Helping Your Senior Parent Downsize

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As we gather at the holiday table, some of us will notice our senior parents are changing.
Perhaps they ask “Where’s Jimmy?” five times, struggle to maintain their balance while
walking, or can’t focus on peeling potatoes. This may spark a conversation with a brother
or sister: Should mom or dad receive more attention? If they’re still living in their house,
should they be selling and moving into a community setting? Read more

The holidays are a great time to ask mom and dad about what they want in their future and to suggest ideas. The problem is, these conversations are hard. They shine a spotlight on life’s finality, allow complex family dynamics to surface, and make us ever too aware of how we may become stretched to the boundaries of our own time and energy.

Yet, since change is inevitable, we might as well face the future directly and with some positive energy. We can look for the positive outcomes of the upcoming change, rather than focus on loss. Typically senior communities open the door to a richer social life, provide food service, and offer an array of fun activities. What’s not to like?!

And what about all the personal belongings that might be packed to the rafters in the family home? Clearing them out is a daunting thought! Just how will it be tackled without someone tearing their hair out? Beyond nostalgic feelings, we are confronted with complex logistics, divvying up the belongings among family members, and the sheer volume of physical labor required.

Break it up into five steps, create some deadlines, and you’ll find it a bit more manageable. First, go through the house with your parents and siblings and make a list of everything that someone would likely want to keep. Have a camera handy and take a photo of each item. Then print out all the photos in the most convenient way possible, label them, and give a copy to each sibling. I recommend paying a teenage daughter or son to stand at a photocopier and create paper copies of the photo inventory. Thirdly, use the inventory to divvy up desired belongings among siblings. You can do it in rounds, letting each person pick one item from the inventory during each round. It’s like picking teams for playground kickball when you were little, except with potentially more teams. Fourth, have each sibling pick a deadline by which they will get all their chosen belongings from the house. Fifth, go through the remainder of items in the house and label them for donation, resale, or permanent disposal and then arrange for removal. This is still a ton of work, but with structure and deadlines, you can at least gain some assurance that it will get done!

This holiday, take some time to have a conversation with your parent or parents about where they’d ideally like to live and how they’d like to live. Then you can talk about getting the house ready to sell—or even staying in the house with some modifications and decluttering!  Both you and they might enter 2013 with a sense of relief and anticipation of better things to come.

If you’d like professional support in senior downsizing, search online for a local provider or contact me at Peace of Mind Transitions LLC. Learn more through this video or visit


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