Helping Your Parents Downsize

You may have to help your parent(s) downsize in two situations. The first is that your parent is unable or would prefer not to maintain their home. Sometimes a home is just too big for your parent to maintain, and some people may prefer not to live in a home that requires upkeep and would prefer a smaller home, such as a condominium, where the maintenance is an included cost. There is a lot of added safety as your parent(s) would no longer be snow clearing or walking on slippery ground, as the area would be salted by staff.

The second situation involves your parent being unable to live by him or herself, due to physical or mental disability, and a 24/7 caregiver isn’t feasible, or you think it will be better for your parent physically, mentally and socially to live in a retirement residence.

In both situations, you will need to assist your parents in the transition from living in a large home to moving to a smaller home. In that case, you should consider the following tips:

Take some time to acknowledge that this will be difficult

Take time to process and think

This kind of transition is a very serious life event. Acknowledge and appreciate the memories the house held and take your time in the process.

As strange as it may sound, you may want to have a “safe word” that you can use with your parent(s) if there is an argument and emotions are running high. Rather than say something offensive, say your “safe word” to end the conversation as it has become too emotional.

Organize the keepsakes

Important keepsake

A good way to cull the items is to keep very precious keepsakes, and give items, such as pictures of family members and friends to them and to discard unsentimental items. You should also digitize everything you can. You may want to keep the treasures with you and keep a copy of the digital documents on your loved one’s computer or tablet.

If your parent(s) will not be bringing much artwork, consider framing some of the pictures you find in storage, as they may not have been framed when they were taken, say a family photograph at the beach, which may be wonderful to frame and display.

Determine the necessities

Your parents may have amassed a large wardrobe. You can assist in culling that wardrobe to items that are worn often or that are for special occasions. The clothes should all still fit. If you need to drastically downsize, then 15 sets of clothing (3 special occasion ones) for each season would be appropriate.

If your parent is moving to a room with no kitchen, you do not need to keep any kitchen items. It is tricky when a parent moves to an apartment or suite with a kitchen, as they will require kitchen items but not as much. Be sure to keep essential plates, etc. and try to keep some serving bowls and anything that is sentimental and was a gift.

You should discuss with your parent(s) which items they would like to keep, what they would like to gift, and to whom, what they might consider selling, and what they would consider donating.


This will be a challenging process regardless of the situation, but clearly much more challenging if your loved one is moving with great reluctance or after a tragedy, such as the death of a spouse. Be sure to give yourself double the amount of time that you think you will need. If there is voluminous stuff, consider hiring a professional organizer to help you. They will likely have novel ideas on what to keep or toss, and may provide some motivation to complete the task evenly and without a rush at the end.

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