Relocation basics & downsizing tips

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In this session of Caregiver Tip Tuesdays we look at tips for relocating a loved one to a retirement or long term care facility.

The decision to relocate a loved one to a retirement or long term care setting, can be a monumental decision and can involve a tremendous drain on one's own emotional well-being. If possible the person moving should be involved in visiting various homes, asking questions and packing/downsizing. Sorting possessions can be an overwhelming experience, as one tries to separate the "memories from the possessions". Where your loved one decides to move will determine what they can take with them. More independent settings will allow for more furnishings, while more dependent settings, like long-term care homes, will dictate that very few items beyond clothing can accompany the person. It's important to keep in mind that your loved one should not move things that are not useful, functional or overly important to them. Items should be durable and easy to care for but most importantly they should fit in your loved one's new place and allow space for them to move around.

When you begin helping your loved one sort their belongings, don't try to overwhelm yourself with doing everything in one day. Remember to ASK FOR HELP if you need it. Don't try to do it alone if there are ready and willing volunteers who would love to help. Allow yourself a set amount of time, make sure you have what you need to pack (boxes/tape etc.), start with the least used room first, work in one room at a time and start by sorting large items. You may wish to use a "colour coding system" to label boxes that will go in different rooms (e.g., green labels are for the kitchen, red for the bedroom etc.) and you may wish to use a similar colour system (or a numbering system) to label items you are dividing up between taking and giving away. Ensure you have a floor plan of your loved one's new home before deciding on furniture. It is helpful to "map out" the size of certain items so you can see what will fit in the space. If there are rooms with similar dimensions in your loved one's home, use them to gauge what things will look like in their new setting. Keep a list of the items you are keeping and where your loved one wants them to go in their new home.

You may want to record in writing special stories related to special items that your loved one doesn't want to get rid of but can't take with them. Have your loved one decide who they would want to have these items (or let them choose) and present your loved ones with the story related to their chosen item when your loved one is giving it to them. Additionally, you may want to create a 'memory book' of your loved one's special items with photos of things that they hold dear that they can take with them to their new home.

Prior to moving, make a list of tasks, target dates and the person responsible. Ensure your loved one has sent out move notifications to everyone who sends them mail - family, friends, credit card companies, insurance, banks, any government offices etc. Arrange movers/packers/realtor. Notify utilities and your loved one's landlord. Should the task of moving be overwhelming, you may also want to consider the option of hiring a seniors' relocation company. On moving day ensure your loved one has a small hand luggage with items they will need for the day, including any medications and snacks. Unpack as much of your loved one's belongings as possible and hang their pictures right away - it is what will make them feel at home! If your loved one is moving to a seniors' residence ask if they can be matched with a long-time resident with similar interests who can be their 'buddy' as they adjust to their new home.

Esther Goldstein, B.Sc., B.S.W., RSW is a former acute care hospital social worker, the author of the annual Ontario publication the "Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living &Long-Term Care®" and administrator of the affiliated national website She is a seasoned lecturer and former educator at U of T School of Continuing Studies, sharing her knowledge with professionals, seniors and their families, by giving workshops and lectures at various venues on 'Senior Living Options' and related topics. Esther can be contacted at