I’ve had a couple of clients approach me recently asking how to talk about downsizing with their aging parent(s). And while they had different motivations and were in very different situations, they are some general themes that can help with these conversations.
Determine Your Motivation
First and foremost, determine YOUR motivation for wanting to discuss this with them.
Are you concerned about them being able to keep up with the maintenance of a large home? Are you wanting to help them minimize and declutter so they can move to a smaller home? Do you want them to be able to access some of the equity they’ve built up in their home to help with retirement costs? Have they lost their partner and now the home is too big of a burden? Do you want them to have opportunities for more social interaction? Are they at a stage where they may need more support than you (your family, siblings, etc) are able to provide right now?
Figuring out YOUR motivation will go a long way in determining exactly what you are hoping for out of this conversation. And it can also help you come up with a plan.
Main Types of Motivations for Downsizing
In my experience, there are 4 main motivations we have for wanting to have this conversation with our elderly parents. (Note that all of these may also involve having your parents move closer to you so that you are better able to support them as they grow older):
- You want your parents to downsize to a smaller home with less (or zero) upkeep.
- You want your parents to be able to tap into the equity they’ve built up.
- You and your parents decide to become a multi-generational household (either in your current home or by purchasing a new home together)
- Your parents need more support and you want to consider assisted living options.
In all of these scenarios, a few things will need to happen:
You will need to have an open and honest conversation with your parents.
For some, this will be a very difficult conversation to have with your parents. In addition to downsizing, you will likely need to talk openly about their finances and what kind of position they are in financially for their retirement years. Your parents may object or strongly oppose even the idea of talking about it. Most of us are proud and don’t like to ask for help, so a conversation like this can be very hard.
Before speaking with them, think about how your parents prefer to get information. Do you have a parent who thinks with his/her head or heart and/or gut?
- For a more logical parent, you’ll want to steer the discussion more towards facts (e.g. how much money they can free up for retirement if they downsize, how much time and money they’ll have when they’re not looking after such a big home, etc).
- For a more emotionally-driven parent, you could talk about the challenges of their current home (upkeep, cost of keeping up so much space, distance from family, etc) vs all the things downsizing would allow for (more leisure, travel, family get-togethers, etc).
Hot Tip: If all else fails, agreeing to give them more grandkids is always a good bribe to get the conversation going! (haha, just kidding!)
They need to agree to the idea of downsizing.
Don’t go into the conversation expecting them to immediately agree and thank you for bringing it up. (Although congrats if that is their reaction!). This will likely be a process of many conversations and maybe even some heated debates of the pros and cons.
Remember your motivation for doing it (which ideally involves making their lives easier and/or better). Take time to highlight the positives of downsizing. It could be more time to travel, or less time needed to take care of things. Perhaps it’s a better social life and activities, or someone to cook for them. Whatever it is, reminding them of the benefits can help them think more positively of the idea of downsizing.
Even after all this, they still may not agree and you may just have to accept that now is not the right time. Don’t give up entirely, as they may take time to come around to the idea. Just be consistent and try to be helpful in any way you can. You can offer to do research for them or offer to get advice from professionals (financial advisor, lending institution, realtor, etc) on their behalf. Or try helping them downsize their possessions first so they see that they don’t need as much space.
You will need to come up with a plan for the transition together.
While you may have done some research beforehand, now is the time to get them involved in the planning process. Let them lead the conversation on what is important to them and what the home will need as they age.
This may end up being the place they live out the rest of their years, so it needs to be able to adapt with their future needs. Remember, even if they are very healthy now, things could change in the future. Some changes might need to be made to their home to make it suitable as they age. Think things like low curb showers, grab bars, one-level living, wide entry for walkers, etc.
In addition, getting a home evaluation on their current home can help with planning the budget for their next home.
They will need to downsize their possessions.
For any of us that have lived in a home for 5+ years and moved, you know just how much stuff can accumulate over the years that you’ve completely forgotten about. Now imagine you’ve lived in the same home for 20, 30, even 40 years! There is going to be a lot of “stuff” to deal with, no matter how minimalist your parents are. (And let’s face it, most baby boomers are not minimalists!)
They have a lifetime of accumulation and it’s going to take time to downsize their possessions. A lot of decisions will need to be made and it will likely be a very emotional process for them. You (or a sibling or close family friend) will likely need to dedicate some time to help them work through their possessions and find ways of letting things go. Another option is to hire a professional organizer to help them go through things. Sometimes having a third party can make things go smoother (i.e. you don’t need to get into fights over your great-grandmas antique doilies that no one wants).
You both will have to navigate the emotions of this huge life change and potential changes in your relationships.
First off, remember to be gentle with them. This is a time of huge transition for them. They are likely to have lots of emotions and feelings around it. They might also have mixed feelings around you helping them.
It can be hard to ask for help (or accept help when it’s offered). Even more so, from your children. As the parent, they’ve always been the one to help you, so this can be especially hard for them.
Remember that your parents are not only dealing with their living situation changing during this transition, but changes in their relationship with you, as well.
Have you had to talk with your parents about downsizing? How did it go? What strategies helped convince them that downsizing was the right choice? Leave a comment below.