The Price of Downsizing  

Recently, my brothers and I helped two family members move from an independent apartment to an assisted living apartment.  This was within the same (for profit) complex in a suburb of Portland.  They had already done the big work of downsizing from a home of several thousand square feet into a two bedroom two bath apartment years before.  When the need arose for a greater level of care, the only option at the place they live was to move to an apartment in the assisted living wing of the community.

How bad could it be, right?  Yes, they still had to downsize again – into about half the space, as all that was available was a one bed, one bath apartment - but it was all within the same building.

And yet….at a time of great vulnerability, when they both were at their most frail (because you don’t just wake up one day and decide, hey, let’s get more services!), they had to pack up everything they own, manage an outside company to move it, get rid of about half of it, get set in a new home – new phone system, new apartment number, different elevator, new staff, new neighbors – and then UNPACK, figure out where it goes, try to find everything – medicine, hearing aid, nightgown, scissors, where IS IT?

The brutality having to strip away so much of who they are in the space of a day or a weekend, was hard to be part of.  When you move into an apartment that has no stove or oven (even though the spouse who cooks is not the one who needs the assisted living services, that is how those apartments are arranged), there is a cascade of decisions, all of which feel like a loss to the person who has made a home for her family for over 60 years.  No stove….so no frying pans, no pasta pot, no colander.  No oven… no rolling pin, muffin tins, cookie sheets.  How many spices do you keep when all you have is a microwave? 

The move threw both of these people into a tailspin.  They couldn’t sleep, couldn’t keep appointments straight, found it hard to even unpack because it was so overwhelming. 

When we were done, one of my brothers told me, “OK, I’ve heard you talk about how at Rose Villa you don’t move people just because they need more help and I never really understood what you were talking about.  Now I do.”

Yes, I am grateful they are able to get the services they need now, but feel even more certain that bringing services to people where they are is the best way to help people live the life of their choosing.  No amount of corporate efficiency can make it worth it to turn someone’s life upside down.