Downsizing Parents

How to help your aging parents downsize

As your parents age, there will likely come a time when it is best for them to downsize into a smaller home, apartment or assisted-living center. In some cases, physical or cognitive issues related to aging will necessitate a move.

This can be a big undertaking for both parents and their adult children. Reducing a lifetime of belongings and reliving memories sparked from those items can be painful for both parties.

Be a guide

After Ruth Spurr’s father died a number of years ago, Spurr, who lives near Dallas, TX, gently suggested that her mother sell her home and move into an apartment. The suggestion wasn’t accepted until more than a year later, Spurr said. After several significant maintenance issues arose, including an air-conditioning leak in the attic that caused a portion of her mother’s ceiling to cave in, there was little choice left.

“You have to realize that that the parent you are dealing with is not the parent who raised you,” Spurr said. “It takes a lot of patience.”

Spurr recommends the parents, not the children, make as many decisions as they are able to in a downsizing situation.


Let them decide

Kay Paggi, an aging life care professional, agrees.

“It is their life,” she said. “Try not to argue with them. Ask them, don’t assume.”

Paggi is the owner of Aging Care Solutions and helps families find eldercare resources and develops care plans for families with elderly members. She also facilitates a support group for people caring for older adults.

Adult children often try to take charge and that can send the process into a tailspin. Paggi says she often reminds the adult children of aging parents that they have no idea what it is like to be the same age as their parents.

“They can’t even begin to conceptualize what it is like to be 85. So if mom says, ‘This is important. I want to keep it’ then shut up and let her keep it,” Paggi said.

Be positive

Even emotions during late-stage dementia remain intact, Paggi said. “If a person with dementia says, ‘I love that chair’ then keep the chair if it’s feasible.”

To be sure, adult children can be a positive force, helping their parents work through issues such as how much furniture will fit into in the new space and what to do with items that won’t fit.

Parents may have furniture they aren’t ready to part with but that won’t fit in the new home. Self-storage can be a good option in some situations, she said.

“I have clients who have things in storage for 15 years that they haven’t looked at but that they know is there,” she said. “Late life is characterized by loss,” she said.

When loss can be avoided during the downsizing process, it should be respectfully considered, she said.

Things to keep or sell

Hold an estate sale

Armand Christopher, a certified seniors real estate specialist with Senior Living Realty, works with clients 55 years or older and often assists people who are selling their homes to go into an assisted-living center or nursing home. His company provides a one-stop service in partnership with others that includes selling the elder’s home, packing and moving services and estate sales.

After the older adult decides what to keep and what to give to family and friends, Christopher recommends an estate sale. The estate professionals will arrange for a charity organization to pick up anything that doesn’t sell, he said.

Additional Tips

Here’s are additional tips to make the process go more smoothly:

Plan ahead. This process will always take longer than you expect.

De-clutter room by room. “The best thing is to start in one room and take a little bit out at a time,” said Christopher, as to not become overwhelmed.

Realize that downsizing often is painful. Be empathetic to the fact that this process makes us think of our own mortality.

Hire professionals. An appraiser can put a value on your items.  “What you may think is cheap, they may think is valuable,” said Christopher. “Right now, the mid-century, the 50s and 60s stuff is really hot.” A professional organizer hired via a third-party service may have an easier time working with your parents and assisting them in the downsizing.

Store it if you aren’t sure. If there are things your parents want to keep, but you aren’t so sure they should, error on the side of caution. Likewise, if there are items they want to give you, but you aren’t sure you want them, store them for awhile and make the decision later.

Get rid of items that are fall hazards. Occasional tables, chairs without arms and looped rugs should be given away.

Don’t store photos. Put them in albums or plastic bins and spend time with your parents looking at them together.

If you’re looking for storage options to help your loved ones through this transition, search for facilities near you. 

Categories Moving Organization