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Elderly parents

Advice on Downsizing Parents

12 replies

IDismyname · 17/04/2013 20:00

I originally started this on "Gransnet", but after 2 days and a bump - no reply!

I'm hoping you wise 'nest of vipers' will be able to help... Grin

Hoe do you go about it? My DP's are moving into a house about a third of the size of their existing house. Its going to require a Massive clear out of furniture (some antique, but lots not antique) and other stuff like clothes, bedlinen, kitchen stuff, sheds - the list goes on.

Have any of you done it - and how would you recommend I do it?

Any advice - or "What not to Do" appreciated!

OP posts:
Kahlua4me · 17/04/2013 22:19

When my mum downsized a few years ago, she had the local auction house come over to value items and see what they could sell. She then decided which of those she wanted to sell and went from there.

Other stuff, like kitchen equipment, bed linen, shed etc, she offered to us all first, then to friends, then charity shop and also put some on eBay.

She is so pleased to have done it and says she feels much better to be free of clutter and debris. Very cathartic!

IDismyname · 18/04/2013 07:19

Thanks, Kahlua. I came home with a load of her clothes that I'm going to try and sell through the local second hand posh frock shop, but there seems to be so much stuff once I start looking.

I'm glad your mum feels better - I think my Mum will feel that same once this is over!

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Needmoresleep · 18/04/2013 09:29


It has just taken me the better part of three months to clear my mother's flat. Easier for me in a way as I was able to move my mother into sheltered accommodation straight from hospital/convalescent care at a point when she was fairly confused and so not safe to go home, but also unable to contribute much to the process.

If you can have a gap between selling one property and purchasing the other this is really helpful. We were able to select first the basic things my mother needed for day to day living (clothes, linen, furniture, kitchen equipment) and then then leave me staying in her old flat clearing cupboard by cupboard, room by room.

There was a lifetime of stuff made tricky by more recent problems with hoarding and TV shopping. Plus key financial documents were hidden amongst piles of junk mail. It sounds as if you parents are being much more sensible in making the move before it becomes urgent.

I basically sorted into piles:

  1. things my mother would use day to day or would enjoy (eg photos, ornaments etc)

2. precious things. things she might not want to part with but did not need day to day, such as things passed down from her mother. Here I bought some large plastic stacking crates, filled them and moved them into the storage cupboard in her new flat. Once packed they did not take up that much space, and if and when we need to move her from her sheltered flat the crates can simply be put into the boot of the car. This defers the need to have things valued.
3. other furniture. some was nice but not particularly valuable (repro) and luckily I have access to a basement store so it has gone there.
4. Things that friends and family might want/use. My dad seems to have loved Staples, and so we now have a lifetime supply of printer paper.
5. Things of lesser value that are no longer needed. Charity and hospice shops will collect.
6. Things for recycling and the dump.
7. Financial and other documents. I took over POA at the same time so sorting through papers has been a good way to familiarise myself, sticking it all into indexed files as I went along.

Some stuff, eg financial paperwork, but equally I could have done it with photos, I simply packed up and took home to sort whilst watching the TV.

I found it helpful to aim to remove a certain amount each day to help prevent the task from feeling overwhelming. As I had the flat to myself focussed first on emptying cupboards putting china in one place, photos in another, linen in another, paperwork elsewhere etc. This then enabled me to sort by category. Everything took longer than expected and I needed to mix sorting with other tasks such as cleaning, and trips to the dump. My husband joined me one weekend which helped, and he and my son spent Easter doing the furniture moving. I found it quite difficult especially in the early days when it was very much my parents flat I felt like a vandal. As it became emptier it got easier. I suspect I worried more than her, as there is nothing so far she seems to have missed.

My experience is, though this may relate to my mother's memory problems, is that photos and momentos are important. I have brought her a steady stream of small items, eg her girl guide's badge, or photos when she was young. Those these had previously been stuffed away in drawers, they are now out on display and give her great pleasure.

Sorry this was long. It was a daunting task, and one I felt might defeat me. But done now and I am not only relieved but feel I know much more about my parents lives than I did before. My resolution now is to streamline my own life so my children don't face the same challenge.
IDismyname · 18/04/2013 18:26

Oh, thank you so much, Need for your story.

Both my parents are still around, so at least decisions can be made with their approval - or not. I'm trying to spend a day a week with them so that I can 'chivvy' mum along with little jobs to do before I come back the following week. My dad has early senile dementia, so this is all falling to my mum to do.

Its just so daunting to realise you have a 4 bedroom house that has to fit in a 2 bed. We accumulate so much in our lives!

Lovely idea about the momentos. Its often the little stuff that counts more than the big things.

Talking of streamlining your life, Need - I've just done a HUGE load of our household stuff to the local charity shop and the dump.

Less is more....!

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Needmoresleep · 19/04/2013 08:45

Poor you. And your poor mum. My situation was different as my father had effectively hidden my mother's growing memory problems before he died. My mother was in denial so it took a crisis to dislodge her. Your mother, by deciding to move now, is doing you a big favour.

It must be particularly hard for your mother, for this is her home, her possessions, she is presumably grieving for the husband she has lost whilst looking after someone with dementia. The endless questions, the mood swings, things forever being mislaid, the fact that you discuss things one day and then the next day the agreement is forgotten so you either discuss all over again or are accused of going behind their back.

This is the time to be there for her. However awful the task, there is a huge satisfaction to be gained from doing the right thing. My brother became invisible, not unexpected as the same thing happened when my father was dying, and not unusual. Though I could have done with some help, or at least some supportive noises, I feel he has missed out on the important experience of getting close once more to his parents and understanding more about where they, and we, came from. I am also felt the experience has help my own children understand the importance of family.

In practical terms I would suggest that you focus on identifying on the minimum day to day stuff that is needed going forward and getting rid of the stuff that is genuinely not wanted. Other clothes, china, photos etc can be packed into boxes and kept in a garage or somewhere. Then when the move has happened everyone is less stressed you can get the photos out and go through them, involving your dad as well.

I sat my mum down on a bed and went through her wardrobe (actually she had spread to five wardrobes...) and tri-arged her clothes. Everyday, special occasion, and to be got rid of. Great piles on the floor. She is still sure she is going on a cruise this summer. The everyday were unpacked in her new flat before she left convalescent care,and the "cruise clothes" are wedged into two suitcases which she has not asked about, and which in due course can go. The rest went into one of those recycle bins at ASDA. It was not much fun but we did it in a day. Selecting key linen and kitchen equipment were done in another day. (Easy, four sets of sheets, three saucepans, six sets of crockery and cutlery, one kettle etc...)

My mother had agreed that she wanted less clutter, and indeed seems to enjoy her more streamlined flat. Luckily she was not around to see me go through the rest. The back was broken when my husband came down one weekend and we blitzed it. Is there any way your mum might agree to them staying elsewhere for a weekend, or is it possible for them to move first with key stuff and leave you to sort the rest. Or would she find this too stressful/upsetting?

The manager of her sheltered housing said some couples actually leave the lot behind and simply go into John Lewis and buy new furniture suitable for their new home. A nice idea. Equally others pile everything into the spare room so you cant enter, having thrown nothing away. Though apparently this then often gets cleared bit by bit as people realise they dont need it.

Momentos are important. Especially for your dad who might need key pictures or ornaments that they have on display now to help him orientate himself to his new home. I was told to expect my mother to take a couple of months to settle - and indeed now two months later she thinks she has been where she is for a long time, but there was a noticeable difference when I brought over things that were important, and a display case for them to sit in.

Sorry it is again pretty long. I am so pleased to have got my particular challenge over with. I dont envy you. One thought that sustained me was that it would have been much more difficult if I was clearing post funeral and had no chance to understand the significance of various things, including the linen which my grandmother carefully hand crocheted, even though my mum is quite hit and miss about remembering where things came from. Difficult as it would have been, I wish they had decided to move, and to have asked for my help, when my father was alive.

FasterStronger · 19/04/2013 09:01

we are helping DM downsize. we sort things into three pile:

  1. bin
  2. keep
  3. recycle as much as possible

    she then gives them a once over to check she is happy. we then dispose, put in a different room, take to recycling. its quite easy as she has masses of junk that she has not used in years.

    we have rearranged rooms to make better use of space for EA viewings etc. we have junked/recycled lots of furniture as she had furniture full of junk.

    we manage the process by:

    a) making suggestions
    b) booking dates in the diary
    c) giving her jobs to do for the next visit to e.g. arrange a skip.

    we emphasis it is all about her choice but reminder her (1) she has a lot of junk that does not add to her life in any way (2) the process wont be easier if we leave it 10 yrs.
Alwayscheerful · 19/04/2013 09:19

Fabulous advice so far.

Having just cleared a 5 bedroom 4 storey house plus attic, I can sympathise.

I certainly recommend an overlap of properties and immediate removal of all the obvious items to be relocated, it helps you see the wood for the trees. Safe living for the elderly requires minimal furniture to trip over and no sharp edges to fall on, so a different style of living if you like.

Sadly our house clearance was eventually due to bereavement although initially we thought we we downsizing DFIL.

Time to consider and reconsider decisions is very important. It is better not to make decisions in a hurry. As time passes it becomes easier to let items go.

Distributing items of sentimental value to extended family and friends and neighbours gives a sense of satisfaction especially to younger family members setting up home, donations on FREECYCLE and to charity shops will help to make sense of what will be a very time consuming and onerous task. We made weekly runs to the tip and filled the bins every week for 6 months. Somehow it was more satisfying to give items away and find them new homes rather than sell them.

IDismyname · 20/04/2013 10:33

Thank you again, for your stories - and support. I had a feeling that I wasn't alone.

There seems to be so much stuff, and so much stuff to do as well. I was starting to think that I was missing a trick, but it seems that we're all destined to make the "Dump - Charity - Sell - Keep" decisions. It makes a depressing thought that DS will have to do the same for us.

It made me smile, Need when you said you went through all 5 wardrobes of your mothers clothes - I did 3 with my Mum on Wednesday! She still has 2 to go....Hmm

Luckily - if all goes according to plan, they will have the new place before they move. I'm suggesting that we book some (very kindly) removals people on a Monday to take what they want over to the new house, and then again on Friday, when they discover it won't fit and it needs to go back...

I was very keen to do this while they are in sound mind - or sound-ish in the case of my Dad... I kept saying to them that if either of them was in a wheelchair as a result of an accident or operation, they wouldn't be able to live back at home. Home - for them - is a very old but higgldy piggldy (sp?) house. At that point my brother and I would end up making a decision on their behalf.

Which reminds me - where is my brother in all this??!!

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Needmoresleep · 21/04/2013 09:12

I used a man with a van. Most estate agents can recommend someone, as could the sheltered housing she was moving into.

First trip was simply the basics, three piece suite, beds, kitchen table, plus the boxes of clothes, kitchen equipment etc. The flat was so much smaller that I had real problems visualising how full it would be. Then later that week, when it was clear what was missing, he came back a took a bit more, table for the front hall, display cabinet etc. Towards the end of the process I had him move some good furniture into both her spare room and into store, and take the heavy and huge sofa that no one wanted and some other stuff I could not life, to the dump. Because she was only moving about a mile and it was simply moving items, not packing etc, it was almost certainly cheaper than using a moving company for a single trip and the flat started off minimalist and was added to, rather than being pared down.

I had needed to move my mother straight from convalescent care, so this might not work for you. Other than furniture a lot of the move was done by me, with regular trips to the dump, boxes for my mum, stuff taken home (my son now needs to go to University away from home as he has a box with crockery, cutlery, kettle etc) and re-saleable stuff collected.

Is there a place where missing brother's congregate? Perhaps we could go as a group and round them up.

IDismyname · 21/04/2013 09:26

A Man with a Van (and a mate) is a good idea... The drive at the other end (only about 4 miles away, so perfectly do-able) is quite narrow, so a smaller van would be able to get up to the house more easily.

I just cannot visualise quite what and how its going to fit.

They're talking of putting some stuff into storage; I think I'll suggest that if they don't need anything from storage in 18 months, then it would be safe to assume that they won't need it at all.

Its just putting off the inevitable in my eyes!

I ought to give my bro some credit, as he's taken over some of my fathers business for one day a week - however, he's getting well paid for it and share options too!

Makes me think I've drawn the short straw Hmm

OP posts:
whataboutbob · 21/04/2013 11:57

NMS I love your posts. Like good literature they are unique but also feel universal. I have a father with ALzheimers, a worse than useless brother (there, I've said it),and no other siblings. My father's home is now ripe for a channel 5 documentary. For about 30 years he was re- writing his PhD, there are boxes of text all around the house, laced with detritus- a good hundred charity appeals ( he likes to give a little to a lot, thus ensuring he is on the mailing list for every charity you ve ever heard of, and another 200 you haven't), newspapers going back a good decade, empty envelopes, letters he's started and never finished, junk he's bought at the pound shop (his great passion). A year ago I took 3months unpaid leave from work, to set up services. The sum total of my efforts was 2visits by cleaners from a specialist agency, who then bailed out, horrified by the state of the place and freaked out by my mentally ill brother. Dad did not engage with any service because he is in denial about not being able to manage his home, and so gradually all professionals signed off and closed his case. A year later he has been re referred and I am wearily bracing myself for a second round of meetings, cajoling dad, motivating various professionals etc.
Anyway I'm straying off the subject, which is downsizing parents. I know dad will never voluntarily leave his home, accept he needs to change residence and I am kind of resigned to waiting for a crisis, or just lamentable hygiene and safety issues, before he is forced into a move. Sounds negative but so far that's been his way, even pre dating his dementia- staunch denial of problems until they loom so large he, or someone else is forced into action.
Oh and 6years ago, I had to clear out my maternal grandparents' apartment. Need less to say that was emotionally and physically draining, I felt I was dismantling their lives. But they had a lovely home so it felt sacrilegious. With dad s place, I m nearly looking forward to those trips to the dump and finally, finally being able to clear all that junk.

Needmoresleep · 22/04/2013 09:48

You are very kind. I think I already write the longest posts on MN so probably should not be encouraged.

I am not sure if I can, quite, match your tales of hoarding, though the junk mail mountain I faced was disheartening. Heaps and heaps of cruise brochures are uniquely off-putting. Plus new kitchen equipment still in packaging and blocking up the spare room, presumably bought from TV shopping channels, for someone who had given up cooking. Presumably the adverts appeared to promise a return to an orderly kitchen and clean house for someone who was losing the struggle to keep chaos at bay. Chicken shears anyone....

(I have stopped most of it by religiously writing "return to sender " on each for three months. I now email those that persist, mainly vitamin companies that keep promising gifts or prize draws, suggesting I am recently bereaved and that their mail is causing me real distress.)

I am no expert, though the great thing about MN is that it allows us all to be experts, even with just a few months personal experience. However, and as an ex-public sector worker I have taken an anthropological interest in the vocabulary and logic of the care sector, I dont think "we need help" will work. The key phrases seem to be "safety", as this person cannot remain in this home as "they are not safe", and/or "imminent carer breakdown". I suspect, and I faced the same, the only way you will dislodge your father is through a crisis leading to a hospital discharge which decides he is not "safe" to go home at all or without support. Or by the authorities stepping in in some way. I assume the latter is through social services, perhaps best prompted by his GP.

I would suggest a chat to the Alzheimers helpline about what can be done and how best you can make it happen. Their forums are good as well, if only to introduce you to some saintly people. In interviews and forms it is about ticking the right boxes and understanding what will persuade the authorities to take action.

With these things it is always best to have an idea of what you want the outcome to be. I would also research alternative housing options. The GP will have visited them all so if helpful, will be able to steer you in the right direction. It was pretty touch and go whether my mother would be able to settle and re-establish routines in sheltered but independent living, though she has managed it and is very happy. Another year or so without "intervention", see I am learning the vocabulary, and her options might have been limited to care homes. You would find it difficult to clear/clean your father's house with him in situ. Others wont be able to either.

Unless perhaps you were able to organise residential respite care and with help blitz the place in his absence. Short term convalescent care, rather than a discharge home with carers coming in, (albeit private and very expensive) worked well for us as my mother enjoyed the company, food and outings, and so yielded a bit on her determination to stay in her old home. (She is where she is till she "gets better" and in the meantime we are renting her flat....unfurnished.)

If his personal environment is in a mess, his finances probably are as well. Money really matters at this age as it gives you choices. The best care homes are akin to hotels, or cruise ships that never go into port. Lots of smiley staff, good food, a daily programme of activities and sherry before lunch. Money allows you to buy, or part own, in private sheltered accommodation. Money allows you to buy daily carers who come in to prompt medication and keep an eye on the state of the flat, fridge and person being cared for. Money means that you make your own decisions and don't have to depend on Social Services and the health of their budget. Not much you can do if he does not have any, but taking control of the money has to be the priority battle if there is some and your dad is vulnerable.

Hee hee. Another long post. If you got to the end, congratulations....

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