Downsizing – What to Do with Our Parent’s Stuff




As Baby Boomers grow older and start moving to smaller dwellings, their children are faced with a dilemma – parents’ possessions. Furniture, keepsakes and heirlooms that parents want to pass on are often not wanted by the younger generation. What do you do with all the ‘stuff,’ and how do you approach the subject of downsizing? Here are some things to do.

Dive Right In

The key to all things in the aging space is to have discussions earlier. When looking at possessions, consider that people hold on to things for three reasons – sentimental value, utility, aesthetics. Understanding that helps.

My mother-in-law passed on January 5, but we knew she had limited time. A year ago, my wife started spending more time with her and gently and kindly going through and asking about her things.

Over the course of the year, it was pretty much worked out where things would go. In fact, in the course of four days after Christmas, we emptied her apartment, furnished her assisted living and distributed other items as planned and discussed.

While you can document where you would like things to go in a will, it makes much more sense to work it out earlier with the help of your closest people.

This, through repeated and gentle conversations, helps parents realistically understand that their kids often do not want those old possessions. They probably went through the same thing with their parents.

Get Siblings on Board

For me, when mom passed in 2016, my sister had already passed and we downsized mom several times so there was little issue.

My wife has three other siblings; frankly, one more in need than the others. What they wanted most was some kind of keepsake to remember their mom. My wife wanted the Lenox Christmas plates, mainly because most were given to her mom by us.

It does not go that smooth for all families, however. So, the sooner siblings talk, the better, and that can inform the conversations you have with mom and dad.

I had a friend whose sister called him one day and told him she was at their mom’s place. She informed him she was cleaning the place out and taking what was rightfully hers!

Get on board. Your executor will thank you. Also, know the pitfalls that are coming.

No Children, No Problem

It’s important to designate where you want things to go. Maybe there are no children but there are nieces and nephews.

If not, you may need help and want to consider using the services of a senior move manager. They help you organize and downsize your possessions for either staying in your home or preparing to move to, say, an assisted living facility.

The beauty in this is that any one of us can start this process on their own. There is a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It advocates an all-at-once, ‘aim for perfection’ kind of decluttering.

Start one room at a time. Why, for example, do I have four six-quart pots in my kitchen? My wife and I go room to room through our house once a year. We know we have too much stuff and that our kids don’t want it and don’t want to deal with it.

Sudden change – even for good – is like surgery. You can cut quickly, but recovery can be very painful. So, again, start early, and work at it over time.

Seven Ways to Let Go

  • Start the decluttering process earlier in life and make it a habit.
  • Work with your children to see what they truly want and what would be donated.
  • Determine what you would need if downsizing into a smaller place.
  • Putting things in self-storage only postpones the inevitable.
  • Sell things online, in a garage sale, etc.
  • Donate to charity. But be aware that even they are becoming overwhelmed with furniture they can’t use or sell.
  • Deal with sentimental items that absolutely can’t be kept or given away. Take a picture of them and write a short description of what they are and the story behind them. Store it in cloud services like Digital Life Cloud and others.

How about you? How are you dealing with mom and dad’s ‘stuff’ and yours? Are you on top of your downsizing project, or is it overwhelming you?