Most of us have moved homes at some point in our lives, and regardless of the reason, many could agree—it’s a frantic process. You’re often asking yourself, “Where do I start?” as you begin the process of helping an older adult pack up a lifetime of memories. And while moving can involve a lot of physical labor, many emotions can also resurface when you sort through household items—making it a vulnerable moment for both you and your loved one.
For both caregivers and seniors, the change can be drastic, especially if the move isn’t voluntary or something your loved one wanted. To help make the organizing process as simple as possible for caregivers and also provide solutions on how to motivate and support your loved one during this difficult period, consider these top five tips and tricks to help save time and clutter:
1. Set aside family heirlooms to pass down early on
Whether it’s your senior’s fine jewelry or vintage photographs, your loved one may have a collection of items they want to pass down to generations of family. Gathering and sorting through these heirlooms in the middle of your older adult’s move can be a convenient way to get rid of extra items.
Start by helping your senior box up all items they want to pass down, and designate a special place in the house for them. After you’ve finished collecting everything, start labeling each item by family member’s name with a sticky note or sticker. This can be a great way to organize bulky objects such as furniture and appliances that may be too big to pack. Mentioning family members’ names and maintaining a positive tone about the items being passed down can be a great way to comfort your loved one about the moving process as well.
2. Set small deadlines
When helping your older adult move out of their home, it’s not always possible to follow a fluid plan, given that you’ll probably accomplish more on certain days. However, creating deadlines to meet with your senior can help create routine and structure. Rather than focusing on big spaces to clean throughout the household, motivate your older adult to start small by cleaning out drawers or rooms in the house that aren’t as significant.
It’s also a good idea to set timers on your phone to remind everyone to take breaks! Studies show that taking little breaks in between long periods of work can help increase productivity and reduce stress levels, so make sure you and your loved one are taking the time to rest and nourish your bodies with good food for fuel as well! Try and remind yourself to take the moving process at a smooth, comfortable pace, and recognize your deadlines may not always match up with your loved one’s.
3. Create a photo book
Downsizing homes doesn’t mean your senior has to completely trash all things special to them! Kathleen Miller, a professional organizer at Acorn and Oak, said sorting through sentimental items and creating personalized photo books can be a simple way to clear some clutter while also keeping ahold of your senior loved one’s cherished memories.
She said she recommends websites like Shutterfly or Mixbook, which allow you to scan letters, photos and even cards to create a personal photo book! These books are small and compact, making them a great option when downsizing homes. Your older adult can customize them to fit a style they love and can organize each book into different categories, such as years, events or specific people in their life.
4. Have compassion
It can be easy to beat yourself up when feeling pressured or overwhelmed. Miller said remembering to have compassion for your senior loved one and yourself are crucial to making the moving process successful.
“The stress level multiplies exponentially when someone is moving from their home to an assisted or even independent living facility—especially when that move is not a voluntary one,” she said. “Validating feelings is an important part of the process.”
She said there are three different types of attachment important to detect during the transition:
- Sentimental attachment: Think about your favorite stuffed animal from when you were little or a card that one of your parents wrote you: It probably held a lot of significant value to you as you got older! This can be referred to as a form of sentimental attachment and these items tend to hold the most emotional value to someone.
- Guilt attachment: This kind of attachment may involve feelings of pressure to hold onto an item because it was gifted or passed down by a family member or friend. Miller said you can typically pick up on this when there is a “should” involved, like “I should keep this because my father gave it to me before he passed away.”
- Perceived-potential-need attachment: These can be items that really hold a “what if” potential. This form of attachment may be difficult for caregivers to understand or empathize with, especially when you’re in a time crunch. Although you may perceive certain belongings as disposable, your senior might see a possible future use for it.
It’s important to note that even if strong emotions rise during the organizing process, remember that these feelings are healthy. You can even try encouraging your loved one to open up about their worries in the moment! Once you both feel ready, create three separate piles based on these different attachments.
“Identifying which items are truly sentimental and which items fall into the other categories is a great place to start the process of deciding what stays,” Miller said.
5. Organize items around a daily routine
Once your older adult has moved into their new home, feelings of uneasiness and anxiety may arise as they adapt to their new space. Before trying to organize, talk with your senior loved one and figure out their daily flow. Ask them what items they usually grab in certain events, such as leaving the house to go for a walk or prepping for their morning skincare routine. This can be a more realistic approach to organizing, rather than just coming up with categories to store your senior’s belongings. It’s also important to store items in spots that are accessible and easy to reach.
While the downsizing process is never simple, it doesn’t have to feel impossible for your older loved one! If you’re looking for more resources on organizing, check out The Organized Home. This website breaks down each article by room and even the type of furniture piece you’re using to store your items in.