Perhaps your parents are having difficulty managing in their two-story, four-bedroom home, where one is being used as a bedroom and the other three are being used for storage. It might be more sensible, and safer, for them to move into a smaller place on one level or even into assisted living. But first, they would have to get rid of some stuff. A lot of stuff, actually.
It can be a very delicate and stressful process, but certain attitudes, approaches and strategies can smooth the process. Here are some of them:
The number one thing is to get the ball rolling before one or both of your parents is in a crisis. Have a conversation without implementing anything. The most important thing is to try to ensure that your parents feel like they’re in control. Using phrases like, “Mom and Dad, this is an idea. What do you think?” can be helpful. If several siblings are going to be involved in this talk, it’s best for them to meet first to ensure all are on the same page.
Treat Your Parents Like Adults and Their Stuff with Respect.
You might look after your aging parents and do things for them, but they’re still your parents. Trying to dictate what they should do with a lifetime of accumulation won’t work well. Respect that they are your parents and have decision-making skills. Parents may see their things in a different way than you do. The number one thing is what’s important to them, because they are facing an emotionally fraught transition.
Understand that Their Stuff may not have Much Monetary Value.
Families today don’t want older furniture, but there’s always exceptions. Some antique pieces are in-demand, but there isn’t much of a market for your parents’ “run-of the mill” furniture. One way to soften the emotional blow is by pointing out how much value they’ve gotten out of their items. Yes, they spent $400 on a new recliner in 1988, but it gave them 30 years of use. Even if your parent’s stuff winds up being donated to charity, it can bring much happiness to somebody else, and in that way, be honored.
Take Something, Even If It’s a Small Thing.
You might not want much, or any, of your parents’ excess stuff or have room for it. However, agreeing to take something, even a small thing, is a compassionate gesture. Say your mom wants you to have her china cabinet, but it doesn’t make sense to take it. Instead, accept a cherished figurine you associate with her. Draw attention to what you do want.
Prepare for the Process to Move Slowly.
The possession-sorting/decluttering process takes time, especially with seniors. Adult children need to accept that their parents are going to be three times slower at this than they are. “Decision fatigue” is real. People get overwhelmed. Breaking down a big project into smaller ones can keep the momentum going. Eventually, they do get there, but it’s not easy.
Helping your parents declutter or downsize can be a very delicate and stressful process but approaching it with the right attitude and strategies can make all the difference to them.