5 Tips to Make Downsizing Less Stressful

September 25, 2023

For adult children, many of whom are juggling careers and families, helping parents with downsizing or moving can be especially stressful. It’s tempting to take a tough love approach and try to get it done as fast as possible. But, as the family member who is tasked with helping, it’s important to think about your parents’ feelings before digging into the logistics.

Downsizing can be a very emotional and challenging process for anyone, but especially for elderly parents who have lived in their homes for many years. Your support and guidance can make a huge difference in making the process easier and less stressful for them.

Here are some tips to assist your elderly parents in downsizing:

START EARLY: Don’t wait until the last minute to begin the downsizing process. It is unrealistic to think you can downsize a lifetime of belongings in a few days. It needs to be done with thoughtfulness and dignity.

The truth is that the ideal time to start downsizing is before you need to do it. Try to begin when your parents are healthy and can be an active part of the process. It’s best to think of this as something you are doing with them, rather than for them. Work on it together, gradually in small areas, each time you visit.

Starting the process early allows your parents to take their time and make thoughtful decisions about what they want to keep and what they want to get rid of.

CREATE A PLAN: Develop a plan with your parents to determine what items they want to keep, what they want to sell, and what they want to donate or give away. This will help your parents stay organized and focused throughout the downsizing process.

Chances are, parents’ first choice is to give treasured possessions to their kids. Many won’t understand why you or your siblings don’t want all their stuff. Listen to their concerns and be patient with them as they make difficult decisions about their possessions.

PREPARE FOR EMOTIONS: Expect emotions from your loved one when they are being asked to choose to discard or donate their belongings. Asking parents to let go of physical items, that are attached to fond memories, requires sensitivity.  

Some elderly people have lived through very frugal times and may resist throwing things away. If a parent has passed and you are helping to sort their belongings this may bring up strong feelings in your surviving parent. Be patient and ready to hear stories and memories. You must be emotionally prepared to discuss and show them compassion during these situations.

CONSIDER STORAGE OPTIONS: If your parents are having a hard time letting go of certain items, consider renting a storage unit to hold these items temporarily. This can give your parents peace of mind in knowing that their possessions are still safe and accessible. Having items out of sight will help parents get comfortable with the idea of letting them go. If at the end of a year, no items have been retrieved from the storage unit consider donating, selling, or discarding the items at that point.   

GET HELP: Downsizing can be a big task, so don’t hesitate to ask for help. Consider enlisting the assistance of a professional organizer or a moving company to help make the process smoother for your parents. You can also search for real estate agents with the title Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES). SRES-certified agents are specially trained in real estate opportunities available to homeowners in the 50+ age demographic.

A professional does not have an emotional or personal history with your parents. They can be objective and (if necessary), even play a gentle version of “bad cop”, leaving you as the companion, or “ally”. A good professional will have stamina, and patience and remain encouraging, no matter what. They will not get triggered or take things personally, even in the face of negative emotions.

Remember, downsizing can be a positive experience that allows your parents to simplify their lives and focus on what’s truly important. With your support and guidance, your elderly parents can successfully downsize and transition to this new stage in their lives.