woman speaking with elderly parent

One of the woes of your parents growing older is the prospect of cleaning (or at least decluttering) their home so they can move or downsize. While it’s not a quick task, it doesn’t have to be a huge burden. There are many methods your family can follow to make it easier for everyone involved. 

Start before it’s too late

Don’t wait until your parents must go to an assisted living facility or need to move quickly for financial reasons. Downsizing is an emotional process that takes time and energy. The added stress of a tight deadline to move, sell the house, and recoup money to cover new costs can feel like a panicked evacuation. Starting the process early will decrease anxiety by giving your parents more control over the situation and setting a calm pace.

Make it a positive experience

Encourage your parents to see letting go of certain items as a means of embracing what matters most in their next chapter. Instead of asking them what must go, get them to consider which of their possessions will help them build the life they want. When they look around and see what didn’t make it on the list, the decision to let go of clutter becomes easier, creating a greater sense of purpose and a clearer vision. 

Break up work into smaller chunks

Start with smaller rooms in the house and tackle the least sentimental items. Are there any rooms your parents have now that won’t exist in their new home such as a home gym, office, or laundry room? Eliminating the extra furniture and associated items is less emotional, more practical, and will encourage momentum. Identifying duplicate objects is another easy task to get your family started. All duplicates should be moved into a toss or sell/donate pile. 

Make three piles: toss, keep, sell or donate 

When sorting your parents’ belongings, decide what to keep, toss, and sell or donate. Keeping a “maybe pile” will only hold you back. In his book Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life, professional organizer Peter Walsh writes, “when everything is important, nothing is important.” If an object doesn’t fit your parents’ needs or no longer excites them, it’s time to say goodbye. 

Don’t pressure or force it

The entire downsizing process will likely take weeks or months. Don’t force your parents to purge more than they are comfortable with in one sitting, especially if they have memory issues. Our brains can only make so many decisions before we hit a wall of fatigue. Determine how much decluttering your parents can handle at a time and help them make a balanced schedule that will leave them feeling accomplished each day. 

Find creative ways to keep memories

The hardest belongings to part with are often the ones tied to memories. While everything won’t fit in their new home, there are creative ways to keep those special moments alive while taking up less square footage. Consider turning photos of treasured items into memory books, enjoy them on digital picture frames, or create a collage to display on the wall. 

Bond over sentimental items

Give your parents time to enjoy the memories you rediscover while looking through their possessions. Listen to their stories, celebrate the precious moments they’ve held onto, and help them determine which sentimental items to save. You may even come across your old school projects, toys, and other meaningful objects from your childhood. Reminisce, let the experience bring you closer together, and share your appreciation for everything these items represent. 

Downsizing can be a daunting experience for your parents but starting early, crafting a plan, and breaking it down into smaller tasks can make the process easier. For information, referrals, and additional resources turn to Wellspring Center For Prevention offices at 732-254-3344.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio


  1. 1
    Jo Wood on March 31, 2024

    Very helpful information. I wish I had started earlier but cannot dwell in the past.

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