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“In Hindsight: Beth Gibson Lilja on How NOT to Transition Parents to a Senior Space”

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Part One: Stuff

They say experience is the greatest teacher of all. However, that experience can involve pain. Today Beth offers insights to save you the pain she experienced while transitioning her mom to a smaller space.

“Let’s face it,” says Beth. “We’re all likely to help downsize a senior parent’s living quarters. I recently transitioned my mom, Jan, at 82 years of age. In the process, I learned there were so many things I did wrong, creating some sad and tough times for us both. Had I to do it again, I’d drastically change the process. So, save yourself some agony, and learn from my mistakes.”

How to Begin Downsizing—Before a Crisis Occurs

“Gradual is so much better,” says Beth. The downsizing process can begin years—even a decade or two—before the actual move. Start early on by really listening to your mom when she says, “When the time comes, I want so-and-so to have my favorite punch bowl.”

Your mom—or dad—has unwittingly begun a downsizing conversation. Ask if they plan to use that bowl much more. If “no,” mention the reward of seeing their punchbowl become a legacy by giving it to a son/daughter now.

Then enjoy a party or meal at your place. Let mom/dad see the next generation relish their favorite bowl. Above all, take pictures of mom and daughter/son with the bowl. Preserve that memory.

In that same conversation ask if there are other things they’d like given to specific people. Now—or later? Always encourage NOW. If not, start that list: Who gets what?

Making—and Preserving—Memories

Another question: “Why do you treasure that bowl? When/how did you get that?” Record their response. You’ve just immortalized a very special memory of your parent. That’s something YOU will treasure for years.

If you begin downsizing early, future conversations are significantly easier and more frequent. You’ve just made an arduous task fun and rewarding for both you and your parent(s). Sharing and preserving memories—happy and sad—is poignant and a great way to strengthen bonds.

The important things are to really listen to your parent(s) early on and seize opportunities to share love and minimize pain. The more you do early, the less you’ll have come moving time. If you wait for a crisis—you miss those fun stories and opportunities to laugh and cry together. Why deal with a crisis when it’s easy to avoid? Think of downsizing as a long-term process—NOT a weekend of horror. If, early on, you start a “legacy builder” filled with objects that each have a story—you will gain a deeper understanding of your parent—and yourself—and how you fit into their life. Think photos and a recorder.

WHY Do You Want to Keep THIS???

We all know that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Beth had the perfect solution for ditching an amazing amount of “stuff” that her mom wouldn’t give up. She suggested they donate to a nearby homeless shelter. Her mom’s collection of 47 jigsaw puzzles (and much more) went to the shelter where a resident was enthralled. Puzzles were his passion. He worked on those puzzles at the shelter every day. Mom was thrilled, and so was the shelter. Beth found a way to put things to good use so her mom was relieved—not morose.

As Beth says, “The critical thing is to take pictures: snap, snap, snap—and record. Then you can still reminisce about those given-away treasures. Your parent(s) will be delighted to share their stories time and again as you peruse the new photo collections. And you’ll have photos and recordings to pass onto the next generation.”

Future transitioning stories will delve deeper into discovering “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate”; downsizing alternatives, finding the right place for your parent and organizing LIFE.

Meanwhile, here are more resources:

Call or email us today. Let’s get started: 612-616-1215;

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