9 Tips to Help a Parent Downsize Before a Move to Assisted Living

Does your parent need to downsize? Here are downsizing tips for seniors and family caregivers.
Posted by The Ivy

Son helping elderly father downsize. They are high fiving each other.

Moving is stressful no matter what your age. But when you have decades of belongings to sort through, it can feel like an emotional roller-coaster, too. Here are some tips to make the downsizing process easier on everyone.

Downsizing Tip 1: Put Yourself in Their Shoes

To you, it may feel like a breath of fresh air to get rid of the things your parent has accumulated but the family no longer needs. To your loved one, it can feel like they’re getting rid of items that are closely linked to their identities, their past, and their memories.

Before you start sorting, try to understand what your parent is going through. Offering empathy and gentle encouragement can help make the process less painful, says Amie Hanrahan, co-owner of The Ivy at Ellington.


Downsizing Tip 2: Start Sooner Rather Than Later

“It’s good to go through belongings together sooner rather than later, especially if your loved one is developing a memory impairment and may not be able to voice their thoughts as easily the longer you wait,” Hanrahan says.


Downsizing Tip 3:  Go Slow

But avoid tackling the entire house in one day. Instead, think of downsizing as a process, not an event. If you can, start this process six months to a year prior to moving to assisted living.

Start by shredding, tossing, or giving away the obvious items, such as outdated food or medications, clothes, or extraneous household items that take up space. Now is also when you and your siblings need to claim your keepsakes from your childhood and/or college years.

Go room by room, and continue this decluttering process monthly until you start the major activities of sorting and packing for the move. “Try to not get overwhelmed, and take breaks when necessary,” Hanrahan says.


Downsizing Tip 4: Enlist Help

“It takes a village to get the job done,” Hanrahan says. “It may be easier to divide and conquer.”

Invite your siblings and the grandkids over for the weekend. Ask your parents to share their memories of favorite trinkets and family heirlooms. This can be a nice opportunity for your family to both to talk about memories, reminisce about family activities or relatives, and to acknowledge your emotions.


Downsizing Tip 5: Use the New Space as a Guide

Make a floor plan or template of the assisted living apartment so you’ll know how much space you will have to work with. Identify which rooms in the house your loved one spends the most time, and ask them which items in that room are most important to them.

“It’s important to ask them what they need,” Hanrahan says. “Encourage them to think about what they use on a daily basis.”


Downsizing Tip 6: Ask These Questions

“Not knowing what to take and what to leave behind can be stressful,” Hanrahan says. These questions can help them figure out whether to keep, give away, or sell:

  • Is this item regularly used? Has it been used in the past year?
  • Does it truly enhance their quality of life?
  • Would this item physically fit in their smaller living space and future lifestyle?
  • Does it have a significant dollar value?

Pack what your loved one will use, and store or donate the rest. Hanrahan suggests renting a storage unit close to the assisted living community that will allow your parent to change out items by the season. “Décor and clothing can be kept in totes and put in storage in order to keep the apartment clutter-free,” she says.


Downsizing Tip 7: Pack It Up

Pre-labeling items as you sort them can make packing a lot easier. Label all boxes with their destination room or area in their new apartment. Here’s a list of items to possibly bring with your parent to assisted living:

  • Sofa
  • Chairs
  • End tables
  • Nightstand
  • Coffee table
  • Lamps
  • Picture frames
  • Keepsakes
  • Artwork
  • Clock
  • Vase of flowers
  • Casual clothing
  • Pajamas
  • Sweaters
  • Jackets/coats
  • Formal clothing
  • Toiletries

“Remember to keep photos, artwork, and other items that will make them comfortable and feel at home,” Hanrahan says.


Downsizing Tip 8: Don’t Pack These

“Keep in mind, too, that you want to keep the room safe,” Hanrahan says. “It’s important to keep area rugs out as they are a trip-hazard. And too many items can clutter the apartment and make it more difficult to move around.”


Downsizing Tip 9: Emphasize the Positive

Downsizing is difficult, so remind your parents why they’re doing it. On the other side of the pile of boxes is the next chapter in life that includes less housework, no home maintenance, more friends in the neighborhood, and opportunities to enjoy new hobbies and group adventures.

Preparation, a positive attitude, a supportive network of family and friends, and patience and understanding will prepare you for a smooth transition.

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Topics: Family Resources, About The Ivy at Ellington