Helping Your Aging Parents Move: A GypsyNester Guide

Helping your folks downsize and move as they get on in years can be a daunting task.

The emotions of leaving a place that has been home for many years — along with that elephant in the room, aging — are heavy burdens.

We have recently assisted with three moves with varying degrees of success, and haveCONTINUE READING >> 

The GypsyNesters

Helping your folks downsize and move as they get on in years can be a daunting task. The emotions of leaving a place that has been home for many years — along with that elephant in the room, aging — are heavy burdens.  

We have recently assisted with three moves with varying degrees of success, and have these helpful hints to get you through this emotionally charged time of life.

Be compassionate

We were lucky; our parents were all making moves that they wanted to make (well, at least to some degree). This did not mean that the transitions were not emotionally draining.  

Remember, your parents are not only saying goodbye to a house. There are cherished memories, close neighbors and treasured keepsakes that must be left behind. They may also be feeling a sense of helplessness at the prospect of giving up independence and freedom. 

There will be tension. They will squabble with each other. You may even end up in the line of fire. Be calm, patient and forgiving.

Set an agenda

It is imperative that everyone involved in the move is aware of everyone else’s time constraints. Coordinate ahead with your parents and siblings. The varying degrees of busy lives will dictate the amount of time each person will be able to dedicate to the move. Knowing these limitations ahead of time will lower tension and make the move go smoother. 

Lists are essential

Ask your parents to make out lists. The asking is important in and of itself; by suggesting they take the lead, they will feel more comfortable being proactive and you, in turn, will feel less like a child being bossed around.

Assigning tasks for each helper will make the job go faster and the lists will lend insight into what is most important to your parents. Ask them for overall task lists then, as the move progresses, have them write out specific daily lists as well.

Everyone’s a hoarder 

It’s true. Your parents may call it collecting, thriftiness or any number of names, but in your eyes, it’s going to look like hoarding (just as your own attic would look to outsiders). 

Help them go through their belongings and chose what to let go, then get it to Goodwill or the dumpster as quickly as possible before they change their minds.

Avoid commenting on the astounding masses of junk — it’s not junk to your parents. It’s their memories, their lives. Don’t be insensitive.

Be kind to the primary caregiver

We’ve been through the relocation process from both the position of primary family caregiver and as the caregiver’s supporting cast. Go  out of your way to help the caregiver through this trying time. Every opinion they have regarding your folks is valid and should be considered.

The caregiver was there before the move and will be there afterwards.  They will be left to deal with any problems that came up during the move after everyone else has gone home. Do your best to be helpful, deferential, and sensitive to his or her unique feelings.

Don’t be pushy

This one seems obvious, but the parent/child relationship can be tricky. You may only have a limited time to help, you may want to get as much done in a small amount of time as possible, but your folks will be overwhelmed. Be gentle.

After the move

Planning and implementation is important, but don’t forget about after the move. When setting the agenda for moving, remember to schedule time for unpacking. Leaving your folks in a new environment surrounded by boxes is not a successful move.  

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: Did we miss anything? Do you have more suggestions? Leave a comment!

19 thoughts on “Helping Your Aging Parents Move: A GypsyNester Guide”

  1. Some of these moves seem heartbreaking at the time.Like putting my father in law in a nursing home and yet it has been probably the best thing for him and his wife. He’s getting personal care and regular physio without losing face his wife and she is no longer expected to wait on his every need and can build some freedom into her life at a nearby seniors retirement home. The first six months are the worst and then miracles start to happen.

  2. Sage tips! My family wen through this a few years ago and one of my siblings really rose to the occasion. Don’t know how they found the patience but you’re right – that parent/child relationship gets tested during a time like that.

  3. Excellent advice! I was fortunate that my Dad and stepmom made the decision on their own to move to a CCRC in their 80’s and since my brother and I both lived far away and they could afford it, they hired a ‘Moving Your Senior’ business owned by a warm, compassionate but no-nonsense woman. If parent -child relationships are not good, a third party can be valuable.

    1. I agree with the 3rd person is sometimes needed. My mom didn’t want to downsize, but after a fall in the home she had too. We made the mistake of calling her stuff “junk” (I so regret that) but hiring a lovely woman who spent a day helping her go through just one room and helping her to let go of 75% of it was worth every penny.

      And you are right on when you said “Support the caregiver!” Those of us who live the closest and spend the most time do know what really is going on.

  4. I have been avoiding this topic on my own blog, but by my reaction to your post, I can see that it may be time for me to collect my thoughts and the insights gleaned from my experiences. After all, this is a very Boomeresque topic—if we’re lucky enough to have our parents long enough for it to become an issue.

    1. It is, and you’re right, we are lucky to have time left with parents. That said, it can be trying moving them. A lot has to be overlooked and some venting when away from everyone can be a big help. All in all we are very glad that we could help out though.

  5. My sisters and I were involved in helping my parents move twice in the last six years and helping my mother move yet another time when my father passed away in June of 2011. (Actually, “help” is a euphemism. My parents did not “help”. My mother, because she became paralyzed by indecision and my father because….. My father, while compos mentus, for the most part, was completely and utterly uncooperative and obstructionist with each move. The second time they needed to move (to independent living in a retirement community) was after my mother had become ill, they were not eating properly and she was overwhelmed. My mother had followed my father around the world. He said that he would do whatever she wanted, but when she said she needed a more secure environment and wanted to move, he asked her “why” and then said it wasn’t a good reason. (It is worth noting that after making their first move a hellish experience for my other local sister and me, my father then loved their new living situation. When we pointed this out when the next move became necessary, he insisted that it was just “luck” and he was positive moving to a new place would be horrendous.) Your suggestions are all excellent, but they contain an underlying assumption that there is little personality pathology in either parent nor in their relationship. My takeaway from the experiences is that My takeaway from the experience is that I will endeavor mightily NOT do this to my children. (BTW, I “get” that moving into extreme old age is a very difficult time of life, but I am sad that my last memories of my father were not good ones. It was not until he was on his death bed and my sister and I did not leave his side for two days, that he finally said that he was no longer angry.)

  6. About a year and a half ago I helped my parents move from their home of 41 years. My mother had been ready to go for at least 5 years and had cleaned out cupboards and closets gradually and welcomed my help with an annual garage sale. My father, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine moving and only agreed to a move after he had broken his hip and could no longer care for the yard. Since that initial move, I have moved them two more times searching for the “right” apartment. On the third move I was no longer able to provide much help as I was waiting for my own hip replacement surgery. I finally had to tell my father that this move was all his to arrange. Fortunately my parents are cognitively sound. My challenge has been to keep my mouth shut and support them while setting boundaries regarding the level of support I can provide.

  7. Yes I helped them move 3 xs. My advice . . . this too shall pass.
    Seriously – you need a lot of compassion – what might seem like a lot of useless clutter to you, represents a life of hard work and rewards to them. Be gentle, go slowy, compromise (maybe storage shed for a time – if they don’t need to go get it after six months, then possibly they can donate or sell.) Most of all, constantly remind yourself how you would feel if you felt decisions were forced on you.

    1. We begged my parents to think about what they would want ahead of time. They refused. Moral of the story: If you don’t take responsibility for making life decisions when you are not confronting an emergency, circumstances will make them for you.

      1. So true, One Boomer. My hubby cannot get his parents (79 and 82) to pick out plots and their final resting place. He has told him about the benefit of “buying early” and has pointed out that the 5 kids can’t agree on what to have for Thanksgiving dinner, much less where to lay mom and dad. I fear what they will be laid to rest in and the tension that will arise. But they won’t listen!

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