Aging Options

Clearing the Decks: 10 Ways to Help Your Parents Downsize

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Is 2017 the year you finally help your parents downsize? Are you dreading the prospect, or perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the idea of getting rid of all that furniture and those years of memorabilia?

We found an article that appeared last year on the website that addresses this very challenging issue. We know from our radio programs and our seminars that many of our clients are facing the task of helping aging parents downsize their home and lifestyle. From both an emotional and practical standpoint this could be one of the most difficult things an adult child will ever do. That’s because this process of downsizing almost always involves going through and getting rid of decades’ worth of accumulated memories. But emotionally the process goes much deeper: the aging parents must face the facts of their own aging, and make tough decisions that are too often put off.

The earlier you start the process of clearing the decks, the better – and reading this article may be a good place to begin. The piece is called “How to Downsize a Lifetime of Your Parents’ Stuff,” and you can click here to read the entire article.

The article begins by pointing out that January is a great time of year to begin helping Mom and Dad downsize. That’s because right after the holidays your parents may feel more prepared to have the conversation about the need to start clearing the decks. Once the emotional high points of Thanksgiving and Christmas are past, and winter reality has set in, you may find Mom and Dad much more ready to admit that a move to a smaller place is in order.

The article’s second point also involves timing: “Encourage parents to downsize before they need to.” We hear frequently from our radio listeners and our clients – both seniors and their families – that they wish they had started the process earlier. But experience suggests that too many families put off downsizing far too long, often procrastinating until Mom or Dad is infirm or even impaired by dementia. This makes the whole process much more difficult and more painful. As one expert put it, “You don’t want to do it for them; you want to do it with them.”

Here’s a suggestion that sounds like a good strategy to us: don’t begin the downsizing process by trying to deal with furniture and memorabilia that carries a lot of emotional weight.  “Start in a low-stakes room,” says  Instead of following the instinct to tackle tough materials like photo albums and other sentimental items first, it’s often better to establish momentum by attacking a linen closet or pantry. We like how the author puts it: “Cleaning out moisturizers or old towels is easy, comparatively speaking, and rewards parents with instant gratification, plus motivation to move forward themselves.”

Here’s one more point that bears emphasis: experts advise that you absolutely avoid renting a storage unit. As soon as you rent the storage unit and start to fill it up, all you’re doing is postponing the inevitable.  Most of us can speak to this issue from personal experience.  The author quotes the Executive Director for the National Association of Senior Move Managers, Mary Kay Buysse, who says emphatically that instead of relocating stacks of belongings to a rented storage unit, “You should be making the decisions right there—when (parents are) inclined to do it, and when they can be thoughtful about it. Otherwise, you’re paying $80 a month to delay the decision.” Too often, your parent passes away and you’re left to deal with a storage unit packed with stuff you won’t know what to do with!

Here’s the list of all of the ten points recommended in the article. Do these apply to your parents’ need to downsize? If so, this article can certainly help you.

  1. Take advantage of the New Year – it’s the perfect time to start.
  2. Downsize before you need to – don’t put it off.
  3. Be sensitive with your parent – this is an emotional decision.
  4. Bring in a pro – the article provides some good resources to find someone to help.
  5. Start in a low-stakes room where the decisions are easier and less emotional.
  6. Get rid of multiples and seldom used articles.
  7. If you decide to sell items, keep your profit expectations in line.
  8. Give things away if at all possible.
  9. Skip the storage unit, for all the reasons outlined above.
  10. Think of downsizing as a fresh start – put a positive spin on the experience.

Remember as you interact with your parents that downsizing is a process, not an event. “You can’t downsize a 40-year-old household in 48 hours,” says Mary Kay Buysse. “You have to give it the dignity it deserves.” Make sure Mom and Dad get all the empathy and emotional support you can muster.

Starting to plan for your own retirement? Choosing where and how to live is just one part of the process. You’ll also want to consider your financial plans, your legal preparations, your medical protection, even your communication with family and loved ones. We call this type of plan a LifePlan, and it’s the only retirement plan of its kind. If you’re ready to gain some invaluable information to help you build a LifePlan of your own, plan now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars held at locations throughout the region. Click here for dates and times of the upcoming seminars, and register online – or contact us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon so we can help you start on the road to a comprehensive retirement plan that’s just right for you and those you love.

(Originally reported at

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