Helping Your Parent Downsize

A senior woman moving house with help from her daughter

Downsizing can be an overwhelming and often emotional project at any age. There are memories everywhere, perhaps impeding keep-or-toss decisions. “When people are downsizing, they’re not only saying goodbye to valued possessions, but they’re also saying goodbye to a certain part of their life,” noted Nicole Anzia, a professional organizer and a columnist for the Washington Post.

When it comes to adult children helping their aging parents downsize, things can get even more challenging. The siblings might disagree among themselves about who gets what. And they may try to impose their own ideas about what the parent should keep going forward. But, says Anzia, “Dictating to people what they are allowed to keep or absolutely must get rid of is not the way to go and will make everyone feel bad.”

There are ways to ease the process and wrangle the drama. Here are a few suggestions.

Plan ahead. Planning ahead can be a good way to approach this project. It allows everyone to avoid or reduce the sense of urgency if your parent suddenly falls ill. Being forced to make these decisions in a crisis or without your parent’s input can add significantly to the difficulty. Set timelines and goals, and commit to making slow and steady progress.

Start with the easy stuff. Most of us have things like old papers that can be shredded, books or clothes we no longer need, and kitchen items we don’t use. Tackling these items first can be a good way to ease into the project, especially since they likely won’t have much emotional baggage attached. Sort items you won’t be keeping into piles such as “throw away” and “donate.” Consider having a garage or estate sale.

Consider outside help. Professional organizers and downsizing specialists can relieve much of the burden on the aging parent as well as their children. An estate sale company can take on the whole project, including having valuable items appraised. The family should go through everything to determine what they want to keep before an estate sale. These companies charge a percentage of the receipts as their fee.

At LifeCare Advocates, we’ve helped numerous families through this process. Our life care managers can help older adults during the downsizing and throughout the moving process. It can be a relief for all family members when a neutral third party – with no emotional stake in the household belongings – guides the process. Please contact us to learn more.