Helping a Parent Downsize: Simplify the Process to Maintain Sanity

“The best things in life aren’t things.” – Art Buchwald

Downsizing is one of those life events you hear everyone else talking about, but when it suddenly enters your family circle, it often comes as a shock.

December 2009, my 72 year old father fell, suffering severe traumatic brain injury and paralysis. My mother, 70, was suddenly alone in a 3-level home, with 8 large rooms, 3 bathrooms, and 2 acres of land to care for. It became overwhelming in a matter of weeks which initiated phase one of her downsizing.

My family is among the growing population of those engaged in downsizing activity, whether due to health, financial, or other reasons. Whatever the situation, it’s an emotional, energy-draining time for all involved. If you are helping a parent downsize, here are several tips to make the process easier.

Start with goals

It’s a huge undertaking to weed out years of accumulating all those beloved things. Establish a plan before you begin.

  • How much time do you need?
  • Who is available to help?
  • Who can contribute labor, resources, or finances?
  • What services will you need to help?
  • Where will your parent go once downsizing is complete?

Family assistance

Family members are spread across the country (and further) and may not be readily available to help. Involve everyone in the planning process and request their feedback. When can each one visit? How much is everyone willing to contribute—physically and financially?

Before

Who gets what?

Before you donate, recycle, or throw away anything, begin with an inventory review. Every family has something of sentimental or monetary value and it is best to establish who wants what in advance to reduce or eliminate family friction. Once treasures have been claimed, move across the family tree. There may be a college student, a newlywed couple, a divorcee, or new parents that may need the items your parent is eliminating.

Hire experts

House cleaning crews, yard care providers, and handymen are experts that can help with various tasks. My mother hired a cleaning lady who helped pack boxes for donation

Find volunteer help

Community, church, or scouting groups may offer volunteers to pack or haul donated items. Make sure they are reputable service providers to avoid theft or other problems.

After

Recycle, donate, and throw away

Recycling: many cities and states offer a wide range of recycling services. Earth Day events (occurring in April) offer opportunities to recycle and donate a vast assortment of items. Search your area to find local recycling resources.

Donation Centers: schools, churches, homeless shelters, animal shelters, nursing homes, non-profit organizations, and civic organizations have an ongoing need for donated items. Contact these for their latest requests. My mother donated her baby grand piano to a local nursing home. The nursing home was ecstatic to receive such a gift and Mom was thrilled to find a happy home for the piano.

General Advice to help parents downsize:

  • Gentle, steady pressure is best. Getting angry or demanding will cause harm, create tension, and slow progress.
  • Work within a parent’s physical ability: the process is emotionally & physically draining. Help set goals and offer to help as often as possible.
  • Let parents make as many decisions as possible. They’re already emotionally involved; giving them the lead will lessen the heartache.
  • Get out of the acquisition phase and into the thinning phase sooner rather than later. Discuss with parents will acquire their stuff or what they would like done with it once they are no longer around. This is a good exercise for all of us.

Downsizing a household will stir up a lot of emotions for everyone involved, but the sooner you discuss the process and plan, the easier it will be when it occurs.

Are you or a parent downsizing? What were your experiences? Do you have suggestions to add?

Kristen

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