Advice Assisted Living

How Can We Convince My Parents to Downsize Their Living Environment?

Nurse and man reading documents

Dear Benchmark,

My parents have lived in their home for 47 years. It is a very large house, and much of the space is rarely used anymore. While it is all neatly arranged, every room, closet and drawer is packed full of “stuff.”

Over the past year, both of my parents have had serious medical issues. Neither of them can safely navigate the stairs to the second floor or to the basement where the laundry room is located any longer.

My brother and I have been trying to convince them to downsize for years. But they always say they can’t fit everything they have in to a senior living community or even a condo. I believe the real issue is that they are afraid moving will somehow require them to give up their independence.

Now that they are both having health struggles, I think it is time to get serious about de-cluttering and clearing out their old house.

Do you have any advice that might help us figure out how to get started?



The Struggle to Help an Aging Loved One Downsize

Dear Donna:

We hear similar scenarios from adult children almost every week! What seems like an obvious transition to a smaller living environment to you is probably viewed as a reluctant next chapter in life by your parents.

Since your parents aren’t able to access two full floors of their home, they are already living in a much smaller space than they realize. But is important to let your parents come to this conclusion on their own. And spring may be a good time of year to tackle this. You may be able to suggest to your parents that you and your brother want to help them with spring cleaning in the rooms they aren’t able to access.

Here is some advice I think may help you get started.

Perhaps a good way to begin is to ask your parents if they would allow you and your brother to box things up in the rooms they can’t get to and bring everything downstairs for them to sort. As you help them work their way through the boxes, cleaning out each room as you go, your parents might begin to see how few things they really use or need.  And how little space they require.

Then it might be easier to sit down and have an honest conversation with your parents about their situation. If you are correct in assuming they are fearful of losing their independence, you may be able to help them see the shortcomings in their current living environment.

For example, since you mentioned their laundry room is in the basement and neither of them can manage stairs, who is doing their laundry for them? How are the rooms on the upper and lower floors of the home being cleaned and maintained? Would they know if a window was broken or if there was a leak in plumbing?  A move to a single story home, such as a condominium or a senior living apartment or villa, can put your parents back in control of their environment.

Other families have found it helps to tackle the issue from a financial perspective. Even if your parents’ mortgage is paid, maintaining a large home can take a big bite out of a senior’s budget. All that wasted space in their home translates to higher utility bills, more money in taxes, a bigger property insurance bill and more maintenance expenses.

If they are paying someone to help with laundry, grocery shopping and housekeeping, those bills can quickly add up. Downsizing to a senior living community frees older adults from the burdens of home ownership.

My final tip is to move forward on your parents’ timeline. While it might be slower than the pace you would like to set, it is important for them to feel as if they are still in control of their lives.

Assisted Living
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