Downsizing – Helping parents prepare for life transitions with less stuff.

You may have found yourself as a member of the Sandwich Generation – both raising your own children AND ushering your parents into their Golden Years.  This multi-generational family dynamic can be so rich with shared experiences, cherished memories and family unity.  It can also be a time of stress, as you may need to manage a health crisis or a change in living situation for your aging parents.  Maybe you are seeing the writing on the wall, and feel compelled to have your parents manage their life-long collection of treasures before a health crisis forces you to deal with it.   Here are some thoughts as you embark on this process with your family members.


  • Everyone in the process will be served well by you spending some time coming to terms with the new realities that you are facing. Even if you think you are “all good” with this process, ask yourself some of the following questions:
    • What feelings might come up for me about my parents leaving my childhood home?
    • What are my goals, and are they the same as my parents’ goals?
    • Have I just had to manage a major life reality that forces these changes, like the death of a parent, or the inability for my parent(s) to live independently?
    • What stresses and tensions might come up for my parent(s)? How will I manage my own emotions while also helping them manage theirs?
  • Once you process thorough some of these questions, decide what your role will be in this process. Will you be the one facilitating this downsizing, or will you hire someone who drives the process, while you are in a support role of your parents?  When difficult realities must be faced, sometimes a neutral third party is able to deliver tough messages to loved ones better than you could.  Remember, when this is all said and done, additional stress between you and your parents will not serve either of you well.  Check into local service providers, like Professional Organizers, who can help in this process.
  • Begin with the end in mind. What is the end game of this effort?  Will your parent be moving?  Do changes need to be made to allow them to continue to live independently?  Are you wanting them to make thoughtful decisions about their belongings while they are still able to?  Everyone should be in agreement about what you are working toward.
  • Do your parents need additional support in processing the emotions of aging? Depending on their willingness to seek support, ask if they would be willing to schedule some time with a therapist, or if there are some close friends that they can connect with as you begin this process.  If they are a part of a faith community, some time with one of their church leaders can help, as well.  If you move through this without providing emotional support, everyone may quickly be overcome by resistance, sadness and anger.  This could end up derailing the process, and making the process take longer to complete.
  • Resist the urge to force your family member to make these changes. Keep circling back to their goals as the reason for these efforts.  If you force change, they can be traumatized, making this a painful process for you all.
  • Have options for them that may be a middle ground decision. Maybe they aren’t ready to part with something permanently, but you can agree that it needs to be out of their space.  Can you utilize garage space for these items?  Can you rent a storage unit to move these items to?  Try to take action on what decisions that they are able to make.  If they say that they want to keep something, but can move it elsewhere, out of their current space, try to move it immediately.  Have a goal of making a decision about something only once.  If they make a decision to part with something, but it does not get removed immediately, they could change their mind.
  • You must have mutual trust. Do not remove items without their knowledge, unless you know for sure that they do not want it.  Setting boundaries by saying “Are you comfortable with me disposing of something that I feel is trash?” or “Do you have thoughts about your magazine collection?” Knowing their thoughts on categories of items can allow you to address some things rather quickly.
  • Ask what is important to them in disposing of items. Do they want to make sure any items that are disposed of go to a specific agency for donation?  Do they have certain people in mind for gifting family heirlooms to?  Honor their wishes – this builds trust and will make you both feel good about this process.  Remember – you are there in support of them.
  • Hire professionals to move large items, unless you have family support to move items. No one needs to sustain an injury moving furniture!


The process of helping family members downsize is a big one.  Making it the least stressful as possible will help everyone in the family.  Bring your mind back to your shared goals, and allow for lots of storytelling and love as you go.