Chat: How to Downsize Your Parents Who Might Be Hoarding

Photo by b.frahm via Creative Commons.

So we’re talking about stuff. That is, what to do withit when you or a loved one needs to move, downsize or clean up clutter.

Every other Wednesday there is a Twitter chat around caregiving. Each time a different topic is discussed and those in the caregiving community – both family caregivers and caregiving professionals – weigh in. Here are highlights from the Oct. 5 that focused on downsizing, moving, decluttering a parent or loved one’s home:

Question 1: What’s your most treasured possession and why it is special?

@caregiving: I have treasures from family members and from travel. They memories they hold make them special.

@SeniorCounselor: Family heirlooms that have been passed down from Italy, especially cookie recipes!

@JordanEM: I think it is more than one item. That is where the challenge is in downsizing.

@jocelyn528: Great question. I just found old photos from college and childhood. Amazing how many memories were in those shoeboxes.

@CaringWise: Oddly the most valued things are generally “worthless,” but come freighted w memories-a sweater, my father’s old glasses

@CPI_Training: Any object can trigger so many memories and associations-photos, clothes, notebooks, books…

@ElderCareChat: My photos. Interesting to note that most are on my laptop now, so I’d take that baby and run!

@CaringPeopleInc: In the case of our clients, it is often years of cards received, drawings from children grown-up, calendars. .. memories.

Question 2: Please share experience you’re had in helping a loved one/client/friend with moving/downsizing/getting rid of stuff.

@SeniorCounselor: It’s always helpful to start with a conversation about the context of why the downsizing is taking place

@GlennerCenters: Create piles with suggestions to donate, sell and keep. Let them have a say-but stuff must go.

@jgonto: Too many to list! Working for a removal company I’ve done several where I have no personal relationship with the client.

@jocelyn528: We moved my grandma from her apt to a room at an ALF [assisted-living facility]. Painful. My mom hung photo collages in her room and that helped.

@CaringPeopleInc: Great “project” for the caregiver/client is scrapbooking. They relive their adventures/memories in the storytelling.

@SeniorCounselor:It’s helpful to start with a conversation about the context of why the downsizing is taking place.

@SeniorLivingNet: Make a list of things you want kept in the family, then send the list out to everyone for them to pick certain items out.

@Pacifica_Senior: Cleared clutter, then donated and had a garage sale. Selling my Aunt’s old furniture made her excited to buy new things!

@CaringWise: We gave a lot to the state museum: photos we couldn’t ID, old typewriters, skis. Helped preserve “treasures” while eliminating.

@2nd_MD: Offer to donate clothes and offer to move some things to your own home, it can put their minds at ease.

@SeniorCounselor: Love this idea! Having family members choose what means more to them helps keep the piece!

@aldeacom: Moving sucks for everyone. Think about “blessing others” with your discards through or Craigslist.

@CaringTransCorp: We develop a space plan blue print to demonstrate what will fit, what won’t, estate sales and partners with @1800gotjunk!

Question 3: Have you ever worked with someone that has a hoarding problem? How did you get through it?

@jgonto: Of course: There is always an emotional attachment to “stuff” but we train our teams for these situations

@CaringWise: Dealing with the emotions of letting go, sometimes it’s about just listening to the story; then they can say goodbye.

@Seniors4Living: My husband helped his Dad this summer. It was difficult for both of them, but my husband is good at the tough love thing.

@CaringWise: Distributing to family is good idea, but sometimes the senior really doesn’t want anyone else to have it … means their role is over.

@SageMinder: Identifying the problem is the first step-often there is massive denial that they have a problem. YES!

@SeniorCounselor: First, acknowledge what these items mean to the person-understanding that these items are of great value to them.

@SeniorLivingNet: Draw a floor plan of current home and new apartment so everyone can see how much downsizing is needed

@Caregiving: It’s interesting what happens (often a trauma) that triggers the hoarding. It’s not about the stuff, but finding control.

@CaringWise: Dealing with the emotions of letting go, sometimes it’s about just listening to the story; then they can say goodbye.

@50Plus: Tackle a little at a time, and take breaks! Decision fatigue can set in otherwise.

@SageMinder: Sometimes the hoarding it linked to depression – not bad idea to see if that is going on too.

@SeniorLivingNet: TIP: clean out the kitchen first! That’s the one room you can get rid of 99% because it’s not needed in assisted living.

 Question Four: What was the hardest thing you face when dealing with extreme clutter (or the downsizing process in general)

@jgonto: When it’s an extreme hoarding situation, getting started is the hardest part. The first step is really the biggest one.

@jocelyn528: Emotional attachment. Bad enough senior has to leave home, makes it doubly difficult to have to give up memories.

@mktg2seniors: My mother has already downsized from two houses to one. Next comes moving to a smaller house. She dreads it.

@SeniorCounselor: Realizing it’s not going to be a perfect outcome … downsizing may never result in the ideal

@caregiving: I think shame of the clutter can be paralyzing. You don’t want anyone to know so you don’t ask for help.

@SeniorCounselor: Dealing with grief and stress can make it harder to make decisions. It can help to have someone help you make decisions.

@GlennerCenters: Take photos of everything you’re giving away and put them in a special “our home” album for them to cherish.

@jocelyn528: Senior Move Managers is growing field. Definitely a valuable resource. Let a pro be the “bad guy”

@CaringWise: Estate sale people mixed blessing. They focus on potential profit and talk ppl out of heirlooms they really should keep.

Question Five: Family dynamics always play a role in these transitions. Did your family (or a client’s) fight or work well together?

@CaringTransCorp: Being CRTS [Certified Relocation and Transition Specialist] Certified offices we are able to work with family members together to come to a sucessful plan of action for all

@SageMinder: My mom already has grandchild names taped to the bottom of special items. We laugh, but it’ll b easier when time comes.

@SeniorCounselor: Speak to the entire family together-determine a common goal and develop a plan of who can do what.

@CaringPeopleInc: Children not fighting over the heirlooms, everyone in agreement, always helps. We have joined family cleaning parties.

@50Plus: Pack rats versus “take only what we need” was a challenge for our family. Lots of stress 🙁

@caregiving: Sometimes, the battle over the possessions can become a battle over who Mom loves most. Blah!

@mktg2seniors: My Mother was sad when we didn’t want her stuff. She preferred to keep it in the family.

@aldeacom: 89 year old friend created a narrated PPT [PowerPoint presentation] with history and meaning of possessions. Makes it easy for the adult children.

@SeniorCounselor: Make a list of the value of items-appraise the valuable and ask family members which items mean the most to them

@JordanEM: Maybe “gift” items so not part of estate though continue to reside with the person. (antiques, art, etc.)

@aldeacom: Videocams or smart phones work for recording memories of “stuff” plus make it easy to upload and share.

Question 6: Has anyone work with a senior move manager or similar professionals through a move/downsizing/estate sale process?

@jgonto: These professionals really smooth the process and make it easier for all parties involved!

@caregiving: Yep! I worked for friends who were senior move managers. I helped pack, move and unpack.

@SeniorCounselor: We worked with one who facilitated a move from a one bedroom apartment to an ALF [assisted-living facility] and they were a tremendous help.

@SeniorCounselor: Surprisingly affordable, a huge stress relief for the family and very professional!

@SeniorLivingNet: The new TV shows about hoarding and estate sales are really intriguing. We are definitely not alone!

@CaringTransCorp: Often holding an estate sale will offset the price of our moving and/or downsizing costs! We handle all aspects or customize.

@SeniorCounselor: Sure the move managers are reputable and professional. It’s an important job … and shameless plug, we can help!

Question Seven: What additional advice would you offer to those facing a transition/move?

@GlennerCenters: Set a timeline and stick with it. Reduce clutter/items in phases so everyone has time to absorb the changes.

@SeniorCounselor: Personal advice-label the boxes so you know exactly what room they are going to in the new space!

@SageMinder: Good Communication with all involved-it is key. Open/honest/frequent

@mktg2seniors: Create lists of all the to dos so you don’t get stressed. Label boxes carefully so it’s easy at the other end.

@CaringPeopleInc: Family willing to accept a few treasures (even when they don’t want to) makes it easier for elder loved one to let go.

@CaringWise: For yourself: Try to remember, it’s just stuff. For your elder: Patience, love, patience.

@Pacifica_Senior: PREPARE as far ahead of the move as possible! Transitioning is a hard thing, especially when it involves losing possessions

@jocelyn528: Sensitivity is vital. Ask for advice before you start.

@Caregiving: Allow the emotions. It’s a time of stress and grief. Be gentle with yourself as you keep plugging away.

@beclosedotcom: Moving takes time. Don’t stress or worry. Transitions are temporary, and soon it will all be settled!

@CaringWise: Moves are easier when you have a detailed floor plan, clearly labeled boxes, and a good plan for dinner.

@GracefulAging: Life does not wait for anyone. These days, take a loss, and move forward. Don’t let stuff or indecision entrap you.

@jocelyn528: Make sure senior is a part of the process. Take time to share memories when you can.

@SeniorCounselor: Set small goals and tackle one at a time. (When you feel like you’re making progress, you keep going)

@caregiving: Have back-up plans. A move rarely runs smoothly.