A Complete Guide to Helping Your Aging Parents Downsize

Ben Mizes's Photo
By Ben Mizes Updated October 21, 2021


a complete guide to helping your aging parents downsize

There comes a time in each of our lives when the house and yard and daily activities that we used to manage so easily become cumbersome and overwhelming. Downsizing can be heartbreaking, especially when we have so many memories completing these daily tasks in the home with the ones we love.

The very idea of paring our precious possessions down to a few square feet is heart-wrenching and seems to be overwhelming. For many caregivers, this process is stressful and distressing as they watch their parents who cared for them for so long weep like a child at the thought of leaving.

Although downsizing can be a stressful and challenging event, it can also be a time when parent and child can get to know each other a bit more. It can also be a time of great relief, as responsibilities that have grown too much to handle lift off shoulders, and everyone can breathe easy.

To make the project of downsizing as easy and as enjoyable as possible, we've provided a helpful guide that goes through the steps to take for a successful and more comfortable transition.

Prepare Early

The situation will be different depending on the size of the current house, how much space the one you're moving your loved one into, and the number of items accumulated. We recommend that you start as soon as you decide to downsize—the earlier, the better!

It's a lot easier to plan for a move when you know how much room you have in your new space. Decide on a location as early in the process as possible — whether it's in a senior living condo or the home of a family member. For example, if you're moving from a suburban home to a 2-bedroom place in the city, get that squared away early, so you're prepared for next steps. Once you have that figured out, you can move onto the bulk of the downsizing.

Start Slow

Begin by working on the home only a little each day, if the timeline allows. Set an amount of time aside, say two hours, and stick to it. Working like this allows time for your loved one to get used to the idea of moving and prevents overwhelm from taking over.

Garbage First

When you start out, it's a good idea to go through the house with a garbage bag and just throw away what the homeowner designates to be garbage. If they're like most people, there will be a mail pile of old adverts just waiting to for you to sort through. Getting this clutter out of the way is an easy way to see immediate improvement with little emotional pull. It'll also help both parties feel a little more at ease with the task ahead.

Decide on Destination

It's a lot easier to plan for a move when you know how much room you have in your new space. Decide on a location as early in the process as possible—whether it's in a senior living condo or the home of a family member. Once you have that figured out, you can move onto the bulk of the downsizing.

Have a Plan

Have a place where you keep everything related to downsizing. This could be a notebook or an online document. Whatever it is, make sure it's easily accessible and challenging to lose. In the notebook, keep track of the following:

Important Documents

The last thing you want to do is accidentally throw out your important documents in your decluttering efforts. Make a list of those things that you know you need to keep. Some of the records that you should set aside for safekeeping are:

  • Passports
  • Deeds
  • Trusts/Wills
  • Birth Certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Any documentation on your investments
  • Insurance information

Schedule a Mover

When you decide on a date to move, it's time to get quotes from the movers. Make sure to get several quotes and keep in mind the earlier you schedule them, the better the prices may be.

Know the Floorplan

Ask for a floor plan of the new residence or make one yourself if your parent will be living with a family member. Make sure you know the measurements of the space to adequately prepare for the furniture that will be able to fit. As you go through items, bring only what will comfortably fit in the area.

Ask for Help

If the task of getting your loved one ready to move is too big for you to handle, ask for help from other family members, friends, and neighbors. You'd be surprised at the number of helping hands that show up when you genuinely ask.

Tips for Deciding What to Keep

It's likely that most everything in your loved one's dwelling has a memory attached. Because of this, deciding what to keep will likely be difficult. There are a few things you can do to help the process along, though.

When you first start out, it's wise to make four piles: Donate, Gift, Trash, and Keep. It's a good idea to have different colored stickers for each of these categories, so you don't have trouble remembering which one goes where.


This is the pile for clothes that haven't been worn in the last year, doubles of any item such as two blenders, and pieces your loved one isn't particularly attached to. If they were gifted a rather unsightly rug, for example, but always felt a bit of guilt for giving it away, downsizing is the perfect excuse. It's also a great way to make some money and someone else happy with your loved one's treasures. You could hold an estate sale or have an auctioneer come out to assist with the sale, and send everything else to the Salvation Army or similar donation location.


Downsizing in nature means you won't be able to take everything with you. If there are items that your loved one wants to keep that won't fit in the new location, it may be the perfect thing to gift. Ask other family members if they would like any of these items—often the feeling of knowing these items will still be loved and cherished and your loved one can see them at any time will set their mind at ease. If they would like, it also might help to take a picture of the items so that they can cherish the memories without the amount of storage the item requires.


The wonderful thing about today's technology is that you can scan in pictures and documents that take up a lot of room and not have to have boxes upon boxes to store them. If your loved one has hung onto every monogrammed napkin and card, they've ever received and are having a difficult time parting with it, take a picture or scan it in and send the original to the trash.


This is for all the furniture that will comfortably fit into their new space, as well as some heirlooms they can't do without. Remember to keep some, especially the small things! You want to help their new space be as homey as possible, and well-loved items from their home just might do the trick. Retain cherished family photos, a few trinkets, and especially those small items they can't do without, such as a homemade jewelry box or a hand-tied quilt.


Many of the elderly have lived through times of scrimping and saving all they could just to get by and have a difficult time getting rid of items. Be patient with your loved one through this process and see what creative ideas you can come up with to help them more fully enjoy their new space.

As you prepare early, keep track of the important documents, ask for help, and prioritize what you keep, the transition to downsizing with your loved one will run more smoothly.

Downsizing and need a new space to call home? We've got a Clever agent for that. We at Clever pride ourselves in providing you with local expertise and the highest of quality service at a discount rate. Call us today at 1-833-2-CLEVER or fill out our online form to get started.

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