5 Tips for Helping Your Parents Downsize the Family Home

The No. 1 rule? The OHIO Rule: Only handle it once.

Elderly couple going through their belongings with their daughter

Ten years ago, Johanne Lebeau was confronted with the reality and the responsibility of relocating her father, who lived thousands of miles away, after he broke his hip. With the help of her mother, Lebeau tackled the overwhelming task of emptying the family house while her father was hospitalized.

Years later, Lebeau faced the necessity of emptying her mother’s apartment when she lost her life to cancer. It was not easy letting go of cherished memories and items her parents had accumulated over a lifetime, and Lebeau wished she had had some help.

Enter Caring Transitions

Today, Lebeau works as a Certified Relocation and Transition Specialist and is the Owner of Caring Transitions in Bozeman, Montana. She works closely with Highgate at Bozeman to help seniors and their families with the moving, downsizing, and liquidating process.

“It’s quite a process if families try to tackle this themselves, especially if they’re really attached to their things and the family home,” Lebeau says. “I help people to transition from their home to a new community. I help with space planning, packing, moving, unpacking, and resettling. On the day of the move, we unpack, we make the bed. Everything is ready by dinnertime.”

If you are in the process of helping aging parents downsize — or “right-size,” as Lebeau calls it —  here are a few helpful tips to make it easier on both your loved ones and you.

Take It One Day at a Time

Avoid tackling the whole house in one go. Instead, tackle one room or area at a time. Let your parents know that you are aware of how emotionally confronting decluttering can be. They will feel loved and supported, and the whole process becomes easier.

Be truthful about how much time you can give them to help. If you or your brothers and sisters do not have a lot of time to help, consider hiring a professional.

Stock Up on Post-it Notes

As you start sorting through your parents’ possessions, you will have to decide what to move to their new home, what to store or keep, and what to get rid of or donate. Lebeau suggests using Post-it Notes to indicate which category each item goes in.

“Take Post-it Notes and put them on the items you want to keep,” she says. “Once Post-it Notes are on everything that is functional, essential, and needs to be taken to their new home, then use another color of Post-it Notes to put on items you’d like to bring, things you like but aren’t essential and might need to store. Then put another color of Post-it Notes on things going to family or friends, another color on things that are being donated, another color on things you want to get rid of, and so on and so forth.”

The benefit of this method is that your family will not have to remake decisions. “It’s important to make decisions once,” Lebeau says. “To make progress, decisions have to be made.”

Some relocation experts call it the OHIO rule, which stands for, 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.

Spend Time Reminiscing

As you sort through favored items, collections, and beloved possessions, let your parents tell you the history of a piece of furniture or artwork so you know why it means so much to them. When people know that the memories will live on after they get rid of their stuff, it makes the process easier. Be grateful that you are able to be a part of the process and relive these family memories.

Preserve Memories So They Are Not Forgotten

Photos, memorabilia, and collections typically take up far more space than the average assisted living apartments can accommodate. Fortunately, there are many services that digitize images and papers for you for reasonable prices.

Additionally, you could go through the home with a camera and film it just the way it is, while having your parents recall out loud memories of particular possessions or life milestones. Your parents can also set aside old photos to be put in a scrapbook or to be scanned digitally. These are cathartic activities that will help ease the downsizing process, and the video and scrapbook can become gifts to pass on to younger generations.

Do Not Go It Alone

“When older people work with their adult children, they tend to be more emotional,” Lebeau says. “I know it isn’t just ‘stuff.’ It’s years of important memories, keepsakes, and traditions. But I also know how to honor the past while assisting them with embracing the future.”

Caring Transition specialists such as Lebeau help seniors figure out what will fit in their new home or community, coach them on deciding what to bring, coordinate with the movers, as well as unpack and reorganize their new home. They can help you through the right-sizing process, making it easier and less complicated.

Request your free consultation at caringtransitions.com/contact.

If your parents will eventually need to downsize and sell their property, download our Questions You Should Ask Your Parents About the Family Home checklist.

Questions You Should Ask Your Parent When Selling the Family Home