Is Your Parent a Baby Boomer That Needs to Downsize?

Do you feel overwhelmed every time you visit your parents because they have so much stuff? Are you preparing to get your folks into an assistant living facility or helping them downsize? Do your parents keep everything because they believe they will need it someday? Do you worry about dealing with your parents’ stuff when they are deceased?

I work with clients on a regular basis to help them clear clutter and get organized. For many people, it is a challenge to let go of possessions. Here are 5 tips to support your parents in letting go of stuff.

  1. Set a deadline. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is not allowing for enough time. Downsizing, decluttering and organizing will take longer than you think. If you are moving, you work back from your move date. If you aren’t moving, still set a deadline. Determine when you are available to help your parents and go from there. Once you have done some initial purging, you should have a better sense of how long it will take you to complete.

    Set daily, weekly, monthly goals and celebrate with your parents as they accomplish tasks. Chunk down into manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. For example, if you are working in the kitchen. The monthly goal is to complete downsizing the kitchen. A weekly goal may be to go through the upper cabinets. A daily goal may be to go through the junk drawer.

    Schedule as much time each day you think that your parent/s can handle without being overwhelmed. Most seniors cannot do more than a few hours at a time. Remember, you will be sorting and letting go of a lifetime of stuff. It didn’t accumulate overnight, and it won’t be released in a day.

    Work with your parents when they have the most energy. If they are a night owl, try working later in the evening. Ideally, it will also be when you have high energy.

    It is also important to be in the right frame of mind as much as possible. Going through items on the anniversary of your deceased father’s stuff with your mother is probably not a good time.

    Have snacks and water to make it easier as well as not having an excuse to stop. Put on their favorite music or see if a supportive friend can help out.

    Finally, take breaks as needed. Breaks not only help with physical fatigue, but also mental fatigue.

  2. Pre downsizing. You can begin this before you start physically downsizing. Downsizing is challenging, so beginning with deciding on what you want to give to family is usually a good place to start. One of the challenges people have when letting things go is worrying that it will go to a good home. By giving to loved ones, this makes letting go a bit easier.

    Have your parent decide what they would like to give to family. If they are unsure, ask family members if there is anything they would like to remember the person by.

    When decisions have been made, set a firm deadline for family members to come and pick up their items.

    Once you have made decisions on what to give to family members, continue your easy trend of easy downsizing. Ask your parent/s if there is anything they would like to give to friends, colleagues, staff or long time helpers, such as cleaners or pet sitters.

  3. Ask questions. As we age, we may become more attached to items, be more forgetful or tire more easily. When downsizing with your parents, ask questions to make purging items easier.

    Open-ended questions can be stressful and your parents may feel put on the spot. Ask yes or no questions for easy decisions. Pare down ahead of time to make decisions easier. For example, if going through clothing, donate anything that is worn, doesn’t fit or has stains. From what is left, don’t ask, “Which dresses do you want to keep?” Instead, present a manageable decision: “Let’s pick an every day dress, one for socializing and one for a special occasion. Does that sound good?” Releasing clutter is about making decisions, so avoid the maybes that allow people to not make a decision.

    Make easy decisions that you don’t need to ask your parents about such as throwing away anything expired, releasing rusty or non-working items, and donating duplicates of items such as hairdryer. Recycle what you can and trash anything that is beyond repair or use.

  4. Choose a Charity. Decide what you will do with items after you have left after decluttering. Have a game plan and decide ahead of time when you are not emotional or not exhausted from clearing clutter.
    Some things to consider:

  • Do you want to sell? Consign? Put on EBay or Craig’s List? Contact a professional such as an Antique dealer?

  • Is money or time more important? Peace of mind? Let those guide decisions.

  • What charities and causes are important to your parent?

    Know charities guidelines (i.e. pick up or drop off, etc.) before you make your final decision. If you need help setting a deadline, schedule a charity pick up to help you get motivated. You can also hire someone to haul off your junk if you don’t want to make a decision. Most haulers are environmentally responsible and either donate, sell or recycle most items.

  1. Consider hiring a professional organizer. Professional organizers are trained to work with people in downsizing, clearing extreme clutter and getting organized. As a neutral and compassionate party, they can help family members with the process of downsizing.

    Prepare a list of questions to ask a potential organizer. Do they have specialized training? Do they belong to any associations? How would they handle certain scenarios?

    Most professional organizers offer some type of free consultation. Take the time to talk with any organizer you are considering hiring. You should be able to get a sense of their style and capabilities when talking to them on the phone. It’s important to have a good personality fit with someone that will be working closely with your or a loved one.

Bonus: Technology can be your friend. If your downsizing includes a move, Notability helps with furniture placement. Notespark has synchronized lists for better communication and fewer mistakes. Working with siblings? Astrid allows you to share tasks, assign jobs and sync with your mobile & desktop. Genius Scan+ lets you keep track of receipts.

Have a baby boomer parent you need help downsizing? Call Rachel Seavey at 925.548.7750 or email to schedule your free consultation. Licensed, Bonded, Insured.