How to talk to your parents about downsizing or moving

Richard (Woody) Huizenga

I feel very lucky.

I’ve never needed to initiate “the talk” with my parents. They’ve already had it. They’ve been having it with each other for years: What will we do when this place becomes too much?

For some time the basement of the house I grew up in became less and less densely packed with things. My parents regularly asked if I wanted games or toys or books from my childhood. I took a few books and a dresser. My parents, never sentimental about things, sold or donated the rest.

So when they decided to move from my sprawling childhood home to a smaller place with everything on one floor — a place either of them could manage alone — it was an easy move. They now live in a 55-plus community. A five-minute walk in one direction takes them to the community centre. Five minutes in another direction is a golf course. (My father discovered golf at 75.)

At some point, they may need to move to a retirement home — another decision I expect they’ll make themselves. No pushing required. They’ll make things easy for us, as they have all their lives.

But moving from one stage of life to the next does not come naturally for everyone. Some of our parents may need support and encouragement. And if it’s not easy for you, think how much harder it must be for them.

How can you help your parents?

Talk to them. Gently. Respectfully. Talk about their current living situation. Their health. Resist the urge to take charge. Organize a family meeting or stage an intervention — or take any other approach that robs your parents of their grown-up autonomy — only as a last resort.

Talk to them about the things that are harder than they used to be. About cutting grass and climbing stairs and vacuuming all those floors. You may be surprised at how much thought your parents have already given many of these questions. Make it easy for them to share their concerns with you. Work with them to find answers.

Talk to them about their goals and hopes and fears. Older people still think about the future. Ask your parents what they want to do with theirs. Will moving to a smaller house or an apartment make it possible to travel more? To live closer to friends and family? To have better access to public transit?

Talk to your parents about the future they want, and how you can help them find it. And think about how — not so many years down the road — you can make this conversation easier for your children.