Many seniors eventually need to downsize to a smaller space, whether to a family member's home, a retirement community, or a nursing facility. This task often falls to their adult children to pack and declutter. This is sensitive territory because the realization is that they are losing their independence. Going through these types of things with aging parents requires patience. Parents need their space and to be able to move at their own pace through this journey. Help your parent understand that the great burden will fall on you if they don't help you now.

While you may walk into your parents home and think that they need to downsize, they may not notice the clutter. Many people are blind to clutter because they live with it everyday. Sometimes the thought of decluttering is overwhelming to aging parents. To them, they have a home of memories and not clutter. Involve them in the decision-making process. You will want to value their input in showing them you respect their belongings and decisions. Small steps repeated with patience will reward with great results. Rushing them will result in resistance. Parents will respond if you let them take their time.

Some tips to help you get through this:

  • Set a realistic goal together for the decluttering and downsizing process. Do what works best for your aging parent without pushing them too much or overwhelming them.
  • If the process of downsizing involves moving, consider possibly ordering a dumpster for a few days to make the process easier. You could also schedule a local thrift store to pick up donations. It is important to keep unwanted possessions moving in order to not hinder the process.
  • Start the decluttering process with the least sentimental items, such as a linen closet. The more they practice keeping, tossing, selling or donating, the easier the sentimental items will be.
  • Your parent may have large pieces of furniture that they wish to sell. Consider consignment stores, social media selling pages or a garage sell to make some money for them.
  • Sometimes the process can be so difficult that a personal organizer may need to be hired. Many professionals have experience in these situations and know how to handle the delicate situation of decluttering. It might be easier for your parent to work with a stranger on these types of issues.
  • Have your parent go through each room with colored stickers. They can choose what items will be donated, staying with them or given to a loved one. This is also something that they can do on their own if they want privacy.
  • Often an aging parent isn't ready to get rid of items. If the situation arises, suggest placing those items in a storage unit. It can be easier to donate or pass items on after some time has passed.

Decluttering is hard work and tensions often rise in these situations. Adjust your perspective when these moments come up. See these moments as precious time spent with your parents.

Tips for Decluttering:

  • If they haven't used the item in six months, donate those unused items!
  • Make the experience of decluttering fun with music and their favorite beverage. You could also go out for dinner afterwards as something to look forward to.
  • Have all of the supplies ready ahead of time. These items would include plastic totes, gloves to protect your hands, and trash bags.
  • Use the three bin system to decluttering: Keep, Toss, Donate.
  • Remember that less stuff means less time cleaning. At this stage of their life, your senior loved one won't want to be cleaning often.
  • Take the time to help them clean out their medicine cabinet. It is unsafe to keep expired medicine around.
  • The new year is the perfect time of year to get rid of stained and discolored towels.
  • Throw old bills away unless they need them for tax purposes.