Downsizing for parents when they move into assisted living

What a whirlwind the last nine days have been.

My parents looked at an assisted living facility last Monday, signed a lease on an apartment there on Friday, and moved in on Sunday.

Here’s a typical conversation from last weekend, when we were packing for their move:

Me (holding a dozen or so knives in a container): “Mom, which knives do you prefer?”

Mom: “Why?”

Me: “Because there’s not room for all of them.”

Mom: “That’s what you’ve been saying all day. I don’t want to give the others away.”

And so it went. On the train ride back to Chicago on Sunday, I decided that offering choices was a mistake. Executive decisions would have been easier and more efficient. Mom would probably miss very little that was not packed, especially for the kitchen because they will have three meals a day in the community dining room.

Since Dad is 99 and Mom 92, my sister Nancy was already planning to make a case for assisted living when Mom fell and broke three bones in her left arm in early July. She had surgery, was hospitalized, and spent 23 days in a rehabilitation center. About a week before she was to go home, her internist advised her and Dad not to live alone anymore. Get a live-in or move into assisted living, he said. Nancy had her ammunition.

Even a temporary live-in was unacceptable to them, so we acted quickly about assisted living. Luckily, an apartment was available in a place within walking distance of my brother Rick’s house. He could drop in on them daily and wouldn’t have to drive 10 miles, as he’s been doing, when they need something.

With assisted living, they shouldn’t need much. Meals, housecleaning, laundry, medication reminders, and nurses’ checks and personal assistance are provided. Group activities are scheduled every day. A shuttle transports residents to shops and medical appointments, although Dad is going to keep his car as long as he passes his annual driving test.

Sounds ideal, except for the downsizing required. They moved from a 1,500-square-foot condo, with a two-car garage where the car hardly fit in between everything they have stored, into a 700-square-foot apartment with no storage except two linear closets.

This was their second move. The first one about 14 years ago, from the house we grew up in, was easier on us because Mom and Dad were younger and able to sort through things themselves, and because the packing was hired out.

Last weekend my sister Pat was asking Mom what she wants to keep from about 20 feet of hanging clothes, while I made three piles of hardcover books that reached two-thirds of the way up a wall — cookbooks and volumes of household hints and health advice. The books and clothes, along with oodles of cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and kitchen gadgets, were bought from Home Shopping Network, QVC, and their ilk when watching those TV programs was Mom’s favorite pastime.

There’s so much to sort through that it will probably take us months to clean out the condo. I’ve cursed home shopping several times lately even though I realize that moaning about the burden on us is selfish. The important thing is that Mom and Dad adjust to their new situation and like it. But I won’t deny feeling overwhelmed.

I’m thinking of tips for how we all can make it easier on whoever will have to dispose of our possessions. Dostadning, or death cleaning — the Swedish art of decluttering — was popularized a few years ago. It means cleaning house before you die instead of leaving it to your survivors.

• Pare down while you’re still young enough to have the energy for it.

• Go through everything — the boxes you shoved in storage areas and attics, the items pushed into the back of upper shelves, etc. Done gradually, the task is less onerous.

• Once you’ve finished, stop bringing more in unless you really need it. Then follow the rule that if something new comes in, something old goes out.

• Instead of hanging on to things because someone might use them someday, ask the someones you have in mind whether they might want them. If so, and you don’t need the items, pass them on now.

• Store things separately that give you pleasure but that no one else is likely to want. Give them an appropriate label indicating they can be discarded without sorting.

• Take photos of items that have sentimental value but are of no use anymore. Give the items away.

• Digitize papers and old photos.

Have I followed all of this advice? Of course not. But now that I’m experiencing what it’s like to be on the cleaning-out end, I may be more motivated to try.

 

*****

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Filed under: Life lessons, Retirement

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