming to an agreement about that fact can be anything from a pleasantly painless conversation to a frustrating, long-fought battle. After all, it’s not always easy to accept help—especially when it involves a permanent lifestyle change.

Therefore, helping a friend or family member transition to a retirement home or assisted living facility is no typical move; it can require years of both physical and emotional preparation from all parties involved. With so much to talk and think about, Storage Express is happy to offer tips for every step of the process—whether you’re gearing up for the “big talk” with your aging parents or needing storage during the moving and downsizing process.

Talking to Your Loved One About a Retirement Home

For some families or caretakers, simply suggesting this new living situation can be the most daunting and difficult part of the process. A loved one whose memory, physical health, or mental health is deteriorating might be stubborn about leaving the home to which they’ve become so accustomed and don’t appreciate being pushed into a big change. In the worst-case scenarios, it might require a rude awakening––such as an injury or a health scare––for elderly individuals to finally recognize a need for increased care and supervision.

“What I tell adult children is that, unfortunately, sometimes things have to get worse to get better,” says Barry Jacobs, PsyD, a psychologist experienced in counseling people through these situations. “It may take the parent falling or being spooked by burglars or having the electricity turned off because he forgot to pay the bills for the realization to dawn…Even then, it may take the strong urgings of health care providers and extended family members for the parent to accept the inevitable.”

To avoid any surprises or accidents down the road, know that it’s never too early to talk about it. Open communication and planning are key to ensuring minimal conflict when the time comes to discuss assisted living options.

Keep Other Family Members in the Loop

The last thing you want throughout an already-stressful process is conflict or tension among family members. If you have siblings––or other parties of equal involvement with making this decision—get together early on and make sure you’re on the same page about how to approach your family member. Working in harmony and solidifying an action plan (if your loved one might need some convincing) will set the tone for the conversation.

Browse Options and Visit Facilities Together

Continue the pattern of thorough communication by making sure your elderly family member doesn’t feel left out of the decision process. Even though it can be tempting or seem easier to take the reins, as a caretaker, it isn’t about what you feel is best but rather what arrangement will provide the highest quality of care and comfort.

Loop them into the research process right away, and discover the characteristics that are important to them: Are they seeking the most autonomy possible? Then an independent living facility might be the best route (within reason, of course, taking into account any health or safety concerns). Is being part of a community a must-have? Make sure to visit a handful of retirement homes to help them get a feel for the staff and residents.

Plan a Family Decluttering Session

Anyone who has undergone a move knows that sorting through and trying to condense all your belongings is daunting, exhausting, and sometimes emotional. Quite literally, memories will resurface from where they’ve been hiding in the depths of your closets, and you’re forced to revisit them.

That stress is only multiplied for an elderly individual tasked with combing through an entire lifetime’s worth of belongings. When the time comes to start packing things up, make it as painless as possible by setting a date or weekend for a group decluttering get-together with friends and family––who says a sentimental sorting session can’t double as quality bonding time? What might be an otherwise dismal, tedious chore can just as easily turn into a day full of fond reminiscing.

Sorting Through a Lifetime of Belongings

However hard you may try to set up the process up for success, the reality is that your family member will likely still face some resistance. The thought of letting go of items collected throughout one’s life can be wrenching, even becoming a rebuttal as to why they’re not ready to move yet.

Think Proactively

Although it’s bleak to think about, family members who have reached old age won’t be around forever. Wouldn’t you rather have at least begun the decluttering and packing process than be faced with the task after they pass away? Help determine in advance plans like selling the home, who will inherit certain possessions, and where any remaining items will be kept.

Forming a small support team of friends and family when you start going through everything is a great way to not only share the labor but also lighten the mood. Don’t let yourself become unfeeling or robotic; acknowledge the emotional attachment to your loved one has to their personal possessions and memories. If it’s your childhood home or somewhere you spent a lot of time, open up about your own emotions, too.

Think in Terms of Categories

Spoiler alert: You’re not going to want to sort through the entire house in a single day. Take on one room at a time, dividing all the items into boxes or piles designating their destinies, such as:

  • Keep
  • Store Away
  • Donate/Sell
  • Throw Away

Because this process will turn into a significant purge of clutter for some, the Mari Kondo Method may help encourage your family member to critically ponder the importance of each item by asking, “Does this spark joy?” Unless there’s an obvious or practical use that renders the question irrelevant, it’s time to say goodbye.

Think About Storage Space

However, emotional attachment to meaningful belongings can run deep, and you never know when certain things will be of use or value to someone else in the future. That’s why self storage space is a go-to solution for housing the excess for as long as you need it—which can bring a huge sigh of relief when downsizing becomes a reality. A storage unit that’s move-in ready before the stress of moving day offers a useful overflow space to clear the way for a smooth moving experience.

Packing, Moving, and Downsizing for the New Space

Before you get to packing, evaluate any needed repairs to the house if it is being sold to someone outside of the family. It’s better to take care of maintenance issues all at once rather than when it’s up for sale.

Additionally, it’s wise to visit the assisted care residence before move-in day and even scope out your family member’s room, if possible. Find out from the administrator or director what kind of furniture and other items will be provided, and ask if they can provide a list of suggested and/or prohibited items.

The transition will start feeling the most real when you move from decluttering to packing everything up for good. Keep these few packing tips in mind as you begin:

  • Label boxes by which room they will be placed in the new home.
  • Pack and label boxes to open and unload first.
  • Prepare a box or container of items that might be needed during the move (e.g., medications or paperwork).

Although downsizing is the ultimate goal, that doesn’t mean your loved one should neglect small prized possessions. Incorporating sentimental or decorative items into the new space goes a long way in making it feel like home.

When it’s time to make the move, you’ll obviously need to have transportation plans lined up in advance. However, it can be tricky to decide which route works best for your budget and time restraints. Opting for a full-service mover will provide maximum convenience but could also max out your budget limits. In comparison, self-service or do-it-yourself options are more affordable for long-distance moves, so factors like the distance to your destination, the size of the truck needed, and the bandwidth of your elderly family member’s moving crew will best inform your final decision.

Lastly, assisted living communities often have staff members who can help with moving furniture and other heavy items––but double-check their capability to assist. Know how many floors you’ll need to ascend to the new residence, and evaluate the capacity of elevator access.

Helping Your Loved One Settle in Smoothly

You might find that it alleviates stress on both you and your loved one if another friend or family member takes them out for a relaxing day until everything gets moved in. To take it a step further, consider getting items unpacked, arranged, and decorated so they can return to an inviting, homey new place. Make sure that all furniture and other items are arranged with accessibility and safety in mind, eliminating potential falling hazards.

Of course, the ease with which someone adjusts to a new environment and lifestyle depends on their personality. Some will have no problem immersing themselves in the community, making quick friends with nurses and residents. Others are more prone to feelings of loneliness, isolation, or even resentment for their situation.

Help your loved one set up their new space in the way that’s most comfortable, and make a point to express excitement for them and how the new place is coming together. Then, allow them the time and space to get adjusted, but continue to check in often after the move. Encouraging them to stay busy, get acquainted with fellow residents, and ask for advice on making the transition will make a big difference. They may also find comfort in staying connected with old friends or spiritual advisors, with whom they can visit and stay connected outside of the new residence.

Storage Express: Giving You Space for Success at Every Step

During any move into a new home, you can find yourself at a loss when it comes to adequate storage space. This is especially true for seniors relocating to a retirement care facility––or for anyone downsizing for a new home. If you’re having a hard time letting go of or finding room for belongings you hold near and dear, Storage Express is always happy to hold onto them for you. In fact, it’s what we do best.

Come to a compromise with your family member who can’t bear to give away that prized collection of classic novels: Rent a storage unit today! From a variety of unit sizes and climate-controlled options to our 24-hour call center to answer questions you have along the way, we prioritize helping you find the best self storage solution.