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Tips to Downsizing!

by Carla Griffin on October 24, 2011

By Nell Bernstein, Caring.com senior editor

One of the hardest things about moving from the family home to a retirement community is downsizing. Your parents may find themselves in a 600- or 700-square foot unit — or something even smaller. In the long run, most will find their new living situation more enjoyable than they anticipated, because in a good retirement community, much of their day — meals, activities, outings — will take place outside their living quarters. But the more you can do to help them prepare and set up their space early on, the easier the move will be for everyone. Here are eight steps to take:

Help get the ball rolling.

The first step in easing the transition to a retirement community comes before the moving van pulls up, when you can help with the task of sorting through the stuff and figuring out what to bring along.

Pick your battles — and be prepared to weather some early storms.

“Change is scary,” points out Jennifer Prell, a senior move manager in Illinois and CEO of Paxem. A retirement community is “a totally different lifestyle, and they’re not used to having someone take care of them.” That’s why your parents may become seemingly irrational about holding on to belongings that seems unnecessary or impractical to you. Don’t make a fuss over every item. Once they get used to their new home, says Prell, your parents are likely to find they have a perfect amount of space — and they may decide to weed through their possessions further, all on their own.

Ask for the things that don’t fit.

If your parents have brought along items that are impractical or just don’t fit, tell them you’ve had your eye on the offending heirlooms — even if you have to put them in your basement. Or suggest donating bulky items to charity. This way your parents can avoid admitting they made a mistake and may feel like they’re helping out rather than “giving in.”

Buy (or bring) a soft-sided couch.

The new retirement unit is the place your parents will grow older in, so Prell suggests you think about safety at every turn. Avoid anything with an exposed wood frame so there’s nothing hard for them to hit if they fall, and pick items that are the right height for them to grab if they need support.

It’s probably time for a new bed.

Space is one reason to invest in a new bed — a king- or queen-sized bed is likely to take up the entire bedroom, so unless your parents really need the larger bed, it may be time to downsize to a full. A bed that’s closer to the ground might also be safer and easier to get in and out of. (Stay away from superfirm mattresses, says Prell, which can be hard on brittle bones.)

Pare down the kitchen.

A parent whose identity resides behind the stove may have a hard time leaving baking sheets and mixing bowls behind. But since most retirement communities provide meals, all your parents really need is the basics: a pot, a pan, and a few microwave-safe dishes. Sharp knives may be prohibited — even if your parents don’t have cognitive issues, others in the complex do, so anything sharp can be dangerous.

Store the linens — or use the extras yourself.

Most retirement communities will launder sheets and towels for residents, so your parents won’t need more than two sets on hand.

Put out-of-season clothes in storage.

Pack unneeded winter or summer clothes in plastic bins rather than overloading small closets — most retirement communities offer storage for off-season items.

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