Yes, time to admit it. We tend to cling to possessions to avoid dealing with other issues, like stress or fear. And moving on means change, which can be traumatic. For adults over 60, only a spouse's death and divorce rank as more stressful than moving to a nursing or retirement home, according to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, aka the Stress Scale.
Below is a basic gameplan to follow and some ideas that may work for you and/or for moving your parents. It's not an all or nothing type of process. You have to do what feels right for you and take as long as you feel is necessary.
Where do I start?
1. Avoid tackling the whole house in one go.
Though it's more efficient for you to go full steam ahead, it may be more stressful emotionally, if not also physically. And if organizing a parent's move, it's better to think in terms of months, not days.
Tackle one room or area at a time. About two hours at a stretch is ideal for many older adults. It's usually best not to have small children help out since that can actually lead to distraction.
2. Frame decisions as yes-no questions.
If it's your own home, ask yourself what you use often or rarely, if at all. If helping out a parent, don't use open-ended choices. Avoid asking, "Which pots and pans do you want to keep?" Narrow them down yourself first, then present a more manageable yes-no option: "I've got your best frying pan, a large pot, and a small sauce pot. Does that sound good?" Using yes-no questions allow the parent
to feel successful so you can move on to the next thing. This works well for items where there is an overabundance such as
clothing, kitchenware, tools, and anything else you know the person has way more of than he or she will have space for.
3. Use the new space as a guide.
Measure exactly how much closet or cabinet space the new place has. If a parent is going to an assisted living community, they will normally provide this information to you if you ask. Mark off the comparable space so your parent has a visual guide. Beware of excessive multiples. For instance in most assisted living, your parent only needs one frying pan, one or two sets of sheets, one coffeemaker, one or two coats, and so on.
4. Banish the "maybe" pile.
Only handle it once. The less decisive you are about what to do with an item, the more attached you risk becoming to it. Moving things in and out of "maybe" piles is also takes time.
Tempting as it is to set aside tough sorts for later, it's not generally worth paying storage-rental fees, unless it's a very large estate and time is tight. Once items are boxed, you or your parent aren't likely to look at the items ever again.
Exception: Save time by boxing piles of paperwork, which doesn't take much room. Papers are time-consuming to go through and present an unpleasant task for many disorganized people. Save this later for when you are doing something mindless like watching TV or a rainy day.
5. Focus on most-used items and let the rest go.
For you this may be easy. Pay attention to those items that you bought with good intention, or that were the latest fad, but just haven't been using them. With a parent, be patient and follow their lead -- what seems old and useless to you may be a source of great comfort and joy and therefore worth moving. It's not always the best and shiniest that should be kept. It's whatever is the most comfortable to use.
With a parent, when facing especially hard choices, ask for the story behind the object -- where it came from, when it was last used, whether a young family might put it to good use. It may be difficult at first but once your parent starts talking, he or she may have a clearer perspective and feel more able to let go.
Downsizing tips: How to cope with treasures
6. Pack bits of favored items but not everything.
This is the hardest area to downsize or declutter for most people. Photos, memorabilia, and collections typically take up space. Many services digitize images and papers for you for reasonable prices. This can be a great idea to sell to your parent and let them know that every family member will get a copy too.
Pick key prints to display on the walls and tabletops
7. Ask yourself, "What is my favorite piece?". Ask you parent, "Which is your favorite piece?" Large tabletop displays take up too much precious space. Assure that one or two "best" items can have a highlighted location in the new home. It's easier to feel okay about giving stuff up if they feel they have a sense of control over the process.
8. Take photos of the rest of a collection and put them in a special book. It's not exactly the same as owning, but it's a space-saving way for a collector to continue enjoying.
9. If it's meant to be a gift or legacy, encourage your parent to give it away now. Don't wait for the next holiday, birthday, or other milestone to bestow. Ask, "Why not enjoy the feeling of giving right now?" And if you're the recipient -- just take it, and encourage your relatives to do the same. You can lose it later, if you don't want it, but the immediate need is to empty your parent's house.
Downsizing tips: How to sell
10. Think twice before selling items on your own.
Craigslist, eBay, and other self-selling options are time-consuming when you're trying to process a houseful of goods. And be realistic. The value of an item is not what you paid for it so you may set yourself up for being disappointed.
11.If there are several items of high value, consider an appraisal.
Go through the entire house; the appraiser will only come out once and is more interested in relatively large lots. Auction houses, whose goal is to sell items at the best price, are better options than antique dealers, whose goal is to get items for the lowest price. Consignment shops will also sell items, but they tend to cherry-pick and often charge to pick items up.
Downsizing tips: How to donate
12. Understand how charities work
The main donation outlets include Goodwill, the Salvation Army, AmVets, and Purple Heart. Depending on your area, popular alternatives may include other charities or a local hospital or PTA thrift shop. Senior living communities and moving companies often furnish lists of area charities that accept donations. Be sure to get a receipt for a tax deduction. Clarify whether they offer free pickup. Some charities will remove items from the ground floor only.
13. Target recipients for specialty items.
It's time-consuming to find willing recipients for everything, but it may be worth the effort for items that you or your parent would be relieved to see in a good home. For instance, chools may welcome musical instruments, old costumes, or tools. Auto repair shops and community maintenance departments may take tools and yard tools.
14. Try the "free books" and other "by the side of the road" tactics
In some communities, setting items on the curb with a sign that says "Free! Help yourself!" will make items miraculously disappear. This works great for books and sometimes other items. Some libraries will take books but others won't.
In some areas, freecyling is an option. You post an item available for pickup to a membership list, and anyone who wants it can come pick it up from you (or from your curb). More than 5,000 groups make up the Freecycle Network.
Downsizing tips: What to discard
15. If it's chipped, broken, or stained, toss it.
Charities don't want broken, nonworking Christmas lights, snagged clothes, lidless plastic Tupperware, or any items that they can't sell.
16. Weigh your loyalty to recycling against your available time.
Finding a home for every object can be incredibly time-consuming. If you recycle the other 364 days of the year, tossing a few things in the trash is fine. You have to be pragmatic.
17. Don't be shy about tossing replaceable items without consultation.
Not worth moving, donating, or even conferring about old spices, junk mail, old magazines, outdated medications, unused toiletries, plastic food containers, candles, stuffed toys , and the contents of the junk drawer. Get rid of it when the homeowner isn't looking.
18. For a price, you don't have to haul it away yourself.
The local garbage company may have limits on how many large black trash bags it will take, and not all local dumps take unsorted trash, either. Services like 1-800-Got-Junk and 1-800-Junk-USA remove appliances and furniture as well as smaller items. Smaller local junk dealers may haul things away for free if they see, on appraisal, items that they'll be able to sell. Again, sometimes just setting it on the side of the road works great.
Downsizing tips: Get help
19. Consider bringing in the pros.
There is help if you just can't do it yourself. For yourself or your parents. Senior move managers specialize in helping older adults and are skilled at both the emotional and practical dimensions of late-life transitions. These experts can defuse a parent-child emotional clash while handling everything from sorting and packing through hiring movers and unpacking in the new place. They usually charge an hourly fee that varies by locale.
20. Investigate one-stop solutions if time is tight.
Deciding whether to sell, donate, give away, or throw away is stressful and takes a lot of time. Another way to outsource the tasks is to hold an estate sale.