How Not to Talk to Your Mother

My mother always said she wanted to die in the house, the one she had lived in for almost 50 years and where she had raised her children. Of course, what she meant was she wanted to spend the rest of her days in the comfortable and familiar place she knew, not in a retirement community.

Would she have been more comfortable in a house on one floor rather than three? Would it have been easier to live in a place with wider halls and doorways to accommodate her wheelchair? And in a house that didn’t have stairs up to the front door? Yes, yes, and yes.

But these weren’t reasons that resonated with my mother. She was happy where she was, taken care of by my father, who was a huge support system for her.

Would she have benefited from a discussion about how she could get round-the-clock care in a more accommodating space? Not really.

If you have a mom (or dad) who knows exactly what they want and how they want to spend however many days or years are left to them, you don’t want to start a conversation about how you know better (even if you think you do).

You want to start with where they are. As Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

So what can you do with what you have? You have a lot of love for your parents and you want to consider what’s best for them. You know they want to stay in the family home. How can you make it easier, healthier, and certainly safer for them to do that?

You can start with the idea of downsizing and decluttering to make the house easier to navigate. If that’s not something they have considered, you’ll want to begin the conversation slowly, and be considerate of their feelings as you go.

It may be at least as hard for your parents to talk about this as it is for you so here are some suggestions to make it a little easier for both of you.

Start now. Whatever your parents’ age, it’s time for them to start talking about the eventual disposition of their belongings. Encourage them; let them know you’re ready to have this conversation whenever they are.

Listen more than you talk. Let your parents do most of the talking. Make the discussion a dialogue, not a lecture.

Ask how you can help. Your parents may have their own ideas about how to get the process started, and how they would like you to help. They may or may not want your opinions; they may or may not want your physical help.

Be prepared with your suggestions. If your parents are at a loss as to how to start, have some concrete suggestions for them. Even if they don’t accept your ideas, hearing about them may help them to formulate their own.

Ask questions. As you talk about specific items, discuss your parents’ feelings about them, and ask about any special memories they may evoke. You may be surprised at the details of family history that will emerge.

Tell stories. Stories bring us together and help keep our family history alive. They help us see our lives more clearly. Sometimes we transform a story just by telling it over and over, learning to see it in a new way each time we share it.

Give them a copy of our book. Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home is a great Mother’s Day gift. And this is the perfect time to purchase it because, for a short time, the book is available at half off the original price.

So how will you celebrate Mother’s Day? Wear a big smile, have an open heart, and don’t forget the flowers.


Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home


Aging in Place: An Interview with Rachel Adelson, author of “Staying Power”


Rachel Adelson, M.A., is a science writer specializing in aging and health, and the author of Staying Power: Age-Proof Your Home for Comfort, Safety and Style (Sage Tree Publishing). She has covered everything from brain health and neurological disorders to human-computer interaction. In the midst of a downsizing move herself, Rachel recently made time to answer a few questions about “aging in place” for us.

What got you interested in the topic of aging in place, and what made you want to write a book about it? 

You don’t have to be old or contemplating your own aging or mortality to be interested in this subject.  I went back to grad school to study aging for two reasons:  First, it’s a fascinating subject, embracing everything about the human experience.  You can find your own piece of it and make a difference.  Second, the rapid expansion of the older demographic is going to influence our world in profound ways. I thought it would be exciting to be a part of that. I settled on “aging at home” because I had enjoyed learning about human factors and universal design earlier in my career and saw the obvious connection—and the obvious need.  And it’s fun to figure out “toys” that can help people; there’s a real problem-solving aspect that makes use of the medical knowledge.

What is the most interesting, or most helpful thing you learned in the process of writing your book? What do people need to know about aging in place?

People tend to think big about adaptations for aging – elevators, ramps – and get put off by the cost, complexity and appearance, so they stop right there. But with help from the experts, I discovered a wealth of simple, small, common-sense and affordable changes (some of which fit right in with your regular décor) that can aid accessibility and accommodate a wide variety of age-related changes. Most people can start small and adapt over time; should they need a ramp or a stair climber, they’ll know it. But for many people, simpler things—like contrasting friction tape and good lighting–can prevent a disabling fall and the need for more drastic change.

What are some of the medical or physical conditions that people THINK require moving out of the home, but don’t necessarily?

This is a good question, because the best ideas should directly respond to a resident’s changing needs.  If you are strong and agile, why would you need an elevator? However, if your vision is weak, you should address that issue instead.  I structured my book around the most common changes of aging–physical, sensory, mental–so that readers can focus on their own unique needs.  All the way through the life span, we’re not one-size-fits-all.

That said, stairs are such a big issue.  When people develop arthritis in the knees or the hips, they start to dread going up and down.  But even there, a main-floor dining room might become a bedroom, a pantry can become a washroom, and so on.  Or you can put in a stair climber.

With vision changes, often people would rather be in a familiar setting where they know the layout and placement.

And nearly any home can be modified to reduce the energy demands on a person, though as someone’s world shrinks, it gets harder to maintain a big space.  Reduced maintenance and increased clutter can lead to safety problems (a cluttered space is harder to clean and clear).

If everything else is in place, you can compare costs and convenience, who might be helping you and in what capacity, and so on. Some people would rather move from their homes; some would rather stay.  And sometimes it’s not about the house per se, it’s more about transportation to and from the house—for residents and for helpers.  Given that the bulk of older people live in the suburbs, transportation is a major issue, too.

Would you say that aging in place is a growing trend? What’s new on the horizon? 

Aging in place is a new term for what people have done since there were human settlements.  I believe the term sprang up only as a reaction to the mid-20th-century promotion of special, age-segregated housing for older people.  With people living longer and living better in the first phase of old age, there is less of a pressing need to move away. Also, living for 20 to 30 years in a “retirement community” doesn’t have the same appeal as it did when you expected, shall we say, a shorter stay.

Past that, it’s hard to say what’s on the horizon.  We’ve never had this many people live this long before, and a lot will depend on how the combination of finances, housing, health care, technology, transportation and social services plays out.  All we know is that the models of the past won’t work…but then, they rarely do.

What is the most challenging thing about getting a house ready for aging in place? The most rewarding?

The most challenging thing is that we’re all moving targets.  We may be fine one day and get a funky diagnosis or get injured the next. Setting up the home isn’t a one-time deal; it’s an ongoing project of adaptation over time.  That’s a mindset, an ongoing education.

That said, most of us have a nesting instinct.  Adapting our homes to meet our needs is just the continuation of that feathering, and “setting up shop” to keep ourselves safe, healthy, and happy can be very rewarding. People hate the idea of losing their independence; my book was written to help them overcome that often-equal hatred of grab bars, so that they can remain independent.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.



Aging in Place, Downsizing and Decluttering: Natural Partners

aging in place photo

Aging in place can sometimes be achieved by fairly simple adaptations.

It’s easy to confuse the terms “downsizing the home” and decluttering it. Of course these two activities are often closely related, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Downsizing usually implies moving from a larger place to a smaller one:  decluttering simply means getting rid of an excess of “stuff.”

For some people a combination of dread of decluttering and fear of being forced to move out of a beloved home can be just two more reasons to postpone clearing away the clutter accumulated over a period of  years. If there’s too much stuff to move, then maybe we won’t ever have to move, right?

Unfortunately, denial doesn’t work any better in this area of life than it does in most others. When the time comes to move out of a beloved home, denial won’t help. And procrastination over the years just makes the inevitable more difficult if and when the time finally comes.

But what about those who elect to stay in their homes as they continue to age? Do they need to engage in downsizing–or decluttering–also?

According to Rachel Adelson, author of Staying Power: Age-Proof Your Home for Comfort, Safety, and Style, “It takes time for people to make the psychological shift away from seeing themselves as productive consumers of ‘stuff,’ in that near-constant acquisition mode of midlife – things for the kids, things for the house, things to treat themselves, expensive hobby equipment and tools, etc. Clutter may reinforce the sense that they’re still busy and active and in the middle of things, when the reality is that things have changed, and now their ‘stuff’ is obscuring the emerging requirement to make the home safer and more supportive of their changing needs.” Adelson’s book helps people focus on those changing needs, and shows how to go about providing for them simply and economically at home. Many of those adjustments require opening up additional space, to help people move more freely and sometimes to allow for the use of specialized furniture or equipment. That’s where decluttering can actually help people stay in their homes longer, rather than being a prelude to a move out of those homes.

Decluttering the home can also open a wider range of options for those who want to remain independent as they grow older. While the unspoken fear among many who resist moving out of the homes they’ve been in for a long time is that they will end up in assisted living or a nursing home, new options, such as senior villages, that didn’t exist in the past are flourishing as boomers and their parents swell the ranks of the retired. Our book has helpful tips for how to get started with this process–and how to get rid of much of the “stuff” while keeping precious memories.

We’ll be writing more about this topic in future posts…stay tuned!

For now, suffice it to say–decluttering the home and staying in it are NOT enemies–on the contrary, they are natural partners!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.



“3 Things That Will Help You Downsize and De-clutter”

Again many thanks to Rachel Adelson for her coverage of the various  issues raised when downsizing the family home. This is the second in her three-part series, published in the Huffington Post  on March 17, 2014.

huff post 2

My previous post about the emotional journey of downsizing traveled the Internet widely. The discussion of how to work through separation anxiety from “stuff” seemed to touch a chord. Sigh.

Read more…

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