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Memories, meaning and moving

Imagine moving from the home you’ve loved and lived in for decades because you have to or need to, not because you want to. This is the position our parents find themselves in when they’re much older and their health is failing. They might be moving from a large house to a smaller home or unit, or perhaps an aged care residence, but whatever the case, we should treat this move with sensitivity and help them find the upside to their down-sizing.

Treat this move with sensitivity and help them find the upside to their down-sizing

Deciding what to do with furniture and belongings that may no longer be required or just aren’t practical anymore can be difficult at any age, but if you have a lifetime of memories embedded in a home and its contents, it’s that much more distressing. This can be accompanied by feelings of vulnerability and loss; having to let go of the surroundings where we spent a major part of our lives.Remember, it’s the home your mum and dad moved into when they first got married and they painted every room themselves; it’s where their children grew up and their friends came to celebrate. It’s where your dad made a billycart from an old pram and pushed you in it up the driveway just so you could roll down laughing. It’s the place your mum made every birthday cake in that tiny kitchen and fixed every scrape with a band-aid and a kiss while you sat on the edge of the big bathtub.It’s the house where your teenage parties saw coloured light bulbs strung out across the Hills hoist and had a spare room you stored all your junk in when you took off overseas at 21. There’s the vegetable patch mum and dad worked in year-round and the shed down the back with old Vegemite jars full of nails and a rusty old Victor mower still in the corner. These things represent your parents’ memories, their history, and they mean a great deal.

While the move is challenging, here’s eight tips for lubricating the wheels of change:

  1. Do your best to accept and understand how hard this move is emotionally for your parents. Think before you speak and don’t say things like “Why have you hung on to all this rubbish?”

    don’t say things like “Why have you hung on to all this rubbish?

  2. Remember, this is about them and not about you. Don’t make it harder for your parents by getting sentimental about your Golden Books collection. Either take them home or give them away without a fuss, but do your best to cope with your own sense of loss away from your parents.
  3. Prioritise photo albums and personal objects like books, collections and keepsakes, tools for hobbies and family heirlooms, even if you have to store them yourself. Your parents will feel much more at ease knowing these are still around.
  4. When sorting things, make a donate pile, discard pile and an undecided pile. This process may need to be refined and done more than once, but keep compassion ahead of your need to get it over and done with.
  5. If both of your parents are involved, don’t play into their marital dynamics if the stress of the move leads them to argue about who should throw out what.
  6. If one or both of your parents like to help others or are community-minded, take advantage of this attitude and help them donate the discarded things to charities where some good will come out of the move. This may make them feel better about letting go of some belongings.
  7. Make a rough scale drawing of their new residence. This will help your parents be more realistic about how much room they’ll have for their things.
  8. Focus on the new life ahead where there will be less maintenance, new friends and opportunities for outings. Display colourful brochures of their new home as a visual reminder that the move is not the end of the road, but just a transition to a different kind of life.
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