When you are tasked with the responsibility to help your parents downsize their home, it can be a daunting prospect. But with a little help along the way, you can get it done while saving your sanity and relationship!
Recently my parents, who are in their seventies, encountered some health challenges that made it necessary for them to move from their two story, five bedroom home into a smaller one story home. Also because of these health challenges, they needed quite a bit of help from me during the transition.
Suddenly I was thrust into the role of caregiver, mover, and personal organizer, and I found it extremely difficult to find a balance between caring for and supporting my folks, while enforcing some hard realities along the way.
It’s a common development in our society, and one that I know many of my friends will be facing over the next few years, so I thought I would share what I learned through the process of helping my parents downsize, in case it will help someone else in their journey.
In this series we’ll talk about resources, decluttering and organizing tips, and a bit of emotional support for you along the way. Ready to get started? We can do this!
When it’s Time to Downsize
We all know it’s coming, right? If we are fortunate enough to live in an ample sized house, perhaps with several bedrooms while raising kids, then inevitably the day will come when we don’t need so much space and caring for a larger house becomes more of a burden than a blessing.
That’s when it’s time to downsize.
Ideally, we would choose to go through the downsizing process when we’re young and healthy enough to take it easy and do a little bit at a time, while keeping control over how we want it to go.
Can I get a show of hands from everyone whose life follows an ideal path? No one? Well, that makes me feel better to know I’m not alone.
In my parents’ case, they had been talking about moving from their big beautiful house with the grand entrance and winding staircase for years, but they just didn’t want to.
I don’t blame them. Moving is HARD and they loved where they lived. That house was perfect for them for many years, but after they started losing mobility and especially the ability to safely deal with the stairs, they knew it was finally time to do something about it and they started looking for new houses.
Thankfully they found one that suited their needs, and we all quickly realized that finding the right smaller home was actually the easy part of this process. Now it was time for the hard part – downsizing their stuff!
With the new house bought, the clock started ticking on getting the old house cleared out and ready to sell. Suddenly what seemed do-able in theory became overwhelming in reality and they called for reinforcements… me.
How to Help Parents Downsize
Y’all, I’m not gonna lie to you. My experience helping my parents downsize while also caring for their medical needs turned out to be one of the biggest challenges of my life. (And that’s just my perspective. I can’t even imagine how tough it was on them to lean on me for help!)
Downsizing and decluttering is hard work physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s going to be hard on you and it’s going to be hard on your parents. Get help for all of your sakes.
This post is all about how and where to find the help and support you need.
Get Help – Your Support System
I thought I would put this section last, but as I was writing I realized that getting help for yourself should be the first thing on your list. Like a parent on an airplane, you should put on your own oxygen mask before you help others with theirs.
If you are a busy person with a life, family, kids, job and about a dozen other responsibilities, take it from me – now is the time to ask for help. You’re going to need support in the form of time helpers, family supporters, and emotional care.
Time helpers could be anything that helps you carry on with your life while putting in extra time with your parents. Think of which of your daily or weekly tasks you can temporarily offload to family, coworkers, or even professionals such as cleaners or meal delivery services.
I know for me it’s extremely hard to ask for help, and I assume you can relate. But if there ever was a time to admit that we can’t do everything ourselves, this is it. So practice raising your hand, asking for help, and accepting it gratefully when it’s offered.
Another day it will be your turn to offer help to someone else, I promise. So don’t feel bad asking for yourself.
Family supporters are those friends and other family members who can pick up the slack in helping to care for your own family while you are caring for your parents. When my parents were in the worst weeks of their medical crises and I was basically living with them instead of my husband and kids, I had several friends ask how they could help me.
They offered to bring meals to my parents, but I swallowed my pride and asked them if they could instead bring meals to my kids and hubby so I wouldn’t have to worry about them while I was with my parents. It was a huge relief to know my own kids were being fed while I was wasn’t available!
Emotional care includes care for you, as well as your parents. Your parents are going through an extremely difficult life change, and it makes sense that they’d need support. But so are you!
Downsizing a parent’s home for health reasons is a tough pill to swallow, emotionally. Seeing the people or person you’ve always leaned on be forced to give up their home, independence, health or stability takes a toll on you as a son or daughter. It may be the natural order of life, but that doesn’t make it easy to face.
So get some emotional support for yourself. Someone who’s gone through it, or someone like a counselor who you can talk to about anything will be worth the time investment that you put in. You need someone to tell you you’re ok, when the people who have always done that for you may not be able to, in the midst of their own stresses.
Get Help – Professional Removal Options
Speaking of getting help, I learned a valuable lesson while navigating this home downsizing process. There is a hierarchy of professionals who can help you offload your household stuff.
You guys, do NOT make a million trips to Goodwill with loads of your parents’ stuff. Also, now is probably not the time to host an epic garage sale.
Instead, call in the professionals, in this order: estate sale companies, liquidators, consignment shops, and charity thrift stores.
If your parents are greatly downsizing (think 3+ bedroom home to one bedroom assisted living situation), you could benefit from hiring an estate sale company. Search online for local estate sale companies and read reviews to see who has the most satisfied customers. Then try calling two or three companies to come in and give you an estimate.
The way it works is they will come in, assess the things you are letting go of, and tell you if it’s worth it to them (ie. profitable) to put on an estate sale.
The sale would generally happen after your parents move out, leaving the majority of their things behind. Then the estate sellers will clean up after the sale, leaving the house ready to sell. They will pay their workers and expenses, and pay your parents the rest of the profits from the sale. This is by far the easiest way to get rid of a houseful of furniture, clothes, and decor.
In my parents’ case, they moved from a five bedroom to a three bedroom house and they wanted to keep all their best pieces. That meant the estate seller wouldn’t have enough profitable items to sell, so it wasn’t worth their time to hold the sale.
That was a disappointment, but the estate seller recommended I call a liquidator instead.
Liquidators are like a middle man between home owners and consignment stores. In fact, liquidators are who the estate sellers call when the sale is over, to buy up and remove whatever is left over from the estate sale.
You can find liquidators by searching for “home liquidators” in your area, or by asking local estate sales professionals, like we did.
If you can find a liquidator in your area, they will come and give you a quote to remove everything from your house, which they will then sell in their own second-hand stores or distribute to others.
They will estimate the resale price of the items you are getting rid of, and take out their cost to move, sort, and resell the items. Once they’ve picked up all your items, they will pay you the difference. (Be sure to confirm with your liquidator that they will take everything so you’re not left clearing out the house.)
This is the route that worked for my parents. Once my folks moved out of the house, the liquidator came and walked through the house with my mom, estimating values as he went. He gave her a quote of a few hundred dollars, which didn’t seem like much but the real benefit was they did not have to pay someone to haul off everything they couldn’t take with them. Coming out on the plus side at all was a win!
A few weeks later, he came by, cleared out the house and left a check with my mom. Win-win!
Consignment Shops and Charity Thrift Stores
If you can’t find someone to pay you for your stuff, you might be able to find someone who will pick it up for free, usually because they can sell it for a profit (consignment stores) or they have volunteers who will do it as a benefit to the community (thrift stores).
Consignment stores and thrift shops aren’t my first choice, because they won’t remove everything the way estates sales or liquidators will. They may come and pick through your things, but they will leave behind everything they don’t think they can sell, which only helps a little bit.
Calling someone like 1-800-GOT-JUNK would be my last resort recommendation. Paying someone to come and pick up the remaining items in your parents’ home is not only expensive, but it can be devastating for them to think about leaving behind things that will just go into a landfill.
That’s an extra emotional toll that we were able to avoid, but in the end may not be an option for everyone. And if you can spend a little for someone else to do the work, it’s still better than spending all your weekends hauling stuff to Goodwill and the dump.
Next Up: The Process of Downsizing
Now that we’ve covered some of the resources you’ll need in place along your downsizing journey, in the next post I’ll talk about the actual process of going through the items in your parents’ house and making the tough decisions about what can stay and what needs to go.
So check out part 2 of helping parents downsize and in the meantime, if you’ve gone through this process to help your parents downsize their home, I’d love to hear from you, especially if you have any helpful tips! Leave me a comment below…