How to Tactfully Guide Aging Parents Through the Downsizing Process
When I was younger, I used to move once a year. I loved moving because it gave me a chance to declutter and freshen up my home. I’ve now lived in my home for 11 years and let me tell you, there are areas of my home that have things I don’t even remember owning. Now, imagine being your aging parent, living in the same home for 40, 50 or more years.
And, if your aging parents are like my parents (well, really my mom), they may not enjoy parting with things. Some of that can come from living in a time of scarcity and some of it can be because they are holding on to things for family members. As an example, when I had my first son, my mom had boxes and boxes of boys clothes from my brothers – who were both in their 30s at the time! My kids love playing at their grandparents’ house because they get to play with toys that used to belong to their uncles. Ironically, many of those times have come back in popularity so they’re playing with the originals!
If your aging parents are living in an overstuffed house, you may want to step in to help them begin to declutter – particularly if they are planning to downsize or if they are at risk for falls due to clutter.
Addressing The Need For Downsizing
While you may walk into your aging parents house and think they need to get rid of a lot of stuff, they may not even see the clutter. They might be blind to the clutter since they are used to seeing it every day. They may also know it’s there but the thought of dealing with it is too overwhelming. Remember, to them, it isn’t clutter, it’s a house full of memories.
Based on my own experience with my parents, you really have to go at this delicately and tackle one thing at a time. Rather than saying, “Hey parents, you have way too much stuff. You need to get rid of stuff,” you can start with one area. In my case, I started with my parents’ linen closet. I was staying with them and said, “Mom, you have a lot of extra towels that you don’t need. Why don’t we go through them and I can help you sort out the ones to donate to an animal shelter.” If you know my mom, you know that she doesn’t get rid of anything without it having a new purpose so suggesting we donate the extremely old, threadbare linens was critical to getting her to agree.
It really is a much more delicate topic than you may think. For me, I love getting rid of stuff and don’t have an emotional tie to most items in my home. My husband and I have joked that I can easily live in a 300 square foot home if I lived alone. That being said, sometimes, as people get older, if a family member comes in and starts getting rid of their things, they may think they are doing it because they are expecting them to die soon. Obviously not the message you want to put across. Your focus should be on helping them get better use out of their home and making more space for them to enjoy their home.
Tips For Embarking On The Downsizing Process
If you’ve gotten your aging parent to agree to downsizing and you’ve checked out my other tips on downsizing, you’re just about ready to get moving. I’ve spoken with several people who have helped their aging parents or family members downsize and declutter and these are some of the best tips they have to share.
- Before you start on a room, have your aging parents go through the room with colored stickers. Assign a color to them (meaning they want the item to stay) and a color for different family members they may want to gift an item to. That way, nothing gets donate or tossed that was meant to remain in the family.
- If your aging parent is in a situation where they have to move now but they aren’t ready to get rid of items, consider putting those items in a storage unit to reevaluate later. My aunt did this after my uncle died and when she went back to the storage unit a year later, it was much easier to pass on or donate items.
- Consider hiring a personal organizer who specializes in downsizing. They are used to helping aging clients part with their things in a compassionate manner. It can also be easier for your parent to work with a stranger than with an adult child who they may feel is judging their ability to remain independent.
- If your aging parent doesn’t want to be responsible for choosing which family member gets which items, have them tag the items they want to pass on to family members and invite the family members to come and choose what they’d like. This worked really well for a former client who was moving from a two bedroom house with a garage to a studio in a senior apartment building.
- If the decluttering/downsizing is because of an upcoming move, consider securing their next home before getting rid of their current home so they can visually see how much room they will have, making it easier to unload items. Of course, this suggestion only works if it is financially feasible.
- If your aging parent is looking to get rid of big pieces of furniture that no one in the family has a need for, consider auction houses or consignment stores, as well as traditional thrift stores. Your parent may be able to make money off of some of their more valuable pieces.
- If possible, set a realistic goal together for completing the downsizing and decluttering process. Some people set a goal of two garbage bags a day for x weeks while others set a goal of one weekend at a time for x months. Do whatever works best for your aging parent without overwhelming them or pushing them too hard.
- If you are going through the downsizing process as part of a move, consider renting a dumpster for the last few days to make it easier to get rid of things quickly.
Making the decision to downsize and declutter is a big decision when you are older. It isn’t just about the “things,” it is the realization that you may be losing your independence. Be patient as your aging parents go through their things. If your parent hasn’t moved in a while – or even gone through their things – they will come across many items that will spark memories. Understand that downsizing is harder as you age and give your parents the space to move at their own pace, one room at a time.