New York — How about a ''great escape'' party for older people who are leaving big, outgrown older homes for the relative ease of life in cozy little condos somewhere in the sun? Or who are moving to a nearby apartment where they will be free of snow shoveling, lawn-mowing, shrub pruning, and other property maintenance tasks.
Such leave-takings from too much space and too many chores have in the past merited few rites-of-passage celebrations. Yet some people are discovering that a ''great escape'' shower can help seniors move into new quarters with a sense of zest and relief instead of nostalgia and regret.
''For older people the transformation in living accommodations is as major as the first time one moves out of the parental home, after graduation, or upon marriage,'' says Dr. Bernard Beck, professor of sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. ''And while these earlier occasions call for gifts and social rituals, the move by senior citizens to a different residence doesn't usually fall into that category. There is no gathering of friends, for instance, to share the occasion. Yet anything that eases this transition is very beneficial.''
So now we have the ''great escape'' shower - a cheerful occasion that fetes those preparing to make the move to more compact living quarters and reminds them of the coming joys of more leisure time and less house to keep.
One such hostess went to the dime store for favors and found miniature rakes, hoes, snow shovels, fuel-oil trucks, saws, and other reminders of jobs that were being happily forsaken by those moving. She designed and made an impressive scroll highlighting stellar events that had taken place in the old house. She also persuaded a neighborhood poet to come up with a delightful rhyming jingle to note the event.
Mrs. Nell Bellett of Sycamore, Ill., was the honored guest of such a shower when she moved several years ago from her home to an apartment. She had been selling furnishings and even held a yard sale to reduce her possessions. ''But, '' she says, ''it was wonderful to have my friends gather around and give me all those little things they knew I'd need in my new place - a mini ironing board, a smaller iron, caddies for my house plants, a stepladder, small pans, and many other things. The gifts helped me financially, too, but it was the love that counted most.
''In this part of the country we've been giving showers like this for years, '' she continues. ''We've just called them 'moving' showers, because we think people who are moving need some special consideration.''
What gifts would seem most appropriate to people who are paring down their possessions and adjusting their thinking to more condensed life styles?
A woman in Kansas City says she'd like some new cookware when she moves to her retirement apartment: ''I bought my last set of aluminum pots and pans in 1937 when I had a big house and a family. They've served me well, but now they're tired and worn looking and are much too big. I'd love some colorful, small-size pans and casseroles.''
Another woman, an omnivorous reader who spends winters in Hilton Head Island, S.C., admits that additions to her library would always be welcome, particularly if the books are current best-sellers about faraway places and famous people. A Florida couple, on the other hand, discarded boxes and boxes of long-playing records when they moved from the Midwest. Now they would like to replace some of their favorite classics with lighter-weight and more portable cassettes.
From talks with other seniors who have already moved or will be moving soon, additional gift suggestions emerge. Some say they'd love a pillow needlepointed for them by a friend, or some fresh new dish towels to replace their worn and faded ones. A few say that if they change bathroom colors or size of bedding, they will be looking for new towels that harmonize and new sheets and pillow cases that fit their new bedding.
Several say they will be giving up large family-size dining tables and the linens that fitted them, and so will be acquiring assorted new place mats and a cloth or two to fit their new apartment-size tables. One or two say they will need a fold-up metal shopping cart, both for getting groceries from their cars to their kitchens and for carting laundry from apartments down to laundry rooms.
A woman who has loved growing petunias in her garden each year wants a window box so she can continue growing flowers outside her bedroom window. Another says she likes the idea of a rolling caddy for moving her big potted plants around the apartment and tiny terrace. She is also ready for a beautiful cachepot to hold the plant on her buffet.
One couple say they never have enough pretty paper goods, such as guest towels, napkins in several sizes, and paper tablecloths for game tables.
Another say that some basic stationery, printed with their new address, would be a welcome gift. Others mention new photograph albums for getting those pictures of grandchildren in better order.
One ingenious person wrote for two season tickets to the local community theater productions to give to friends who were departing to live in that town.
A man who had boasted for years that he would take up painting when he retired, loved his gift certificate from an art supply store. Other hobbyists say subscriptions to hobby magazines would add to their pleasure. One woman comments that if anyone ever gives a shower for her, she hopes someone will think of a new sewing basket; the old one is worn out. Her friend, a widow who has kept house for 40 years, says she'd like to start housekeeping in her retirement residence with a whole new group of wastebaskets. One man says he asked for, and received, a fancy new shower head to replace the standard one in his condo apartment.
Other items mentioned were toaster ovens, cleaning-tool caddies, kitchen-cabinet turntables, and under-bed wardrobe boxes. The list could go on forever, for a ''great escape'' shower could serve to replace a lot of household items that have grown shabby with time and use and still allow room for a little whimsy as well.
The perfect host or hostess of a ''great escape'' party never asks guests of honor cart home their gifts. As a final thoughtfulness, they arrange to deliver the presents directly to the new address, to obviate packing. Friends who miss the shower could arrange to have a welcome bouquet or plant delivered to the new address. A few jams and jellies might be a good idea, as well.
Such a loving send-off could be the perfect beginning for a new home and a simpler life style.