Inside: Helping your elderly parents to downsize can be a challenge. Use these tips to help ease the transition.

A guest post by Rose Morrison

As the small tasks of everyday life become more difficult for your aging parents, it may be time to begin discussions about downsizing.

While there are many benefits to be enjoyed from decluttering your home, helping your elderly parents downsize can be a physically and emotionally taxing process at times.

Fortunately, by planning in advance you can help ease the transition of moving to a smaller space. While there may be a lot of decluttering to do, it will feel less overwhelming the earlier you start.

Here are five tips for creating a plan when helping your elderly parents downsize.

helping elderly parents downsize

5 Tips for Helping Elderly Parents Downsize

As you prepare to begin helping your elderly parents downsize, consider how you would want to be treated.

Would you want to be able to engage in a discussion or to be told what you have to do? Parents’ aging can be difficult for both the parents themselves as well as their adult children. Patience and grace will go a long way in the process.

While times of transition are often challenging, things will go more smoothly if you think through these tips in advance and create a game plan.

two people having coffee

1. Start With Open Conversations

The first conversation you may need to have is with other family members. Do you have siblings who will also be helping and involved in the decision-making process? If so, getting on the same page ahead of time will help.

Next, open up a conversation with your parents. In some cases, they may acknowledge that it is time to downsize while others may be more reluctant.

Be willing to open up the conversation even if it’s hard. The more you can discuss while they’re still in reasonable health, the better off everyone will be.

How do they want to spend the final years of their lives? How do they feel about their current living situation? Would a new environment help them carry out their plans?

This conversation is a must-have if your parents are nervous or stubborn about moving. These feelings are normal.

Express your concerns about your parent’s health and well-being. Make sure to provide specific examples.

For instance, you might have noticed that they have trouble preparing meals or doing household chores. Perhaps the home’s staircases are too long or steep for your parents to climb in their old age. 

Have the courage to give your parents a reality check, but don’t pressure them with a deadline or ultimatum unless absolutely necessary. They should be able to process the situation on their own time provided they are not living in an unsafe situation.

It’s important to be compassionate and empathetic. Moving from your home is not easy; many emotions can play into the process.

helping elderly parents downsize

2. Make It a Family Event

Once you get past the conversation stage, start planning to pack up your parents’ belongings. Ensure you don’t needlessly lengthen the process. The more you procrastinate, the less motivation you will have to sort through everything.

It’s better to begin the decluttering process as early as possible. It can also be helpful to get more family members involved. Many hands make light work.

If you have good relationships, having extended family members help may make things easier for your parents. Having many loved ones around can help them cope with the moving process and accept the transition to another home.

In the decluttering process, you may come across quite a few things that you wonder why your parents kept them. There are many reasons that people hold onto clutter.

Try to be gentle as you help them declutter while also encouraging them to let go of the things they no longer have the space for.

Decluttering gives your family a chance to relive and rediscover old memories. You’re likely to come across toys, family photos, and other sentimental items that were valuable parts of your childhood.

Sorting through them will help your family establish closure and move on from the home when it’s time to sell.

Most people try to avoid feeling nostalgic before changing locations, but it never works. Relocating your parents is guaranteed to be an emotional experience, so you should embrace those feelings with your loved ones instead of running from them.

Besides, nostalgia is a powerful healing tool that provides comfort and reassurance that better days are ahead.

thrift store sign

3. Donate, Sell, or Dump

Separating items into categories is the oldest moving strategy in the book. It makes reorganizing much faster and easier. Use these tips on decluttering for seniors to help you work through the process.

Aside from anything your parents want to keep, you should establish three categories of items: 

  • Donate: Donate extra clothes, nonperishable food, kitchen appliances, and other essential items lying around the house. Your parents might no longer need them, but someone else does. Giving to charities will make parting with things a little easier.
  • Sell: Nonessential items like furniture, tools, and electronics still have some market value, so you may want to try to sell them. List them on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and other online forums. The money you make can go toward moving fees.
  • Dump: Throwing away old items is the hardest part of moving. It’s normal to develop emotional attachments to objects, but you can’t let them cloud your judgment. Be honest about what your parents need and discard things that aren’t in good enough condition to donate.

The keeper items should be separated by type or room. It will make unpacking the boxes from the moving van easier.

helping elderly parents downsize

4. Consider Their Long-Term Needs

Your parents may be feeling the effects of their long years and showing signs of slowing down. Downsizing will make their lives easier, but it won’t make their physical limitations go away.

It’s important to carefully consider their long-term needs and determine which type of housing is best for them.

Single-story home

A small single-story home might be a good fit if your parents can still maintain their property. They’ll have the same privacy and independence, but with fewer laborious tasks to manage. However, not every house is accessible. You might have to add those features later on.

Apartment

Your parents won’t be able to customize their living space as much in an apartment, but they won’t have to worry about maintenance. They will also have neighbors right next door in case of a health emergency. Public apartment buildings are also wheelchair-friendly.

Condominium

Condominium residents are subject to HOA rules that your parents might have trouble adjusting to. However, condos usually have pools, outdoor recreation areas, and other amenities that will help them stay active.

Assisted Living

An assisted living or retirement community may be your two best options if your parents can no longer care for themselves. You could hire a caregiving agency to help in their new living space. If this arrangement isn’t feasible, you could look for a retirement community with full-time staff and all the necessary amenities.

As you think about what your parents want, it is also important to consider what is feasible given the circumstances and resources available. Unfortunately, some options may be cost-prohibitive. In other cases, you may be unable to provide the care they need even if that is their desired option.

Researching the options available in your area will help you to prepare in advance as your parents’ needs are likely to change as they continue to age.

woman drinking tea and reading a book

5. Take Care of Yourself

Helping your elderly parents downsize can be a stressful and exhausting process. It can take a physical and emotional toll.

It’s important that you are taking care of yourself in the process of assisting them as you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Make a habit of practicing self-care to reduce your stress levels. Get support from other family members or friends. Find a support group if you think that would be helpful.

It’s important to acknowledge that the transition may not just be difficult for your parents, but for you as well. There may be a lot to process or work through and that’s ok.

Take the time to talk about it with someone you trust. You’ll be better able to continue helping your elderly parents downsize and transition to a new phase in life if you are taking good care of yourself throughout the process.

What’s your best tip for helping elderly parents downsize? Share it in the comments section.

Losing independence is one of the hardest parts of getting older. Helping your elderly parents downsize can be a tiring task, but the more you prepare and do the work in advance the smoother the transition can be.

Rose Morrison is a freelance writer who covers home décor and organization tips. She is also the managing editor of Renovated. You can check out her Twitter to see more of her work.

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6 Comments

  1. These are fantastic tips if and only if they are willing to do them. I have encouraged and even sent them the Swedish Death Cleaning book, as a bit of a joke and also to again tell them to start to clear out the clutter. Nope hasn’t happened and I think they are just going to leave it all to myself and my 2 siblings to deal with. One would think that after dealing with their parents homes after they passed they would be more than willing…again that is a big NOPE. Still trying to figure out why they aren’t willing to give me my things..baby book, pictures. I swear my mom has my prom dress circa 1986, even though I have repeatedly told her to donate to a local theater group. I am sure when the time comes I will get a large dumpster and have to stop myself from lighting it up. Me, I have NO issues passing items on that my kids want and donating to others.

    1. My mother tried to declutter and purge but as her memory loss progressed she re-bought items, many times in multiples (like 7 golf shirts in various shades of aqua) because she got in the Goodwill and didn’t remember she already had one. Now that she’s gone, Daddy has refused to allow much of her stuff to leave the house, and he never throws away anything. He grew up dirt poor and it stuck with him. He adamantly refuses to move, living in a large house he can’t take care of and he doesn’t cook or clean up after himself. APS says a person has the right to live in filth and squalor. He won’t hire anyone to help with cooking or cleaning, expecting my sister and brother to do it for free. The rest of us live 2-6 hrs away. It’s a frustrating situation, and I know there are many more families in the same situation.
      And yes, my birth certificate is still at my parent’s house somewhere, Mom would never let go of them, and now we can’t find them.

      1. Ginnie–you can obtain a ‘certified copy’ of your birth certificate from your state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics for a small fee. This document is acceptable for getting a passport, driver’s licence, visiting U.S. territories, etc. Here in Virginia the process is a bit slow but it does result in a legal document for you.–Anne

    2. My mom is the same! My sister and I have a lot to deal with. Dad in a nursing home. Mom uses a walker now. She won’t give us pictures or childhood toys. Nothing. She has my wedding dress. Not sure how that happened but she won’t even give that back. Not only that but they own another property where they’ve stored items. omg I hate thinking about it. i know that the only way my sister and I will survive this is to have an auction when the time comes. That isn’t mentioned above. But when parents have a home and an abundance of storage that’s probably the best solution. After all my sister and I are considered seniors now.

  2. Be respectful and try to see things from your parents point of view . It’s hard and they feel like they are having control taken away . That said , you may also need to be firm if safety and health are at risk and they don’t want to budge . Take a deep breath and know it is for the best .

  3. These tips are wonderful but I am finding it impossible to get my mom to cooperate with any of my efforts to help her get rid of the things she doesn’t need and get organized. She is a hoarder! It is so frustrating! I just can’t understand why she wants to live in all that clutter and chaos. No matter what approach I take it’s like talking to a wall. Everything I suggest just leads to a huge argument! I hate to say it but she will probably die in this mess and at least then I can finally throw it all out.

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