You’re ready to move Mom into assisted living, but how do you make her space feel less like a dormitory and more like her home?
It’s all about what you bring in.
Let’s break down some possibilities.
When You CAN’T Bring Everything but the Kitchen Sink
If Mom’s moving from her house, chances are she has way more than can fit into her new place. But before you kick her belongings to the curb, consider how much she may feel she’s lost already.
Don’t make this move feel like another loss.
The problem? It’s hard to “KonMari” someone else’s stuff.
What looks like nothing to you might really hold a lot of memories. Like the person who gave it to her. A person she may have already lost.
And it might take her time to decide what’s disposable and what is important.
Sort through her furniture, her linens, her kitchenware. Ask her to tell you about them so you can determine how much they each mean to her. If they’re just “things,” feel free to unload it.
But if they hold a story? (e.g. The dining room table that held so many family feasts?) Set them aside. If she can’t fit them in her new place, call a friend—someone who could use them so she knows they’re being enjoyed—and she can see them again when she visits.
Don’t expect this to be done in a weekend. She may need to move into her new place for a while before she realizes what she misses. If you can hold items in a self-storage unit for a few months, that gives her time to feel in control of her decisions. Which will help her enjoy her new place all the more.
Besides, it may be that you CAN take some of her favorites with her.
First, it’s time to call the front desk. Some assisted living facilities furnish basic furniture. (Frontida provides a bed, dresser, and end table.) If you need those, great.
But if Mom prefers her own bed, dresser, or end table and they fit in the room, find out if you can bring them instead. (Frontida would say yes.)
Also consider bookshelves, small tables, and a comfy chair to read in.
Seeing those familiar surroundings can bring a lot of comfort, even if everything else feels different.
Her Window of Opportunity
Curtains are an easy way to make her space homey. Does she have a favorite set already? Bring ’em along. If not, help her pick out new ones.
Look for drapes that
- let in lots of light during the day but
- are easy to open and close for privacy.
Think cheery window dressing.
Pictures: Still Worth a 1000 Words
In the new place, Mom may only have four walls—which become prime real-estate for picture frames.
- Decide what she wants to see every day. Those get wall space. (Big Hint: This isn’t a photo gallery. Don’t put up so many that looking at them overwhelms her.)
- Add shelving for more places to set her favorite framed family snapshots.
- Combine the practical with memorabilia, creating a personalized wall calendar with family pictures.
- For photos or artwork that she just wants available, remove them from their frames and place them in photo albums which can also go on those shelves. (Spend an afternoon going through them with her, adding labels and dates so details don’t get lost.)
- Be sure to include pictures of her that remind others of who she is and what she’s done in her life. (Track star? Scientist? Blue-ribbon baker?)
Pictures don’t just speak words. They tell stories. Choosing the right ones for her walls and albums bring Mom’s home—both the one before and now—to life.
Making Her Bed So She Can Enjoy Lying in It
Some assisted living facilities (like Frontida) offer linens, pillows, and bedspreads. But bringing ones that she already loves can also help her feel comfortable right away.
If she needs a new comforter but you still want that homey feel,
- Look through her closets for old blankets, clothing, and fabric.
- Cut out 10×10 squares from them
- Sew the squares together to make a special but simple memory quilt.
(My kids made me one of these, and it’s one of my favorite blankets, full of stories from the past.)
A word of caution: If Mom has dementia or Alzheimer’s, avoid fabric patterns with spots or flecks. As her mind struggles to identify what it’s seeing, she might think those spots need to be removed—which could hamper her sleeping.
And that’s no fun for anybody.
So, in the case of dementia, keep it simple. Use solid colors.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Ask the facility what they provide in the way of mirrors and then consider if that’s the right fit for Mom.
- If her room comes with a half-body wall or vanity mirror, would she prefer to see herself from head to toe? You might want to bring a door mirror.
- On the other hand, if Mom grapples with memory loss and tends to forget her current age, it could be overwhelming to have a strange elderly woman stare back at her each morning. You might want to have those mirrors removed or cover them with wall décor.
Remember you’re decorating this new home for Mom, and you want each item to suit her personality. While mirrors themselves aren’t usually very personal, what type you choose can reflect how Mom feels throughout her day.
No Walk on the Wild Side
As you choose what to bring in and where to put it, keep in mind that Mom will need clear paths to the bed, to her chair, and to the door.
Take in account space for canes, walkers, wheelchairs… (Maybe she doesn’t use any of those, but her new friends might.)
The key? While you want her room to feel more homey and less “hospital,” you don’t want to do just the opposite and actually land someone in the emergency room.
So don’t overload the floor. Keep the layout tame and leave her wild side for Bingo.
Bringin’ It All to Light
As we get older, our vision changes, and we’re left calling, “Let there be light.” Hence curtains that let in the sun.
But most of the time, the sun isn’t enough.
Mom’s going to need lamps: by her bed, by her chair, and don’t forget a nightlight for those late trips to the bathroom.
Make sure any and all lights are
- Easy to turn on and off
- Bottom-heavy, unlikely to fall
Hey, if she’s interested, get her a Clapper! She can easily get light with the clap of her hands. And the grandkids will love seeing her magic.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
While Mom may not fix meals anymore, she might want to have guests in her room, especially if she isn’t up for going out some days.
- Find a small table, big enough for tea and cookies
- Give her a candy dish filled with her favorite chocolates
- Ask the facility if they provide dorm-sized refrigerators or if she can bring her own to hold special drinks and treats. (Of course, if she has diabetes, you might need to skip this idea.)
One of the joys of home is being able to entertain. Help set up her room so it’s not only inviting to her, but to her friends.
Please, Please, Mr. Postman
There’s just something magical about getting letters. Real handwritten ones that come in the mailbox. Nothing makes you feel at home like snuggling up to read a letter from a friend.
Be sure to let everyone know Mom’s new address and encourage them to send cards.
And, beyond that, why not encourage some friendly note-passing between residents?
Attach a mail holder to the outside of her door. Her neighbors can stop by and drop a note to encourager her.
And the best thing? No junkmail!
Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig
Moving can always create a little unrest.
But take time to stock her new place with things that mean a lot to Mom, and that new room will feel like her own home in no time at all.
Comfy, cozy, homey. Priceless.
Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. When she isn't teaching or writing-- Who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she's ALWAYS teaching and writing. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it--except for the fifteen months of winter. Read more about her at elizabethdaghfal.com.