Help my brain please
December 14, 2017 1:38 PM   Subscribe

People with good project management/calendaring/planning skills: can you hope me? I need to move my parents from a large house to a small apartment and would like to create a calendar, start calling moving people, etc...

Hi all, I'm a bit muddled with the stress of this, any help making a plan of attack would be helpful:

Parents are moving from a very large, 2k+ sq/ft house into a small two bedroom apartment in an assisted living facility. Dates I know so far:

12/19 we are having an assessment with the facility
12/20 (assuming assessment doesn't raise flags) we will sign paperwork and are free to move after that.

I need to pack all the stuff they need to bring with them, hire a small moves mover, get them moved in. I also need to deal with everything else in their house - probably hire an estate sale agency? But I was thinking I'd do that after they move.

I already have plans to be out of town 12/22-12/24 and then obv the 25th is Christmas so nothing will happen that day.

I could start packing right now, but as we haven't completed this assesment or signed paperwork, I feel that there is a small chance this will all fall apart next week, and I'm afraid that I will have to unpack everything again if that happens.

Complicating factor is my folks are a bit fragile, my mom has Alzheimer's and the packing process is going to be really stressful for them and especially for her. My wish is to pack their stuff in as short a time as possible and move and unpack them very quickly so they can be unsettled for as short a time as possible.

FYI I live 1.5 hours away so I can conceivably go up for day trips or spend the night in their house for a few days.

Not sure what I'm missing here but I'm sure a lot....
posted by latkes to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Awww, hey that is stressful. Good luck. I agree, wait until there is a signed agreement. In the meantime you can certainly do stuff that needs doing at their place like getting rid of trash, recycling, extra clothes, ancient paperwork, things no one will use again, gifts to others, etc.

A few things for you to think about here? You don't have to answer but keep in mind.

1. How soon do you have to sell the house? If the answer is not "Immediately, we need the money!" give yourself some space to deal with that and just worry about getting a Minimum Viable Household moved for them

2. How is your dad and how much can he help in any capacity? Having him help keep your mom comfortable and relaxed if that is possible is going to be an important role.

3. Anyone else who can help? This is a great time to call in your "hey remember wh3n you said 'if there is anything I can do?'....?"

The place they are moving probably has movers they work with. If you like them I would ask for a suggestion. I don't know as much about the estate sale end of things except to say "Yes there are people who do that" but I'm sure it will be in others' wheelhouse

And, of course, practice self-care. You're no good to anyone if you're running yourself ragged so find space to sleep, get exercise, talk with friends, eat okay. It's okay that this sucks and you don't want to do it (at times). It's good that you are doing it.
posted by jessamyn at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you have money to throw at this, there are companies that specialize in packing, moving, and downsizing seniors. They also can help with movers and storage if necessary.
posted by radioamy at 2:21 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Oh and the facility they're moving to can recommend those sorts of people)
posted by radioamy at 2:22 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know this is stressful, but as a professional organizer, I'm going to do my usual and recommend how you get some guidance from someone who can give you a game plan, and then give you a few ideas.

Start with NAPO and use the Find A Pro tab to geographically search for a professional organizer near your parents. You can select the residential sub-category "packing for a move" and look to see if any of the resulting POs also specialize in working with seniors (as downsizing is a huge crossover with senior organizing). There's also a crossover with another sub-specialty, senior move managers, so also check the National Association of Senior Move Managers. NASSM people are often NAPO members.

They can help you with project management, finding estate sales agents, and generally guiding you through the process. You don't have to hire someone for a whole project -- you can have a phone consultation, find someone you like, maybe have one session to help you lay out the project timeline so you feel more in control of things, or you may rely on this person on an ad hoc basis, or just had a chunk off to them, whatever works best for you.

Jessamyn got it right -- to start, eliminating excess (whether trash, recycling, or donatable clutter) is an easy first step if you've got the time now. If not, focus on the short term, what your parents will need with them, and what you'll need to take back with you (likely paperwork) to help make things run smoothly.

1) When they move, what your parents need first will be season-appropriate clothing, toiletries, comfortable/familiar furniture they love (favorite chairs, beds, bedding) to make your mom feel at ease, any electronics (TVs and radios, in particular) so they don't have to learn new routines, and likely minimal cooking equipment (one pan, one pot, a few sets of dishes/silverware/glasses/etc.) assuming they'll a) have a kitchenette but b) will likely be eating in the assisted living center's dining room for most people.

Photos -- whether framed photos on the wall or albums -- and music, if your mom is into it, will likely be saving graces. Research has shown that music helps people with various forms of dementia better able to focus and connect, and anecdotally, I can tell you that older clients find photos and music (plus any knitting/handicraft-hobbies) to be key to neutralizing anxiety in a new place.

Don't feel like they have to arrive with everything in place -- it can feel a bit like a hotel for the very first week or two, provided they have their clothing, toiletries, usual entertainment/self-soothing items, and a bit of the furnishings. They'll be prodded to socialize and be out and about in activities that first week or two, anyway.

Given your Mom's situation, it may be better for her not to be present at all while you're packing -- if someone can take her somewhere nice in the early part of the day -- beauty parlor and lunch, perhaps -- while you get the clothing, essentials, and a bit of furniture moved, it can help. Of course, this all depends on whether she understands that she's moving -- visits back and forth to the old house may help, but it will likely be anxiety-provoking for her to participate in the packing or downsizing itself.

If your dad is calming, he should be with her, but whenever she's otherwise occupied, that's the time to have all the questions you and the professional organizer (or your posse) have saved up to ask him, zipzipzip, so that he can make the essential decisions or answer the must-know questions.

2) From a paperwork perspective, you're eventually going to have to cancel all of their regular billing (like for utilities) and will probably want to set up a change of address to send everything to you, at least for a month or two, until you get everything straightened out. After that, change the address to where they're living. You may have to forward personal mail/magazines in a care package every week or two, but making sure you get the mail (assuming your folks are fine with that) will save you headaches.

3) Again, a professional organizer will be the biggest help for downsizing them compassionately, and providing you with the geographically-specific resources -- the most reputable estate agents, the charities that will pick up and even help you itemize, good home stagers and move-out cleaners to get the house ready to sell, etc. There's a company some POs work with called Everything But the House that's a useful option if there aren't great estate sale options in your locale. A good professional organizer will know (or find) any of the resources you need, and can work not only as a project manager, but "supervising mom," calming helping with whatever you need to do.

This is certainly overwhelming, so please, as Jessamyn said, practice self-care. And also remember that you don't have to know/do everything right away. The primary goal is to make the first week or two in the new place as comfy and familiar as possible. Then, you can focus on moving more things over as necessary, mulling over the administrivia of changing addresses and closing accounts, and the essential downsizing. The vast majority of downsizing decisions come down to a) what has a material value high enough to make it worth trying to sell vs. donate? and b) what do we absolutely need to keep so Mom and Dad feel comforted?

Almost everything else will be easier for you (with the help of a PO or a sharp friend) to decide about than for your folks, and you can guarantee your dad that you'll double-check anything with him. (He'll likely agree that you can make decisions about housewares/kitchen/linens, for example, but want a say-so about tools or books.)

Finally, this checklist from the Family Caregiver Alliance may prompt some thoughts for you to put on your to-do list and discuss with a professional.

If you get down to a short list and want me to help you walk through various credentials or let you know if I know someone's reputation personally, feel free to MeMail. Sending hugs.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:54 PM on December 14, 2017 [11 favorites]

I did this for my parents who were in Chapel Hill, NC. Well, actually, I coordinated the company that the facility recommended. Two very competent ladies worked with my mom (my step father was the one with issues) in planning on the furniture to move, the pictures to take, the books to take, etc. They then made a list of the rest for the 6 kids (3 each side) to look over and claim. When all was done, they arranged for the remaining items to be donated. Then they packed the items and coordinated the physical move with the part of their company that moves people. My mother who was STRESSED and reluctant to even start the process ended up praising the people to anyone and everyone who would listen. I flew down there once in the beginning and again on moving day. Depending on how you look at it, either all 6 kids paid 1/6th through a reduced residual value when the 2nd parent dies or my parents paid for it.

The key was that my mother was able to sit with them and tell them about the family pictures, what was of sentimental value and what they wanted the apartment to look like. The people were very good at being both compassionate and firm at the same time about what would fit, what should go, etc. They also unpacked on the other end (a mile away).

If you or your folks can afford it, hire someone who specializes in this. If you are going to be the hired gun, I think the first step is to decide what furniture is going and where in the apartment it will reside. Then, tag all the furniture that is going so that the movers know. Then I would start with their bedroom and work my way to the common areas. What clothes do they need to take? Will they be going outside much? Get rid of as much clothes as you can. Put it aside for donation. Plan on what to take in the bathroom. Take that in a separate box so that it all gets there and is accessible right away. Any artwork or hanging pictures have to be assessed as to where they will be hung. Do they have a full kitchen in their new place? A lot of places do not have ovens and stoves. Can you downsize the cooking items. Do they need all those pots and pans? Maybe they just need place settings, glasses some storage containers and some serving dishes but not the big cast iron pan, the cookie sheets, etc. Then the electronics. TVs, computers, laptops, etc. Where are they going to go? If any computer is not going to make the move, remove the hard drive. All the things they have collected over the years, the crystal clock on the mantel, the figurines, etc, they will not have the same space so those will likely not make the move. Take pictures of them so that your folks can look at them if they want. Tell them they are going to a good home.

The bottom line is that you need to plan the furniture layout, tag what is going, plan the clothes, make sure all their bathroom stuff such as medicines, etc is setup right away, have some kitchen stuff to eat with but likely not cook with, have all the pictures of family, friends, etc boxed and moved and that is about it. Then, after they are moved, you can deal with the rest of the house and the rest of the household goods.

The key is to make them feel at home right away by having their own furniture set up similar to how it is now, by having all their clothes and bathroom/personal stuff unpacked first, having some of their favorite foods in the pantry and frig such as cereal, fruits, cold drinks, tea, etc. To the extent that can be unpacked in a similar spot as to their house, the better.

Oh, listen to your parents when you start packing. They will ask about random items. Some seemingly random items will be focused on. If they insist on taking the ugly serving dish Aunt Martha gave them as a wedding gift in 1958, don't fight it, take it. Then remind them that the dish is coming. They will be more relaxed. It is amazing some of the random things that will stress them out about the move.

I myself, after my divorce and my kids went to college, moved from a 5,000 sq ft house to a 1100 sqft apartment. You just have to be determined, decisive and patient. The more help you can get the better.
posted by AugustWest at 9:22 PM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I once talked to someone who specialized in moving seniors to assisted living. Most of her clients were never going home again; something serious had happened, like breaking a hip, which meant they were no longer safe in their homes. Oftimes, mental deterioration was also a factor. Frequently she didn't have much opportunity to consult with friends or family, who were either infirm themselves or fully engaged in the crisis, but she actually liked it better that way, for reasons explained below. Her tricks of the trade included:

  • Measuring all of the rooms, wall lengths, countertops, etc. at the new place to facilitate making a plan;
  • Editing the furniture so it could, to the greatest extent possible, offer the necessary functions in an arrangement that echoed the original house. She would make furniture substitutions as needed, e.g., if there was only room for one table and the apartment had an eat-in kitchen, she might put the former dining room table there minus all of its leaves. Or replace a crappy console table behind a couch with the second dresser from a set.
  • Replicating the placement of major artwork, e.g., the painting over the sofa;
  • Photographing and then replicating the arrangements of drawers, closets, countertops, and family photo clusters;
  • Meeting with the seniors a few days after they moved in to find out if/what they missed from their old home that should be incorporated. Although she came armed with photos of the original house in case they were necessary for understanding, her rule of thumb was that the missing items that mattered were actually pretty easy for the seniors to describe. She found this approach was more effective than consulting with the children, who often had incorrect ideas about what their parents valued that reflected their own memories and biases. She noted that many people actually stop caring about many of their possessions when they age, especially pieces that are hard to clean or maintain; their value is in the sense of safety, belonging and nest, which she created for them in the ways described above. Usually the clients were just relieved that someone had done the editing of their possessions, which had often been a source of overwhelm and stress.

    She emphasized that the key to a successful move, especially when dementia was involved, was to make the new place seem extremely familiar and intuitive, e.g., where to find the spatula. So long as it wasn't dangerous, she would choose creating familiarity over the objectively better way to position or store things. The replication of the family photo clusters, in particular, made people feel grounded and cared for.

  • posted by carmicha at 7:06 AM on December 15, 2017

    In terms of the project management aspect, if it starts getting complex a MS Project or Excel schedule might be good. But I find that even a simple paper timeline/schedule is invaluable. Getting the key dates and deadlines on paper is so much easier than keeping it all in your head.

    Good luck, this sounds stressful and difficult.
    posted by Dip Flash at 11:01 PM on December 15, 2017

    Response by poster: Hi folks, thanks for these suggestions. I have been re-reading them tonight and have taken some first steps:

    Called a few movers and two professional downsizers/senior movers for quotes.
    Measured & photographed the new apartment
    Started a room-by-room list of what we definitely need to bring.
    Talked to my dad a lot about the process using some of the specifics outlined in your suggestions above to help get him ready emotionally for what's coming.
    Tomorrow I'll be shredding and purging old paperwork etc that I know they don't need while I get dad to start the process of choosing which books, CDs and art he wants to bring

    I may have the professionals end up finishing up this part I'm starting but now that I have these specific suggestions I do feel prepared to do a lot of the choosing and culling process as long as I have someone to actually pack & move.

    Anyhow, I will continue to refer to this thread over the next couple weeks, thanks for these very helpful suggestions.
    posted by latkes at 9:35 PM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: OK, thanks so much folks. This advice was very helpful. I did hire a professional I found through NASSM. I am really glad I did (and that my parents could afford to do so). I ended up using her for very little (she usually does EVERYTHING but there was a lot I could do once I had guidance from this thread and from her) but the stuff she did was really, really helpful, namely making sure I had my to-do list right, helping me figure out which furniture to bring, giving me references for other professionals, supervising the movers, and actually unpacking my parents apartment so we could spend move day chilling at the coffee shop. She also gave me some tips I wouldn't have thought of like, board the cats for the day. Anyway, really appreciate all your advice folks, it was supremely helpful.
    posted by latkes at 2:34 PM on January 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

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