20 Tips to Help You Downsize – Part 1 of 4 – Sort

20 Tips to Help You Downsize – Part 1 of 4 – Sort

By , Caring.com Author

Helping a parent downsize for a move can be complicated. Where you see a houseful of stuff to sort and toss, your parent is apt to see treasures, essentials, and a lifetime of memories.

“To let go of what we have around us is to confront a very different living situation,” says senior-relocation industry leader Nan Hayes of Hinsdale, Illinois, founder of MoveSeniors.com. “People tend to cling to their possessions to avoid dealing with other issues, like stress or fear.”

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.

Here, 20 expert-tested ideas to avoid the “junk wars” and make downsizing less stressful — for all of you.

1. Avoid tackling the whole house in one go.

Though it’s more efficient for you to plow full steam ahead, your parent is apt to be stressed emotionally, if not also physically. When 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, says Margit Novack, president of MovingSolutions in Philadelphia and founding president of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

2. Frame decisions as yes-no questions.

Open-ended choices put a reluctant mover on the spot, raising stress. Avoid asking, “Which pots and pans do you want to keep?” Winnow 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?”

“Couching questions for yes-no answers provides the opportunity for the parent to feel successful so you can move on to the next thing,” Novack says.

Items that exist in abundance work especially well to presort: 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 (assisted living communities will provide this information if you ask), and fill an equivalent amount of space as you sort. Mark off the comparable space so your parent has a visual guide.

Beware of excessive multiples. In 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.

Relocation experts call it the OHIO rule: Only handle it once. The less decisive you are about what to do with an item, the more attached you (or your parent) risk becoming to it, Hayes says. Moving things in and out of “maybe” piles is also takes time.

Tempting as it is to set aside tough sorts for later, unless there’s room to “hold” them at a relative’s house, it’s not generally worth paying storage-rental fees (unless it’s a very large estate and time is tight). That’s because once they’re boxed, your parent isn’t likely to look at the items ever again. (Out of sight, out of mind.)

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, casting a pall on your packing.

5. Encourage your parent to focus on most-used items (and let the rest go).

Be patient and follow your parent’s lead — what seems old and useless to you may be a source of great comfort and joy and therefore worth moving. “Don’t go by the newest and best; go by what they use,” Novack says. “You may think Mom should pack her pretty cut-glass tumblers for assisted living, but the reality is that those ugly stained plastic ones are what she uses every day.”

When facing especially hard choices, ask for the story behind a dubious object — where it came from, when it was last used, whether a young family might put it to good use. This takes time, but the payoff is that once your parent starts talking, he or she may have a clearer perspective and feel more able to let go, Novack says.

This should give you a nice start. Up next: How to Cope With Treasure

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