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Downsizing your parents’ home

assisted living facility

At certain points in life, downsizing to a smaller living space is a necessity – or simply makes good sense. No matter who you are, the task is daunting. Here’s how to help your aging parents downsize their home.


Downsizing challenges


Remember when you first looked at a college dorm or your first apartment away from your parents? Downsizing all of your worldly possessions into a tiny room seemed insurmountable. Now consider your parents’ lives as they try to downsize from the family home to an apartment or assisted living facility. It’s definitely an emotional transition, but the practical challenge of downsizing makes the move very daunting. The process involves “letting go,” and deciding what to sell, what goes to charitable organizations, and what’s going to be given to family and friends. Then, there are the innumerable choices involved in getting established in a new space. How will the furniture fit into the room? Where will the pictures hang? Just the thought of making all of these decisions paralyzes many people even if they’re unhappy in a very large house.


A resource: professional organizers


A relatively new service offered by “professional organizers” can help your parents make all of the decisions they need to make when downsizing their full home to a more manageable space like an apartment or assisted living facility.  Call the National Association of Professional Organizers at 1.856.380.6828 for a referral, or visit their website at Also try the Yellow Pages under “Organizing Services.” If you just want a little bit of help, some realtors now offer real estate consultants who can organize the move, sell the furniture and help your aging parents assess just how much space they will have in their new apartment for new and old furniture.


How to make a downsize happen


Professional organizer Alice Winner recommends the following tips to help your parents transition into a new, smaller living space:


  1. First, your parent must want to do this. Don’t launch a de-cluttering, downsizing attack without their full support. Start the conversation gently by asking if they’d like some help in getting ready for the move.


  1. Begin by asking your parents to make a list of what they want to keep, give away or even sell, then label each item as such using stickers. Don’t criticize their list, even if it appears unreasonable.


  1. Start with what’s in the basement, storage closets or attics. Chances are they don’t have strong emotional ties to what they’ve been storing there.


  1. Break moving tasks down into small segments over a reasonable period of time. Rather than set aside a whole day to clean an entire area of the house, clean out one kitchen drawer, one closet, or one dresser drawer in an afternoon. If you tackle small projects throughout a week, you’ll accomplish more.


  1. Begin getting rid of paper clutter. For example, check with your accountant on how long your parents need to keep cancelled checks and start shredding what they no longer need. Newspapers, magazines and books can be recycled or, if valuable, given to local senior centers and libraries.


  1. Separate financial and legal records from memorabilia. Don’t worry about identifying or categorizing the memorabilia, just put it in boxes. If they have lots of pictures on the wall and will soon have less wall space, have them identify those that would look nice in a good photo album.


  1. If there’s a large piece of furniture they can’t quite bring themselves to part with, ask if they can envision it stored temporarily in someone else’s home until they can make a final decision about what to do with it.


  1. Take photos of furniture that has special meaning that will be given away or sold.


  1. Ask your parents to tell you the story behind pieces of furniture, glassware, vases, or paintings that are being passed down to other family members. Write it in on a piece of paper and place it inside the item or tape it to the back of it so that other generations can enjoy the story.


In “Making the Move: A Practical Guide to Senior Residential Communities,” Lettice Stuart recommends that your parents choose five of the most important pieces of furniture they must have to feel at home in their new place. Another great book is Living Transitions: A Step-by-Step Guide for a Later Life Moveby Sue Ronnenkamp. You can order it through her website at


The bottom line


  • At certain points in life, downsizing to a smaller living space is a necessity – or simply makes good sense. No matter who you are, the task is daunting.
  • While the emotional aspects of downsizing are challenging enough, it’s equally difficult to figure out what to get rid of or what to keep – and where to put it in the new living space. This process can be paralyzing.
  • Professional organizers can help you determine how to dispense of items that are no longer needed – and how to fit the things you want to keep in a smaller space.
  • There is a process to downsizing – don’t try to do it too quickly. When talking with your aging parents about what they want to keep, give away or sell, use compassion and understanding.




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