How to Have a House

Living with and understanding a home.

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No stairs for the holidays.

This has been a common conversation lately.  Stairs.  I have plenty of aging customers, which is a subtle way of saying, old enough to start worrying about getting around the house.  Most of them are single and living alone.  Alone except for the input of their grown kids.

I get in these conversations the easy way, by listening.  It only takes a few minutes of reviewing some job I’m doing when an elderly person starts talking about the stairs.  They are terrified of stairs.  For a good reason.  Stairs are hard to climb and easy to fall down.  In most houses the stair challenge goes like this.  Most bedrooms are “upstairs”.  In older homes, most washer and dryers are “downstairs”.  The aging home dweller doesn’t just want to age in their house, they hope to go on to their next life, shortly after leaving the one they have in their long time home.  They want to stay in the house. Period.

Then the aging parent mentions their grown kids.  This might be you.  If not, this may be you in the future, so think about this.  The elderly do great in their long time homes.  Food preparation, doing laundry, bathing and keeping pets.  But they are simply not as strong as they used to be.  They may throw laundry down the stairs to the basement, but still have to carry it out clean. They start sleeping on the recliner or sofa, because they are scared of the stairs to the second floor.  Grown kids come around and start telling the aging adult how to do things differently. After all, dad was a steel worker, why won’t he go to bed upstairs?  These conversations take place, or not, right up until the aging parent has a fall.  Maybe they are bruised and shaken.  Maybe a broken bone.  Hips are popular among the falling elderly.  Maybe they lay on the floor for a day or two until someone finds them.  Then the kids kick into full force.  The grown kids have a life and feel they have to act quickly.  A nursing home or aging care facility comes into the conversation.  It’s literally the last place anyone wants to be.  The aging parent goes silent, fearing the nursing home more than the stairs.  It hurts my feelings to watch.

Act now.  Move the washer and dryer to the main floor. If your handyman has excuses to not do it, get a second opinion.   Ask your aging parent how they feel about moving their bedroom to the main floor, like a 5 year old, and a sofa cushion fort.  They’ve already dreamed of this.  They know it is good.  Get a good bathing solution on the main floor.  Add a simple IMG_1675shower somewhere.  Skip the excuses.  “Resale value” is the most overrated term I hear, used to stop progress.  The house will sell.  Your parent wants to stay in the house.  At least almost all of them.  They will live longer and be happier.  Especially if they have a few visitors a week.  Get them a call lanyard.  The kind with a push button, so if they fall they can get help.  Many seniors don’t know beans about cell phones and don’t carry them around.  Get the call button.  Install grab bars in bathrooms and around task areas.  None of this is going to ruin the sale of the house.  And it could make someone you love very, very happy.

You could be thinking, “what business is it of a handyman to tell me about my parents?”. It’s the business of the truth.  When I work in houses where old people live, they feed me coffee and ask me to eat lunch at their table. All.the. time.  They share their life stories.  Right up to the very day I arrive.  I know what they want and they want to stay in their homes.

We’re coming up on the holiday seasons.  What a great time to reverse the approach.  Instead of asking mom or dad when they will be ready to move out, starting acting on getting them on one main floor.  Join them in their love for the home.  The home where they raised you and your siblings and friends.  The home where they and their spouse loved each other.  The home they have always dreamed to spending their waining years in.  Eventually they will leave that home.  They’ll take that last pass out the front door, standing or not, knowing they lived a long full life in the most beautiful place they ever had.