parents downsizeThere are different reasons why your parents downsize their belongings. They may want, or need to move to a smaller home. They may have difficulty navigating through all their things, or maybe they just want to free up space to stay in the home they have lived in for so many years.

Depending on their age, physical and mental condition, they may not be able to do it themselves. They know they need to do it, but are not able or willing to do it themselves.  Some don’t ask for help even when they need it.  Others may ask their sons or daughters for their help if they are close by and available.

For those that want to help their parents downsize, this post is for you. It has tips to help you help them reduce the amount of their belongings to be proportionate to their living spaces whether they stay in their existing home or move to a smaller home.

It starts with you having a conversation with them to make sure all of you are on the same page. Then it provides some tips for the task to help your parents downsize. If you know of others, please share them in the comments box below.

The Conversation

Start the conversation by discussing why your parents want to downsize their belongings. Understanding the reason will help you help them to make decisions on what to discard. Ask them how many of their things they are ready to part with.  When I’m asked how much a client needs to discard, I always start out with 50%.  It may seem like a lot, and it is, but their reason for downsizing factors into this decision.  If they have a 2000 square foot home, and are moving to a 700 square foot apartment in a retirement community, 50% will just be a starting point.  If they just want to free up space, 50% may be realistic depending upon how much they have accumulated, and discarded over the years.


  • Start purging before it becomes a necessity. Helping your parents make the keep or toss decisions can be draining, so it’s best to do it in small increments. If you have a deadline for some reason, the faster you go can cause both you and your parents a lot of stress.
  • Schedule small sessions to start, perhaps a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. After an hour, see how everyone involved feels about the work. If they want to keep going, continue for another hour after a short break. This concept avoids burnout. Small sessions spaced out over a longer period of time is the way to tackle a big project. It may give your parents the motivation to do some downsizing on their own, in between the sessions with you if they are able.
  • If possible, setup a staging area to store donations, others belongings, gifts & sale items if you plan to sell things. At the end of a significant purging session, return others belongings and drop off donations to your parent’s favorite charity. Sale items will take longer to end up in the hands of their new owners so you need a place to store them.
  • When your parents downsize, they may find things they would like to gift to someone in particular. Help your parents understand that the recipient may not want their gift, and not to take it personal if they don’t want it. Upcoming generations are minimalists and they don’t want antiques, silver, china or ‘brown furniture’.
  • Tag large donation items to be scheduled for pick up from a charity. Keep in mind that the pieces you want to donate need to be ‘thriftable’. This means furniture needs to be in-tact, no stains or pet hair so it can be sold. The charity picking up these donations may refuse to take them if they aren’t ‘thriftable’.
  • Attach due dates to gifts for pickup and for sale items; if they aren’t picked up or sold by the due date, donate. The idea is to reduce the amount of your parent’s belongings.
  • If your parents still have some of your childhood things, take them with you at the end of a visit. Donate or discard if you no longer want them.
  • Give your parent’s permission to discard a gift or inherited item that they don’t love, won’t use, or have space to store. If an inherited item holds a special memory, you can always take a picture of the item, and perhaps voice record the story behind it to keep with the picture; digital storage is the best option for this concept.