Downsizing Your Elderly Loved One


If you are part of the sandwich generation  – you already know how much is on our plates!  By the time we realize our teenagers are becoming more independent young adults, we also have the harsh realization that our parents either need some extra support or will sooner than later. We are sandwiched between caring and nurturing our not-yet adult children and figuring out how to assist our aging parents who are becoming more dependent – and not because they want to.  If you are well prepared and have a set plan for how to give your parents the extra support they need and deserve – you are among the few. If your family does not have a plan in place and you find yourself figuring out things as you go, don’t panic –  you are not alone! 

As a professional organizer, I have helped many people transition their loved one(s) into a new space so the loved one is confident about their living arrangements and the family has peace of mind. If you are in this season of life or about to enter into this season, grab some coffee, pull up a seat and keep reading.

1. Get some perspective 

Understanding the era of WHEN and HOW Mom and Dad grew up will start you out on the right footing. If there was a general worry about survival – especially if they lived through the Depression or were raised by Depression era parents – it was ingrained in them to not get rid of ANYTHING! We recycle, we save, but we don’t release things. Fast forward 60 years and NOW, they are being told all the things they’ve been keeping and collecting over the years are no longer needed. As humans, changing our mindset takes time.  And in the case of a loved one, it takes much time, love and patience. It won’t happen overnight but understanding the culture and mindset your family member lived through will help you gain insight and patience. 

Something else to consider…If Mom and Dad are leaving their family home where they’ve spent decades raising a family, building memories and collecting treasures, chances are they are grieving – they are grieving for the life they once had. Even if they are trying to have a good attitude, they feel the loss. AND NOW – you are asking them to get rid/scale down even more – which translates to MORE loss. 

2. Remember: It’s about them, not you

While this transition does affect you, it is not about you. It is about them. Include your loved one in on as many decisions as they can make. Ask if they have a special organization they want to support with the things they determine are not coming to the new space.  Ask if they have things they are finished using that others might be able to use. Pointing out that others are in need and can use a particular item may help them feel better – instead of “getting rid” of something, they are “helping someone”. 

If your personal house/garage has become the storage facility for your loved one’s belongings, keeping the mantra “it’s not about me” gets harder!  It’s understandable to want your house back, but remember this is a temporary situation. Even 6 months, though it feels long, is temporary. But it may be the time your parents need to process and adjust, in order to release what they don’t need.  The faster you try to force them to make decisions, the more they are likely to dig in and resist altogether. Go in at the start with the mindset that this is going to be a lengthy process. You aren’t going to accomplish your goals in one weekend or one sitting.  You are much more likely to succeed if you start out with the right frame of mind.

Whenever possible, remove your emotions from the situation. Extracting emotions is a very hard thing for both parties to do. Sometimes having a third party get involved will help dissolve tensions and let both parties reach practical compromises.  Having a third party to “blame” also helps to alleviate tensions and hurt feelings, as you are no longer the “bad guy”.

3. Make a floor plan for the new space 

Focus on the space you do have, and help your loved one focus on the space that will be theirs. If at all possible, before the move have a visual of each room and ask them what is most important for them to have in the space.  Let them be a part of the decision making and planning as much as possible. This helps sort out the pieces they deem essential versus the emotional items, and they will be more receptive to letting go of things when they are an active part of the process.  We will talk about how to handle some of the emotional items next, but whenever possible – focus on what they can do; what they can take to the new space.  Draw important items on the floor plan. It helps them visualize how much space is remaining in the room, and also helps create some dialogue when you realize you have run out of space. 

4. Respect the stuff and think outside the box – literally

If your loved one is having cognitive or memory issues, sometimes their treasures can trigger a beautiful memory, making them even harder to let go. Grab your video camera or phone and encourage them to tell the story about what makes their treasure so special. After several video stories you can make a video collage for them to watch as many times as they wish. It will bring them so much joy to hear the story and see the item that prompted the nostalgia. This process will also serve as a treasure for you one day!  Having family stories documented with them as the narrator is priceless!  

Pictures are another way to document items! You can upload photos from your phone and create a memory book/photo album of specific memorable events or eras for your parents to remember and enjoy. 

The important thing to remember is that what looks like “useless junk” to you and me, represents a priceless memory to them.  And in the face of all the other transitions they’ve been forced to make in a short time, rushing them to make decisions about these items will only end in arguments and hurt feelings.  It’s going to be a slow process, and you’re going to have to take it one box at a time. Understanding that up front will make it a little easier for both of you.

5. Break the cycle and lead by example

Chances are the very thing that is frustrating you now – your loved one’s clutter, will be passed down to your children – IF you don’t have a plan. Lead by example and start talking to your parents about how you are letting go of things. Taking this approach takes the spotlight off them. They may be inclined to help you talk through some solutions.  You may help them draw a parallel to their own situation. While I don’t suggest taking on a big declutter project of your own during this time, you can see how it could help the future generation when it comes time to give YOU extra support. 

In thinking of your own house, what are some methods you can implement (starting now) to make your scale down move easier and less stressful? Maybe you implement some ideas we have already discussed. Maybe you find different ways to capture your memories and treasures. The point is, start now! You will be happy you did.

Sometimes due to family dynamics, the people we are closest to don’t always value our suggestions. If you are currently in this season of life or if you will be walking through this season soon, I want to help! I have a free checklist I can email you!  Also, know if you find yourself needing a third party to help accomplish the end goal and/or defuse a relationship strain, please reach out to me. I am here to listen and help you accomplish your goals. 

Happy Organizing,


SOS by Lisa | Professional Organizer, Home Organizer
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