It’s normal to hear about empty nesters; parents feeling sad when their offspring move out, leaving them alone in a big, quiet home. Yet we seldom hear how our parents soon recover and come to love having all that room to themselves. After living it up in retirement they enjoy their golden years like Queen Lizzie and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace. Except mum and dad don’t have an army of servants (or an actual army) like Her Majesty to deal with the upkeep – they have you.
But you are not a long term solution to managing their large house. Getting the parentals to admit that downsizing will solve all of their housing problems is always going to be a difficult conversation. Prepare for the awkwardness but don’t override their emotions. It must be a difficult situation to experience, and eventually, your turn will come.
Why it can be difficult
Imagine that your parents downsize from a sprawling suburban home to a two-bedroom apartment closer to town (a popular option for older people who enjoy the action of the city like restaurants and theatres). All of a sudden you can subtract four bedrooms down to one or two, two or three living areas to an open plan kitchen/dining area and the two large fridges that so many Australian families hold on to, to a single smaller fridge suitable for the reality of downsized living. These are changes that force them to change the way they’ve lived for years. Any parents that can take this all in stride must be congratulated for an incredible feat of mental gymnastics.
How to approach the conversation
Sharing concerns about your parents’ abilities to maintain a large house is a solid way to broach the topic of downsizing. Although everyone has different standards of cleanliness, individual health conditions might prevent them bending over vacuums or reaching high to change light bulbs. Still, even if they are capable of taking care of the house there are surely more social ways they could spend that time. If they protest that they like cleaning, you can genuinely offer your messy house in its place.
Another and more persuasive argument for downsizing is exchanging the house for liquid assets. It appeals to the sense of possibility rather than a perceived attack against their being. Any new, smaller house will likely be cheaper. And because they bought their family home decades ago, they are going to make massive profit on the sale. With all of that cash in hand they can tick off any items on their bucket list and go on a world tour – taking you along too, of course.
Make it a breeze
To make these huge life changes easier on them, give them peace of mind by offering to keep the sideboard and extra boxes, at your brother or sisters house if possible. That way everything is around if they decide later they can’t live without them.
Another area that will cause distress is downsizing the wardrobe. As empty nesters, parents have had the run of the whole house, utilising every inch of cupboard space. As grown up children, this could be your only chance to purge your least favourite items and set their fashionable course. This is one area of downsizing where it really is okay to adopt a ruthless approach. If a garment hasn’t been worn in twelve months it must go to charity or the bin.
Later, when the dust has settled in the new home, visit again without the stress of the relocation hanging over you. Take a look around. Are family photos displayed, are their favourite books organinised the shelf. Even though it is a new place, does it still feel like mum and dad’s place: enough of the old house to feel familiar, but enough new things to give them a new lease on life. A trip to IKEA will sort you out for finishing touches. But if it is all too much, you can just lose yourself in there instead.