Good morning, friends. I know it’s Saturday, which means The Friday Five is a day late. This weekend, I’m in the city I grew up in, helping my mom move from the house we grew up in into an apartment. The Internet hasn’t been hooked up yet and I’ve spent most hours packing and moving boxes.
So when I was thinking about this week’s Friday Five, I wondered if there were five things I could share with you about moving a parent. Some of you may have helped a parent move already; parents get older, children leave the nest, and a family-size house is just too much for one or two people, who are getting older, to take care of.
Based on my experience with this, here are five things you need when moving a parent:
1. Bring Your Tools.
Before I left for this trip, I asked my mother if I should bring anything. She said no. I was driving here, so I knew that I had room in the car to bring whatever was needed. But she said she had tools and I listened and didn’t bring my tools.
In hindsight, I should have brought my tools.
You need them – there are 1,000 little things that need tweaking in both the old house and the new place. For example, Mom needed some shelves hung in her new closet. If I had followed my instinct, I would have had my drill here and could have easily hung them up, rather than having to call a handy man or friend to do it. My hammer would have been helpful to get those pesky nails and hooks out of the walls. A level is key to hanging artwork. You get the idea. Bring a few key tools.
Anyone who knows me knows that I eat about every three hours. It’s just the way my body is programmed. But when you’re moving, things are hectic. You want to get things done. You lose track of time. And then, you end up hangry: that angry feeling that only comes when you need to eat.
Bring healthy food with you. I have a bag in my car with Lara Bars, apples, and bananas. Good energy, but you don’t need to find a plate or silverware to eat them. Three times yesterday, I forgot to have a snack. We were rocking and rolling and I just didn’t eat. And then I became Hangry Karen: the girl who gets mad at everything and can’t say anything nice. It’s like that commercial where the guy turns into Abe Vigoda because he hasn’t eaten. That was me.
Keep good, healthy food nearby to avoid turning into Abe Vigoda.
I wrote this last heading maybe three times before settling on calling it Grace – rather than peace, love, or understanding (with apologies to Elvis Costello). Maybe I like Grace because I was listening to Anne Lamott in the car on the way here and she’s big on grace.
Grace is a more amorphous concept that, to me, embodies peace, love, understanding, and forgiveness.
Moving is stressful on even the springiest chicken. But move someone who’s nearly 70, who has lived in a house for 40 years, who has collected more stuff than any one person – let alone six – should have, who has memories and emotions tied up in this building and maybe some of those things, and you are going to need a big dose of grace, friend.
Case in point: yesterday, we spent the day emptying every closet in the house. My mother tends to “collect” things: you wouldn’t believe how many serving bowls and dishes and napkins and placemats and other stuff she has. More than maybe six families need to own, honestly. And now we were faced with the task of either moving it into a smaller place, or donating it to a worthy cause.
I started off this emptying and weeding out process with more of a scorched-earth-type policy: let’s just get this stuff outta here. But that isn’t grace. It doesn’t consider that, while, for the life of you, you cannot understand how any one person needs six cheese scrapers and a drawer-full of small knives for slicing cheese off a cheese tray at a party, the owner of said cheese accessories might be attached to them for some odd reason that is beyond your comprehension. (To be fair, Mom ended up giving away all but two cheese scrapers and a couple of the little knives. I put them quickly in my car in the donate pile before she could change her mind.)
Anyway, the point is that you have to have some understanding here that, while you don’t understand what the person is attached to and why, she’s still attached, and you have to treat that whole parting/weeding out process with grace – understanding, forgiveness, and many deep breaths.
4. A Smart Phone.
Without cutting into the future post in my head about the five ways to use a smart phone when DIYing, you need a smart phone when moving a parent. Why?
- My phone has a level and a flashlight – perfect for hanging art and fixing stuff in dark closets or cabinets, respectively.
- Making lists – As we’ve moved, we’ve thought of things we need to get at the grocery or hardware stores. It’s an easy way to jot down (or say into the phone) a list of what’s needed so you don’t forget something.
- Taking photos – Taking photos of stuff is good for a couple of reasons: for donations, for keeping a memory of things that you either ultimately throw out or donate, and for taking pictures of antiques before a move, just in case something happens to them.
- Getting from Point A to Point B – Getting around from a new place after being rooted to one place for 40 years is hard. Especially when your parent has no sense of direction (hypothetically, of course). My GPS has been indispensable at learning how to get to, for example, the closest Chinese restaurant to the new house.
Moving is hard on anyone (says the girl who moved a few months ago). But it’s particularly hard on someone who’s lived in the same place for an extended period and is having a hard time with leaving said place. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to move all that stuff, or move some of that stuff and donate the rest.
Many times over the last couple of days, I’ve found myself taking deep breaths. Not speaking the first thing that came to mind and waiting until the urge to scream passed. This might be the most important thing you bring to a move like this.
Oh, and coffee. You’re going to need lots and lots of coffee.
Have you helped move a parent? What advice do you have?
As someone who’s moved four times in the last 15 years, I’ve found having a “first day box” is really handy. In there, we put paper towels, paper plates, plastic cutlery, a decent kitchen knife, dish liquid (multi-tasker to wash dishes and hands), hand towels and/or kitchen towels, a roll of toilet paper, trash bags, extension cord, scissors, pen and notepad, granola bars or other snacks that aren’t temperature sensitive, a Leatherman-type multi-tool, and a small flashlight. Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. You’ll probably find different things work for you.
Karen Cooper says
That is a GREAT idea! We did something like that but it wasn’t nearly that complete. Perfect!
Bless you for being so helpful. In one year my x-mother-in-law passed away and I helped empty her house, my Mom became severely ill and had to go into a care facility, we had to empty her house. I remarried and my husband sold his old house and we emptied out his house. My new mother-in-law passed and again we had another house to empty. The results is that I am constantly clearing out. My husband and I just moved into a small (by todays standards) 960 sq. ft. home and we love the simplicity of it. I hope your Mom enjoys her new space and the freedom it brings.
Karen Cooper says
Oh my! You are a saint!! Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope that she enjoys her new space, too. Thank you again!
I just found your blog through Apartment Therapy and love it! I completely understand what you went through but in my case, I was helping my mom empty my then still living grandma’s house. In some cases my mom was just as attached to grandma’s stuff as grandma was. Grandma had dementia so we set some of her stuff up at my mom’s so she had her own little living room and tv and bedroom furniture. The rest was left to us. Grandma was from the Great Depression so she saved everything. It’s a daunting task.
I had a small experience with my mom helping her organize her spare room and getting her to let go of a decorative glass dish that has been broken for 25 years was hard. But in the end she finally relented. I felt bad for a little while but there’s a reason she asked me to help, she knew I would be logical and honest.
I’m sure my daughter will go through the same thing with me, pack ratism runs in the family LOL
Karen Cooper says
Toni, First of all, thank you for your thoughtful comment and sharing your experience! Second, yes, it is a daunting task. My mother, too, saved everything and it was hard to go through it all. You’re right – it’s our job to be the voice of logic and honesty. Thank you again, and thank you for finding the blog! Glad you’re here – welcome!!