5 Tips for Helping Senior Parents Downsize Their Belongings
Letting go is never easy. For many seniors their belongings are tied to fond memories and feelings of comfort. Maybe that's why many older adults struggle to downsize as selling, donating, and getting rid of belongings they don't need becomes more difficult physically and emotionally. That's where you come in.
Whether they're downsizing in preparation for a move or just to get rid of clutter and increase organization, your parents need your help to downsize successfully. Ready to get started? Use these five tips to help jump-start the process.
Start Talking About It Now
Downsizing belongings can be a delicate process. That's why it's important to open the lines of communication as early as possible before the situation becomes urgent. Broach the subject by gently addressing the issue and offering your help. Ultimately, make sure your parents feel they're still in control and you're there to guide and assist them, not take over the entire process.
Jump-start the Planning Process ASAP
Not only will downsizing be emotional, it will likely take longer than you think to accomplish. If you've got the time, taking six months or a year isn't unreasonable. Even if you don't have that much time, starting as early as possible to make a plan can help things go smoothly. For example, you might need to consult an accountant or tax professional about documents that absolutely need to be kept instead of shredded.
Likewise, you need to give your siblings and other relatives time to come and retrieve any keepsakes they'd want. Talk to your parents and anyone else involved in the downsizing process to figure out when and how you're going to approach things. Try to limit your sessions to no more than two to three hours at a time to prevent your senior parents from feeling overwhelmed.
Grab a notebook and use it to write down everything related to the downsizing process including your rough plan, the timeline you're working with, and to-do lists. This lets you keep all your important information in one spot, making it easier to find the details you need when you go back to reference things.
Divide and Conquer, One Room at a Time
Going room by room makes the process easier and will let you feel you're accomplishing something tangible with each session. Use colored stickers or tags to indicate every possession you'll save, possibly save, donate or sell, or discard. If there are things that don't make the "save" list but have sentimental value, take photos to later put into an album or load into a digital photo frame.
Delegating is your friend. While your dad's figuring out which pieces of furniture to keep or toss, your mom can be going through the massive pile of junk mail or tackling a closet, with you floating between the two to help guide the process. As you're going through your parents' belongings, be patient and respectful. They may want to take a little time to reminisce. Also, they might think something you consider worthy of the "discard" pile is a treasure to be kept.
Make It Fun
Spending hours a day for days on end going through their belongings can leave you all feeling drained. But if you make each session fun it can transform into valuable bonding time instead of being a stressful obligation. Crank up your parents' favorite music, pour a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and enjoy a fabulous meal together once you're finished for the day.
Take at Least One Thing
Even if you don't want any of your parents' stuff, they're going to try to give you something. Take at least one small thing as a gesture of goodwill and to lessen the sting they're likely feeling during the process. Knowing that some of their treasured belongings – like artwork and furniture – are staying in the family can make it easier to give them up.
Patience is a virtue you're probably going to need during the process. But if you play your cards right, you can accomplish an effective downsizing with everyone's feelings kept intact. After all, "stuff" isn't as important as the memories and love you share.