Moving a Parent to a Retirement Home 

It can be a physically and emotionally exhausting experience to move your parent to assisted living. Here’s how to prepare the house, your parent, and yourself for this journey.

When it’s time to consider moving your parent out of their beloved home, there’s so much to do and think about. Sorting through decades of family history and handling the cleaning, packing, and paperwork can be an emotionally taxing and challenging experience.

Today, many Americans face this task: In 2018, there were 52 million people aged 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau’s Vintage Population Estimates. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that by 2060, about 100 million Americans will be 65 or older.

Here are some tips to make moving, and sorting through life’s memories, a little easier.

See Also: Guide to Downsizing for Retirees

Take your time when sorting and packing

Chances are your parent may feel sad about moving away from their community. Leaving their own home may also suggest a decrease in independence. If you can, gently start the decluttering and downsizing process six to nine months before the move. Ask family members to help.

Be sure to leave plenty of time to go through your parent’s things and make decisions with them. They may want to share stories, reminisce, or discuss how they’re feeling. Aim to work no more than two or three hours at a time to sort through possessions and paperwork, so that nobody gets too cranky.

Separate items into piles: Keep, donate, sell, or toss. Different colored bins help keep things sorted. Set aside items your parent wants to give to friends and family in a designated room. Keep a list of who’s taking what and when they’re collecting the items.

Depending on how your parent is handling the process, you might want to move them into their new home with the furniture they’re taking with them first. Then, you can deal with the rest of their belongings. Sometimes, it’s easier to hire an estate sale company rather than try to sell individual items yourself online.

Or, have a downsizing party. Place everything on a large table, and invite neighbors, friends, and family over for cake and coffee to say goodbye to the house (while social distancing, of course). Encourage them to take something with them when they leave.

Plan to set up their new home

When your parent moves, they don’t have to leave behind all their cherished comforts of home. When you can recreate the feeling of the home they’re leaving, it can make the transition easier. Their massive dining set may not be coming with them, but encourage your mother to pick out some favorite teacups. A three-piece living room won’t fit in the new unit, but your father will appreciate having his old upholstered chair. Framed family photos and a treasured painting or two will liven up their new place.

Arrange an easy move

The National Center on Caregiving’s Family Caregiver Alliance recommends reaching out for help to local resources such as companies that organize estate sales, packing, and relocating. The organization has a helpful checklist about how to downsize and plan for the move.

Sketch out a floor plan of your parent’s new place, and figure out where the furniture will go. This will make moving day easier on everyone.

What to do with the house

It’s common when aging parents have lived in the same home for decades that basic maintenance has been neglected. Maybe the roof needs replacing, or the furnace is on its last legs. Chances are, the outdated kitchen and bathrooms need a lot of work, too. You may feel overwhelmed about an ever-growing to-do list to get the property ready to put on the market. Luckily, there are a few ways to go:

  • Identify repairs that must be done immediately for safety reasons.

If the roof or hot water tank is leaking, the heat’s not working or you see sparks when you plug in the kettle, get a handyman to fix the problem or do it yourself if you have the skills.

  • If you or another family member wants to keep the house, make those arrangements.

You might consider keeping the property and either renting it out or moving a relative in. This rental income might offset the extra costs related to the move or help pay for your parent’s long-term care.

Sometimes, if you’re pushed for time because a room becomes available at a senior’s home or your parent suffers a medical crisis and you need to move fast, the prospect of fixing up a house and then waiting weeks or months for it to sell doesn’t make sense. Or, you may not have to cashflow to take on expensive renovations in the hopes that you’ll make it back in the sale price. In these cases, you may want to sell the property as is for a swift, smooth transaction.

This stage of life can be tough on you as well as your parents, so be patient and have grace. Take the time to remember all the happy memories you shared in the home before you close the door on that chapter.

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Wendy Helfenbaum

Wendy is a Montreal-based journalist and content marketing writer who covers real estate, home improvement, DIY, gardening and business for outlets including Apartment Therapy, Houzz,, Country Gardens, AARP, Costco Connection, and more.