How To Help Your Elderly Parents Downsize

Eric Stewart June 16, 2015


As we get older, downsizing to a smaller residence is typically inevitable. However, downsizing can be particularly intimidating for seniors who may find it overwhelming to think about letting go of cherished memories and items they’ve accumulated over a lifetime.

If you are in the process of helping your aging parents downsize, below are a few tips to make it easier on both your loved ones and you.

Change Your Mindset

Downsizing should not be a considered something negative. In fact, when I discuss downsizing with my real estate clients, I call it rightsizing, which is the process where you adjust your current home or relocate to a new home to fit your needs and empower you to live your preferable future.   

You want your parents to be in a living environment where they are not held back or burdened by their home and possessions, but rather live where their home and possessions suit their needs now and in the future.

Through a simple exercise contained in my Rightsizing Guide, and outlined in a recent blog about the emotional rewards of downsizing, your parents can determine what they want their preferable future to be and how downsizing will help them achieve those goals.

Preserve Memories So They Are Not Forgotten

If your parents have lived in the same house for 30-40 years, there are likely family events that occurred in the house over those years and items in the home that have meaningful significance, but may not be used or needed on a regular basis. How can you preserve these memories? Make a movie! 

With a digital video camera, you can go through the home and film it just the way it is, while having your parents recall out loud memories of particular possessions or life milestones. Your parents can also set aside old photos to be put in a scrapbook or to be scanned digitally. These are cathartic activities that will help ease the downsizing process, and the video and scrapbook can become gifts to pass on to younger generations.

Separating The Wheat From The Chaff

Now, it’s time to start sorting through your parent’s possessions. I recommend allocating a room in the house to be your staging area, or what I call your loading zone. Within the loading zone there will be five different areas:

The first area, or category, are the items that your parents will take with them when they move. These will most likely be family heirlooms, photos, books etc.

The second category will be things that your family might benefit from or want to keep. Allow your family members to take turns choosing items. If there are tables full of stuff, you may want to try the following idea:

Each family member gets a number. Give the first pick to number one, then two, then three and so on until everyone has had a pick. The next round starts with number two and ends with number one. Next round, start with number three and so on, until everything is gone.

The third category is for items of value that can be sold. Be sure to know the difference between sentimental value and intrinsic value. I recommend hiring an appraiser or estate sale company to come and determine the value of items you no longer need or want.

The fourth category is for giveaway items. Donate to charity things that neither you nor your family has any use for, but might be of use to someone else.

The fifth and final category is the most important of all: Trash! Don’t be afraid to throw away things that your parents have not used in years. If they don’t need it and it has no sentimental value, you can probably toss it.

If you are unsure whether an item should be kept or discarded, ask your parents the following three questions:

  • Do you need it?
  • Do you love it?
  • Do you use it?

If your parent can answer “yes” to two or more of these questions, keep it. If you only get one “yes”, ask family members if they want it, otherwise, sell, give, or throw away the item.

Another tip is to use color-coded sticky notes to tag items as you sort through them. For instance, a green sticky note would be for items your parents plan to take with them, yellow sticky notes are items for family members, orange sticky notes are items to be sold etc.

Don’t Go It Alone

If there are not enough family members or friends to help with the downsizing process and your parents have the financial means, you may want to consider hiring a Senior Move Manger®. Senior Move Managers are equipped to help your parents through the moving process and can assist with: sorting through their possessions at their current home, mapping out where everything should go in their new home, packing and transporting the items and furniture they plan to take with them, and unpacking everything and putting them in the their proper place. You can download my Preferred Vendor Guide for recommendations on Senior Move Managers in the Washington, DC metro area.

Convincing mom and dad that it’s time to move is never easy. But with the right approach, and a good plan for dealing with their furniture and years of accumulation, it doesn’t have to be so hard. For more guidance on the rightsizing process, I encourage you to download and read through my Rightsizing Guide.  



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