Frugal Eldercare Part 3: The Thanksgiving Holiday

This year we are hosting Thanksgiving at our house, despite the fact that the interior of our house closely resembles a nursing home.

The holidays can be a lot of fun, but also a lot of work and stress. Both you and your parent may find the experience tiring and less socially engaged than you would prefer. Travel can be a challenge when the elderly are incapable of rising early and packing extra baggage and assistive devices will quickly eat up trunk space in a small car. Holidays and associated travel can be more costly than the budget will bear, creating social isolation for caregivers and seniors.

The solution to our quandary presented itself.

We had been wondering how we would get Dad to a traditional Thanksgiving with his mobility problems and holiday traffic. Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, Senior Services of Seattle is giving Thanksgiving baskets to families of seniors. Dad qualified for a basket, intended to feed a family of 4, which includes a 10lb. turkey and all the traditional sides like dressing and cranberry sauce. Recipients must cook the turkey and heat up the sides, and prepare the gravy. We will need a few extra dishes to account for the increased party size, but not too much because left-overs often don’t get eaten before they spoil. I also need to be mindful of dietary restrictions that include diabetes, lactose intolerance, food allergies, and vegetarianism.

In addition to food preparation, we will need to move furniture around to accommodate everyone and have a bathroom that is accessible to guests. I also realized that after Dad moved in last year, we acquired a large amount of clutter that should now be promptly disposed of prior to guests arriving. The holiday has to be carefully orchestrated in order to care for Dad, cook a Thanksgiving meal, and host 6-7 relatives, including 2 children, 1 dog, and 1 puppy. Despite the challenges, I think it will work out and be fun. We are very fortunate to have this opportunity.

Here’s my plan as it currently stands.


Clean out clutter 2-3 weeks before a holiday to reduce the stress of the holiday itself. Safety is the main reason for de-cluttering your home, as seniors and guests are vulnerable to booby traps in the home.

Your second goal is to make rooms so easy to use that guests will not need your assistance. Identify serving pieces and linens guests will need and make them easily available. This will free up some time to continue your caregiving duties during the holiday itself.

De-cluttering is a challenge when trying to care for an elderly relative at the same time, but will pay off in the long run. Consider enlisting help from family and friends to watch an elderly relative for a few hours or help sort through belongings.

Play some music you like during the de-cluttering process. Part with any items that lack sentimental value first: junk mail, broken items, spoiled food, etc. Tidy the most possible in the shortest period of time. Finish tidying your sentimental items last to prevent burn-out.

If you are finding the de-cluttering process difficult, consider the reasons why that is the case and start with the easiest items and rooms. While I am no expert, I have noticed in myself and others that items which are difficult to part with are due to emotions connected to the item, and not the actual item itself. Getting past that emotion is the most important part of de-cluttering.

For example, the blender my grandparents had given me broke and could not be repaired. Once I realized that my grandparents would not want me to store a useless appliance, I easily put the burned-out motor base in the trash and set the heavy glass pitcher in a box to donate. Donating or giving useful items to others is another good way to resolve emotions surrounding an item. Just don’t foist an item onto a person who does not want it; perpetuating clutter is not a gift!

  • Start in the kitchen since hosts spend a lot of time in that room on a holiday and need to have full access to everything.
  • Clean out the fridge and freezer.
  • Organize your left-over food storage containers and match lids to containers. Toss damaged or mismatched items that don’t fit.
  • Inventory herbs and spices to ensure that you will have everything you need on hand. Also inventory baking supplies, fridge, freezer, and pantry. Make a list of what you will need to purchase as you move through your de-cluttering and inventory process.
  • After completing the kitchen, move onto the dining room and repeat the process.
  • Finally, tidy the living room, bathroom, and any other rooms guests will be using.


The last time we hosted Thanksgiving, it added $120 to our grocery bill for the week. The turkey, field roast, and other exotic ingredients we did not normally purchase bumped up the price significantly. To make the cost of a holiday more reasonable, start with a plan so you only buy what you need for the meal, and purchase ingredients that fit in your budget.

  • Decide how many people will be attending, and then count up their ages and gender.
  • Estimate the actual amount of food the average person will eat. The elderly, children, and women often eat smaller portions. Teenage boys will eat significantly more. For example, a serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards.

  • Only prepare food needed for the meal, unless you want to have left-overs.
  • Cook the turkey on the grill to free up oven space for heating side dishes
  • Store drinks in a cooler on the porch to free up fridge space
  • Ask relatives to bring a few side dishes/desserts to round out the meal (my mother-in-law has a delicious cranberry relish recipe, my sister-in-law will bring a vegetarian green chili)
  • Offer both whipped cream and whipped coconut cream (lactose free) for dessert toppings.
  • Cook some dishes the day before and reheat.

Furniture and Home:

  • Move furniture temporarily to free up space in the living room/dining room.
  • Floors should be free of all obstacles, and rugs should be secured.
  • Dispose of any unstable or broken furniture that could contribute to falls
  • Ensure that power cords and outlets are safe
  • Add extra lighting to dark hallways and stairs
  • Ask friends and family to help move furniture


  • Borrow any linens or serving pieces you identified as needed during your inventory before buying them. If you buy an item you only use once, it will become future clutter and detract from the value of your bank account at the same time. Be sure to thank the lender with a card or home-made treat!
  • If you cannot borrow an item, try to find it for free from neighborhood recycling networks such as Craigslist and Freecycle. No one will care about a gently used item as long as it is clean and in good working order. Guests care more about eating good food and having fun.
  • If you have to purchase an item, check thrift and consignment shops first. These will cost less. You may be able to donate an item you don’t plan on using again, and recoup the original cost in the form of a tax receipt.
  • If you have to buy new, consider an item that is simple in style and multi-functional so that you can use it more than once. Lend the item to others in the future when they are hosting.