Toss It Tuesday – How to Downsize a Lifetime of Your Parents’ Stuff

Cluttered RoomHelping your parents downsize their home could be one of the hardest things you ever do, both emotionally and practically speaking. There are decades of belongings to contend with, not to mention the inherent tension of an adult child/elderly parent relationship.

Not to worry, though. Help is here, thanks to These ideas can help you simplify downsizing, while remaining sensitive to all involved parties. Most importantly, everyone needs to recognize it’s a process. “You can’t downsize a 40-year-old household in 48 hours,” says Mary Kay Buysse, the Executive Director for the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM). “You have to give it the dignity it deserves.”

Idea – Encourage parents to downsize before they need to. Your parents shouldn’t wait too long to edit their possessions; the earlier they begin, the more they can participate and even find joy in the process. “The best time to do it is while they’re healthy,” says Andy Cohen, CEO of “You’d much rather [downsize] when they’re of sound mind and body. You can say, ‘If you do this now, you’re going to be able to do this the way you want to do it.'”

“You don’t want to do it after they’ve developed dementia or a stroke,” Buysse concurs. “You don’t want to do it for them; you want to do it with them.”

Idea – Start in a low-stakes room. Determined to DIY? While it may be tempting to tackle the most sentimental items first, it’s better to take the opposite approach. “One of the best things to do is go through a room that doesn’t have any real personal attachment—the medicine cabinet, the linen closet, the kitchen,” says Buysse. Cleaning out moisturizers or old towels is easy, comparatively speaking, and rewards parents with instant gratification, plus motivation to move forward themselves. “What happens is, they love the way the kitchen or medicine cabinets look, and they get inspired. They don’t need coaxing.”

Whatever you do, save pictures and albums for later. “I think our gut instinct is to begin with photos, and that’s the last thing that should be touched,” says Buysse. “It’s also the easiest thing that can be handed off to a third party to digitize.”

Idea – Ditch multiples and seldom-used items. Though it seems like every little possession could spark a toss/keep debate, there’s one category of stuff you can chuck immediately: “Multiples, for sure.” Duplicate tools, clothes, and cooking equipment can go with nary a second thought. “Most 80 year old women haven’t made mashed potatoes in 10 years, and they have three mashers,” says Buysse.

For seldom-used items you’re less sure about, try this test: “Whether it’s an article of clothing or kitchen utensil, if you haven’t picked it up in a year, chances are you can live without it.” From cookie sheets to bedsheets, if the downsizing person finds herself in need of an item down the line, it can probably be purchased new relatively quickly. “Very few things can’t be replaced easily,” says Buysse, “but everything else you can pretty much get an Amazon drone to bring later in the day.”

Read more downsizing ideas.


DAYNA WILSON: As a Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP) , I have special knowledge about everything from reverse mortgages to the importance of universal design. I can tap into my network and put you in touch with my team of qualified home inspectors, movers, attorneys, CPAs, organizers and other experts. I have all the resources and knowledge to simplify the transaction and eliminate the anxiety of selling your home.

Call me today to talk about your real estate concerns. I’m here to listen: 925.788.6582

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