Downsizing Stress. Whether you’re a downsizing professional helping seniors downsize or a family member helping their parent(s) move, it’s not uncommon for this stress to turn emotional for a parent and their adult children.
So, it’s extremely important to get clear about what’s behind this issue, so you can actively seek ways to heal it.
Let’s be honest. Even on a good day, moving isn’t fun.
Few who have experienced downsizing, either professionally or personally, would disagree that this type of move can be ripe for discord.
The Reason Behind the Divide
What’s really going on here? For starters, on the senior side, it’s typically because they feel pushed, unappreciated, or fearful of losing their sense of independence when they start resisting letting go of things. Few of us want to face having to make the hard choice of letting go of things that are precious to us.
On the family side, it’s because they want to help ease the experience for their parent by stepping in, but sometimes make the mistake of tackling it like a commando attacks an enemy fortress. Get in and get out as quickly as you can with the least number of casualties.
There can be a clear disconnect between each side’s expectations on the pace of the process, decision priorities, and the means needed to get to the desired result.
Don’t despair though, there’s hope! Whether you are a Downsizing Specialist or a family member, there are things you can do to heal the divide, reduce the stress and get everyone playing for the same team again.
4 Suggestions to Get You Started
1) Preparing for a downsizing move takes time.
You may be surprised to learn that the physical move isn’t what creates the most stress for a senior. It’s going through and letting go of many of their life’s precious possessions that they’ve carefully accrued over many years.
I recommend that seniors start their preparations for a downsizing move years, not months, before their anticipated move date.
An individual will feel less overwhelmed if decisions are made slowly over time. So, whether a person is planning to move in a year or 10, start the purge process now!
It will lessen the overwhelm. It gives them time to process the memories, prioritize what’s important for them to keep, and helps them determine how to let go of the rest.
2) Choose your language carefully.
Words are powerful. So, pay attention to how and what you’re saying to a senior who’s already emotionally stressed. Stay away from terms like “get rid of”, “trash or junk”. The senior will consider it disparaging or insulting.
What’s that adage? One man’s trash is another man’s gold? It may not have been something they’ve ever seen in 30 years. I guarantee you that the minute they’re expected to get rid of it, they will resist like it’s their most prized possession. It’s just human nature.
Instead, suggest there are others that would love or need an item and let it go to a new appreciative owner (trust me, they’re out there!).
3) Understand the “Why” Behind Their Resistance.
It’s always easier to accept another viewpoint when you understand what’s driving a person’s perspective. Do you tend to lose patience with a parent or client who’s resisting letting go? Ask them what’s behind their resistance.
Saying something like “I can see you’re really having a hard time letting go of this item. Why is it important to you?”. Many default to thinking they might need it later, even if it’s not something they’ve used in years.
I’ll give you an example from my own Mom’s first downsizing move. She was adamant about keeping 5 large boxes of typewriter carbon paper in her office. She let it go after I gently pointed out that she no longer had a typewriter to use them with.
You can help them by walking them through the reality of how often they use an item. Ask about the context it has in their current life. It can help make the whole decision process easier.
4) Honor their journey of letting go.
Regardless of whether it’s a stapler or a frayed favorite piece of clothing they’ve had for 40 years, there’s an emotional connection to be honored and respected.
Often asking them to share the story behind an item unveils important and unexpected moments that shaped their life. With the right attitude, it can be a magical and heartwarming experience for a family member.
These are the true gold. The stories will last for years and lifetimes as they are passed down from present to future generations. Want to support your parent? Give them that time, that moment to share with you, instead of rushing the process. You’ll smile and remember it fondly long after they are gone.
Want to learn more about working more effectively with your parent on this issue? Check out the Psychology Behind Downsizing: How to Move Your Parent from Resistance to Relief guide. It’s chock full of helpful suggestions for adult children and senior service-related professionals who want to avoid downsizing stress for their parents or clients.
P.S. Looking for more guides on senior downsizing for seniors and their families? Check out the Downsizing Made Simpler Guide Series at The Downsizing Institute.