Brett Caldwell is a downsizing guru in my book. He works as a client services manager with Statcare Medical Group (part of Summit Medical Group) and was kind enough to share his personal insight into the responsibilities of coordinating a move on behalf of a parent.
Q: How did the home downsizing conversation begin (maintenance issue with the home/break-ins in the area/an illness etc)?
My father was diagnosed with cancer. He went through eight chemo and 35 radiation treatments. He is 83 and mom is 80. Otherwise, they have both been in great health. Living an hour away from me (in Morristown), I felt it was in their best interest to be closer to me and his doctors. I also worried about the upkeep of their home. They are great at doing so, but the summer months and heat was a concern with yard maintenance. Downsizing was a secondary discussion point. It was a natural progression of the conversations.
Q: Once they decided, how did you work together to complete the downsizing move?
To begin with, we discussed how you can only live in one room at a time. If they didn’t have to worry about the years of collecting “stuff,” what would they actually need from a space to be able to live comfortably? Once we decided what that would look like, we began looking for a location based on appropriate living size — not living “with all my stuff” size.
When the location was identified, I told them that we didn’t need to get rid of anything or store any of their stuff until after the move. Most people that are downsizing feel they have to immediately start getting rid of their stuff because they are going into a smaller space.
My approach was different. We keep everything. We move everything. We fully furnish the new location with everything they feel they need to make it their home. Only at that point do we decide if we want to store, give away, or yard sale the remainder. It is hard for anyone to get rid of a lifetime of memories and momentos. After making the new location home, it feels safer to let go of “stuff” that isn’t truly needed.
Q: Were there any challenges that came up along the way (distance/other responsibilities/time)?
Being an hour away made my days long for quite a few weeks. The most important thing was to keep them excited about the move and how great things were going. It was important for me to absorb all the stressors so they didn’t feel worries or concerns. That certainly was challenging along the way.
When entering into this, you have to realize that you will feel you do not have enough time to get things done. It comes down to having the mindset in advance that ultimately it all works out. It may not be they way you initially plan, but it always does.
It is important to introduce yourself to as many of the “players” in the move as needed to become the key point of contact. My hardship was that I didn’t have time to decompress. It is an emotionally draining process going from health to cancer treatments to illness from treatments to recovery to moving all in the same year. Actually, it was a six-month process. The challenge was to keep myself healthy and as stress free as much as possible. It is the most difficult thing to do.
It will also pull you away from your family. I am thankful that I have a wonderful wife who understood when my days were long, or I was away for what seemed like days at a time. The process could cause personal issues if you have not discussed what to expect up front with your spouse and kids.
Q: What advice would you give others as a “family member of support?”
For the child or individual helping to coordinate for the needs required to complete a move it can be very stressful. However, it must be approached day to day. When I would talk with Mom and Dad, I gave them an overview of what we were doing, what our weekly goals were, and what we were focused on for that specific day. We approached each need individually and I had them only focusing on one topic at a time.
I would do all the short and long-term planning. I kept them very involved but I controlled the message and direction to alleviate the stressors and worry from them. Now, if they wanted to be more involved I let them participate at whatever level they wanted. Ultimately, it is all their decision and life. But, I let them know that I was there to help and be the point person for getting things done. That way they could focus on “taking their time” to pack the house.
Lastly, always make the parent(s) feel that they have a voice and are participating in the process. No matter how smooth the process goes, if they don’t feel like they participated or had a voice, they will never feel “settled” in their new location. It will feel like it is someone else’s home that they are just staying at.