Moving home can be hard work and stressful at the best of times. For people who are getting on in years and perhaps not as fit and agile as they were, it’s likely to be harder still, and they may need a lot of help.
If you are helping an elderly family member or friend with a move, here are some tips that might make the process easier for you and them.
Moving can be emotional
For many people moving is a positive step because they are leaving home to begin adult life, or buying a larger place to start a family. However, for the elderly, it can be tinged with sadness. Perhaps they are moving into a residential home because they can no longer cope alone, and the move seems like admitting defeat. Perhaps they are downsizing due to the loss of a partner, or they are moving in with a grown up child and are worried about the emotional impact on all family members. Change can be terribly scary, and they may feel a strong sense of loss when moving home.
Be sensitive and patient. Remember they may feel like they're leaving behind a lot of memories. Help them focus on why they're moving - for example, are they downsizing so they can afford to live the life they've always dreamed of?
Take the time
Things are likely to take an older person longer to do. Not only are they probably not as quick physically, but moving is likely to stir up a lot of memories as they come across forgotten photos and objects that they may want to linger over. Be patient and don’t rush them. Ask about the items, engage with the stories and ask questions - dismissing the person's history because you are in a rush is not going to help.
Break the move up into manageable tasks
Your elderly friend or parent may find the idea of moving overwhelming – help by tackling one thing at a time. For example, start with sorting one drawer and then another until a whole room is done before moving onto the next. Keep focused and tick things off as you do them so that you can both feel a sense of achievement.
Make sure they are still in charge
While you may be doing or delegating much of the heavy lifting, and may be chivvying along to keep the process going, try not to be too bossy or patronising. Remember to ask how the person moving would like things to be done rather than making assumptions. Suggest concrete useful jobs for them to do, such as making the telephone calls to removal companies (companies may offer a discount for senior citizens), labelling boxes, or going through the contents of a particular drawer. That way they will be involved in the process and not feel useless - remember it's their move, and their belongings.
Throwing away, donating or storing?
It's likely that they'll be moving to somewhere smaller, in which case a lot of their possessions are going to have to go. Naturally this can be difficult. You may be able to help them to decide which items they can part with by suggesting what to do with them (selling, donating to charity, passing to a family member). Create clear lists/piles for items, and remember that it may take a few rounds of consideration before the person decides to throw something away. Rediscovering items can offer a trip down memory lane - it may be a few days later that they realise they did not really need it all. Do not push, even if you are frustrated.
Nobody likes saying goodbye to the items they’ve collected over the years, so be tactful. If necessary, you can put large – but sentimental – items into storage and reassure your elderly person that they can visit the storage unit at any time.
Be armed with information
For example, try to have the dimensions of the new place so you will know what will fit where. Know what is allowed, what is included and so on so that you don’t end up with too many things being held on to ‘just in case’. Having this information to hand can also help to reassure the mover, who may be anxious about the unknown.
Let them keep in touch
In addition to leaving their previous home, the senior will probably be leaving a network of friends and acquaintances. Make sure you organize change of address cards to be sent out, and remember to ask your elderly mover if they would like to add a message before the change of address cards are posted. Reassure your mover that you have contact details for the important neighbours and friends that shaped your elderly mover’s life in their old home. Encourage their friends to visit your mover in their new home, or perhaps offer to help arrange a housewarming party when they are settled. Make the time, if possible, to take them back to places near their old home, like restaurants or cafes, so there are still some comforting, familiar elements. Everything being new, from their home to the place they go shopping, can be overwhelming.
If your mover is moving a long way, they may need to change doctor, dentist or any other number of things. This can be a standard part of moving, but if your friend or relative has been with the same doctor for years, the change in routine can feel overwhelming. Be sure to register changes of address as soon as you can, so important documents aren't waiting at their old home. Getting their post forwarded to the new address is also a good idea.
Help them to settle in
Arriving in a new place, especially if they will now be sharing with others in a care home or your family, can be awkward. Help by making introductions and remembering some of the questions about where things are and how things are done, which the elderly person might be worried about. Help them also to arrange and display their things to their liking to make them feel at home.
Try to make it fun!
Although the process can be fraught, there will still be aspects to enjoy if you approach it with the right attitude and enough time. You may find that listening to stories about the past, or planning the future, brings you closer together. Intersperse difficult jobs with breaks and serve favourite foods. Listen to their choice of music while you work. Choose some attractive new storage items. A big change can bring friends and relatives together - making your mover feel special, and not like an inconvenience or a problem, is important. Enjoy the time you are spending together!
Updated March 2020