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Practical Caregiving

Downsizing Mom and Dad

By Jean Donahue

Your parents probably have lived in their home for many years. They raised you and your siblings in that home. When you open the hall closet door, you see the pencil marks indicating your life in that house -- how tall you were when you were 3 years old, when you were 10. That was the year you tried to stand on your tip-toes so you could say you were an inch taller. With a quick swat on your rear-end and a laugh, your mother wouldnít let you get away with it. You laugh as you notice the initials beside your pencil mark when you were in 6th grade. That year you carved the initials of the eighth grade boy you were deeply in love with. You carved them because you were sure he would be the love of your life forever.

What a wonderful house to grow up in!

But now the time has come that you didnít want to think about  -- your parents need to move into a smaller place without stairs. They need to move from the two-story house with a basement that you love. They need to move from the house they love.

Over the years, they have accumulated so much stuff. And, you and your brothers/sisters still have things there from when you were growing up. Where do you start?

First of all, your parents need to find a place they want to move to. That will take time and planning. Do they want another home? Do they want to move into an assisted living facility? I am sure they will want and need your input and help. They need to decide what size place they want. Will they need a bathroom that will be accessible to a wheel chair? If not now, what about in the future? Can they prepare their own food or do they need someone else bring it to them? How much room do they need for extra things such as a treadmill, a sewing area or other projects? When you have a good idea what they need, help them locate a place.

During the time you and they are looking, you can start going through things in the house. To tell you the truth, this will turn out to be a much larger project than you had anticipated. It always does. Also, whether you live next door or a long distance away will determine what and how much you can do.

Probably the best way to go through things is by going through one room at a time. Start in a room used for storage rather than a room they use all the time. Make one ďpileĒ for things they want to keep, another pile for things to throw away, and another pile of things that are in good condition but they donít want to move to their new place.

As you go through things, you can put things in the trash to be picked up each week.

A decision needs to be made on what to do with the things they donít want to move. There is more than one way to dispose of these things.

1.         They can have a garage sale after everything in the house has been sorted. Many elderly people donít want to take on such a big project, so doing that could be up to your and your sisters/brothers.

2.         Do they have close friends and/or neighbors who have been there for them when they needed it? Do they have friends and/or neighbors who have helped them? What about relatives? It would be nice to let them have what they want. When you do that, the friends, neighbors and relatives truly appreciate the items. It would also make your parents feel good to give the things they consider important to someone who is important to them.

3.         Items in good condition can be given to charities such as Good Will, the Salvation Army and other organizations that help people who canít afford to buy new things all the time.

4.         You can also hire someone to come in and auction the things. You and your family need to go through everything first, then the auctioneer can categorize what you want to sell.

In addition to myself, I have two friends who have needed to get rid of their parentís things.

One friend went through belongings, then she and her family (and relatives) took what they wanted. After that, they called an auction house. Her parents lived quite a distance from her, so she couldnít do some of the things you can when you live close. She is very happy with the result.

Another friend helped her parents, and they had a garage sale. After that, they gave what didnít sell to their church for a garage sale the church was having. Not only did the family get something they wanted, but they felt good about giving things to their church to help the young people. Giving to another charity would create the same effect.

A few years ago, Dad wanted to get rid of things, so I called my sisters and we divided many things among us. After my parents died, there was still a lot left. My children took what they wanted, and then I found friends of my parents who wanted other things. Everyone got something that was important to them. Mom and Dad would have liked that.