So, you’ve made the decision to move into an independent living community: congratulations!
Was it the added convenience that flipped the switch? Or perhaps—as it was for my dad—your move is because your driving days are over, which can make things a bit more challenging.
Whatever is triggering this move, independent living can be a great option for seniors who want to retain their independence while increasing their safety.
Getting Ready to Move
It’s important to get off to a good start. Everything that went into my dad’s new apartment had special meaning for him, which helped to make his new home more welcoming.
1. You’re in charge of what to bring and what to leave behind.
It can be daunting to downsize from a well-loved home into a new, smaller apartment. Start by deciding what the non-negotiable items are: It could be your favorite chair, a picture that’s always hung in your bedroom, or, in my aunt’s case, a piano: “If it’s not going, I’m not going.”
2. Don’t skimp on your favorite things.
Because you won’t need all the furniture you currently have, be sure to select your favorite pieces. And don’t depend on others to know which ones these are.
Even in a small apartment, you can have plenty of reminders of life at home. Don’t try to jettison too much: Cherished family photos—even the refrigerator ones—are on the keeper list. If you’ve been a reader, bring plenty of books. You’re still going to be you; make room for the home activities you’ve always enjoyed.
For what felt like the first year after my dad moved into his new apartment, he expressed his satisfaction only in the future tense, “This is going to be a good fit for me.”
3. Enjoy the improvements and upgrades.
Your new apartment is likely equipped with safety features you may not have enjoyed before. Take advantage of that accessible bath/shower. When arranging your shiny new kitchen, put your most-used items within easier reach. Since you’re starting fresh, make the new space optimal for you.
4. Make the unfamiliar familiar.
It will take some time to get used to the traffic patterns in your new living space. Establish where you’ll keep your apartment and mailbox keys; decide where laundry goes. Install nightlights to help you navigate to your new bathroom at night.
5. Let technology help you.
Be sure that your technology supports your new situation. Now can be a good time to upgrade your phones and/or computer, since you may be relying on them more. If you haven’t already, you may want to add video to your phone calls with the grandkids.
If you’ve moved because you’re no longer driving, you’ll want to update your mobile phone directory to include those folks who’ve said they’ll give you a ride to appointments or church.
Finding Your Way
Something that’s less talked about is how to make your new environment work for you. Joining an independent living community is definitely a social choice.
6. You’ve got to get out there.
New friends are not going to magically appear at your door. It’s up to you to make a genuine effort—especially in the early days—to get yourself out there. You have several options for making friends: Mealtimes are perhaps the easiest times to start those new conversations. The numerous activities can help you identify people with similar interests.
7. But don’t rush into anything.
While actively engaging at meals, my dad refused to join any specific activities for the first few months as he created his new routines. Take all the time you need to select activities that you’ll enjoy, rather than rushing into everything that’s offered. If you can avoid the inevitable cliques and any overly negative individuals, soon enough you’ll find your tribe.
While independent living is not the same as being in your own home, with the right attitude and efforts, it can become the next best thing.
Read more about planning for senior care expenses.