Aging Options

Clearing the Decks: 10 Ways to Help Your Parents Downsize

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We’re revisiting a very helpful article we found some months ago on the website that addresses a potentially touchy issue many of our clients are facing: how to help 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. And 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 and too easily 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. There are at least ten tips, and we won’t try to cover them all, but this article is excellent food for thought, and reading it will give you some very constructive insights.

When the article first came out, 2016 had just begun, and the author suggested that the New Year can be 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 point of Thanksgiving and Christmas is past and winter reality has set in, the article states, you may find Mom and Dad much more ready to admit that a move to a smaller place is in order. While that may be true, based on our experience here at AgingOptions we’ve found that any time can be the right time to broach the topic of a move. Your parents’ circumstances, not the calendar, will determine appropriate timing.

The article’s second point is a critical one in our estimation: “Encourage parents to downsize before they need to.” This may seem obvious, but experience suggests that too many families put things off 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.” We can’t count the number of clients we’ve talked to whose aging parents made the mistake of waiting too long to make some difficult decisions about downsizing, making the process infinitely harder.

Point #5 in the list of ten sounds like a good strategy to us: “Start in a low-stakes room.” Instead of following the instinct to tackle emotionally-charged possessions 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.”

While every point is worth reading and following, we’ll touch on one more: Point #9 – “Skip the storage unit.” 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 clearly that instead of relocating stacks of belongings to a rented storage unit, “You should be making the decisions right there—when they’re 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!

Finally, Buysse reminds us that downsizing is a process, not an event. “You can’t downsize a 40-year-old household in 48 hours,” she says. “You have to give it the dignity it deserves.” Make sure Mom and Dad get all the empathy and emotional support you can muster.

If you’re starting to plan for retirement, you’ll have your own decisions to make, such as choosing where and how to live. But there’s much more to retirement that your housing choices! A solid retirement plan must include a blueprint for your legal affairs, your financial security, your medical care and your personal family dynamics. We call our retirement planning methodology LifePlanning, and we invite you to get a solid overview and some great information by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars held at locations throughout the region. There’s no obligation – just a few hours of solid information and an eye-opening and refreshing perspective on retirement planning. Having your own LifePlan in place can help you enjoy the retirement you’ve always dreamed about.

The Upcoming Events tab on our website will let you know future dates and times, and you can register online there. You can also call our office for assistance. But don’t wait – these popular seminars fill up rapidly. We’ll look forward to meeting you there so we can help you start on the road to a comprehensive retirement plan that’s right for you and for those you love.

(Originally reported at

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