When it's time for an aging loved one to move into a senior living home or assisted living community, how do you pack up a lifetime's worth of belongings?
It's never just about the "stuff", it's the memories and the emotions that come with new beginnings.
Transitioning from independent living to a long term care facility means there's a whole house worth of memories and items to sort through. The process can be overwhelming, especially when emotions run high. Many times, our loved ones will be resistant to getting rid of their possessions. Understanding that it's never about the "stuff", but the emotional attachment to the memories, is critical during this process. Endings can be scary, but new beginnings are a beautiful part of life that bring new opportunities for making memories.
Change can be difficult for everyone, so we've compiled a list of some practical tips to help ease the tension, ensure a smooth transition, and even bring some healing along the way!
Tip #1 -Start slow
Rome wasn't built in a day, so don't expect this to be a quick process. There will be days that it moves quickly and days that end in tears just holding a photo or family heirloom. Pick an area (the kitchen, for instance) that holds the least amount of memories and start with the easy stuff. Most senior living communities and long term care facilities handle all of the cooking, so most of these items won't be needed.
Tip #2 - Pick your battles
Life transitions bring a flurry of emotions. Expect there to be battles over certain items that your loved one doesn't want left behind. In many cases, facilities can leave rooms unfurnished, allowing residents to bring their own furniture if they can't bear to part with it. When the battle looms, take a step back and dig a little deeper into why that item is so important. If it's something that just won't work in the new space, can a family member take it so it is still in the family? Are there items that can be taken pictures of and combined into an album to look at? At the end of the day, if there's no solution in sight, let it go. Agree to disagree and come back to it at another time, and change the focus to a favorite item that can definitely go to the new location.
Choose favorite items first so your loved one can be comforted that they can take their most cherished items to their new home.
Tip #3 - Make room for the "must-have's"
This is the part that may take a few go arounds. Start by asking what items they are not willing to part with and set them aside. After the less important items have been gone through, revisit these non-negotiables and see what may have changed. If it's still too much, visit the facility and start planning the layout of the space with specific items in mind. Visualizing what will realistically fit can help to restart the purging process. However, there will still be some items that just need to go with your loved one to bring them comfort. Do your best to make room for these "must-have's".
Tip #4 - Mix it up
A little old, a little new. Encourage your loved one to help shop for some new items for their new living space. A new sheet set with a favorite heirloom quilt can help balance the old and new. A new lift chair set next to a table full of family photos can still feel like home. Keep a positive attitude and above all, be flexible and attentive to what your loved one is feeling.
Tip #5 - Have fun!
Enjoy decorating the new room together! A great way to help ease the transition into new surroundings is to set up the room with familiar items and in a similar arrangement as their original home. If they always had a night stand with a picture of their spouse and a glass of water next to the bed, keep those same items whenever possible. Familiarity brings comfort. Let your loved one decide the placement and ask if there's something in particular they would enjoy shopping for after a nice lunch out. Even this difficult change in life can become a precious memory to make.
It's going to be ok.
This is hard. It's emotional. It's a relief that your loved one will receive the care they need. It's sad that things are changing. It's a little freedom for you as the family caregiver to be able to take care of yourself now. It's every thought and feeling in between. And it's ALL valid.
Reminder: we can carry our past with us, honor it in our present, and look forward to all that the future has to offer.
Here at Stonehenge Senior Living, our goal is to make our residents feel at home. We are here to assist them, not to intrude on them. We encourage residents and their families to make their room a sanctuary, where they feel at peace and comforted.
If you have more tips for our readers going through a transition with their loved one, please leave a comment below!