Helping Your Parents Downsize

Helping Your Parents Downsize

A few years ago, my family and I made some bold moves. It was in the thick of the pandemic which left more time for talking and thinking. My husband and I discussed everything from our life choices to our future goals and vision. As a result of that conversation, we put a for sale sign in the yard of our beloved 2,000 plus square foot historical home and opted for the 1,100 square foot “cozy cottage.”

The reason for our downsizing was fueled by financial goals and even sheer madness resulting from too much time to think.

For us, it was a choice, but for aging loved ones, there may be a need to downsize, whether due to declining motor skills, finances or to simplify home maintenance.

Downsizing may come with mixed emotions. It is natural to feel overwhelmed at the idea of deciding what should be preserved and what will need to be removed — whether donated, trashed, or sold.  There may be feelings of excitement and hope in starting a new chapter. And there may be anxiety and fear based on leaving the environment that your parents have known for an extended period. Finally, depending on where your parents are moving —small house, condo, or assisted living —there will be the process and logistics involved in downsizing.

Where to start?

1. Have an honest conversation and assess the items in the house.

Help them make a list of the things that are important to your aging loved one. It may include a favorite piece of furniture, a work of art, a beloved mug, or quilt.

Once you have compiled a list, take time to walk and talk through how these items will be stored, displayed, and used in the new home.

2. Help them make a plan for items that will not fit in the new lifestyle or have not been used during the last year. Respect, listen and guide your parents in thinking through how and if that item can be used.

What is a family heirloom that is ready to be passed on? Provide the time, space, and support to your loved one to share that special item with a family or friend.

What items can be sold? Walk and talk through items that can be monetized. Utilize local resources like antique dealers, online searches and other expertise to estimate the value of an item. Keep positive as your parents work through items which can be sold, possibly even making a goal or plan for the monies from a sale (i.e. a special dinner out, money towards a family vacation, etc.).

Donate and/or upcycle. Consider what items still have use and can donate to a non-profit to be sold for the greater good. Keep in mind that some programs like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and Goodwill may even pick up items, saving time and effort in the process.

3. Preserve items and memories by taking photos.

As my family and I downsized our home, I came across storage bins full of art created by my daughter. How could I let go of these treasures? Though they did not serve a purpose and I did not have storage for them in the new home, they were keepsakes I treasured. The answer? Take photos. Before recycling or tossing to the trash, take photos. Create a digital album (Google makes this very easy) and then order a photo album.

4. Plan for moving 

Though an investment (a paid mover averages around $75 per hour, per mover with a crew size of four and time to move a standard household around 8 hours = $2400), it is far less stressful than trying to have family and friends help, especially when other emotions may be involved.

Be empathetic to all items in your parents’ household. Though something may seem trivial or outdated, that item may hold special memories and connection to your parents.

And look forward, downsizing can provide new opportunities and less worry and stress for your parents and you.

Jeannie Fleming-Gifford has a MA in family and consumer sciences and is the VP Programming for Lakeside Chautauqua. Her memoir “The Gift I Never Wanted” shares the challenges and joys of caregiving. Connect with her at 

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