Helping Your Parents Downsize While Keeping The Peace And Losing The Stuff

Guiding Your Parents Through Downsizing

Close-up of Old Letters in Carton Box

If your experience as an adult child is anything like mine, you may have found yourself in a battle with your parents around the topic of downsizing and eliminating “clutter.”

It is rarely about the “stuff” and generational differences make it an even more challenging task.

Letting go of unrealized dreams and identities as well as accepting the reality of death makes something as simple as taking items to donation, fraught with emotion.

As the owner of Silver Linings Transitions, I frequently present on the topic of downsizing. It is not uncommon to hear “I’m just going to let my kids deal with my stuff.”  This is such a bad idea. When my grandmother died unexpectedly, my family fought over her belongings as she didn’t make clear who would get what. A favorite lamp promised to me was given to a cousin. The worst thing a person can do is leave their possessions to be dealt with while their family is grieving.  Either they’ll fight about it or they’ll flee and have it all dumped.

If downsizing is on your horizon, here are some tips that can make the process easier.

  1. Have an open and honest conversation about why downsizing is important.  Give them an opportunity to express their fears and concerns about aging and eventually dying. Perhaps this is an opportunity to have the conversation many of us avoid?  Starting with empathy is critical when working through this incredibly emotionally charged process.
  2. Think of the process and refer to it as “rightsizing” which is a much more positive spin.  What do they need to live comfortably and safely?
  3. Start with the low hanging fruit rather than nostalgic items to gain momentum.  Tackle pantries and medicine cabinets where there is no attachment. Next do clothing and books. Don’t forget storage units, attics and basements.
  4. Clear off a dining room table or a large surface and gather the most important items.  The “what would you grab in a fire and the MUST stay in the family heirlooms.
  5. Identify their “Top 10”.  Use a platform like to photograph, share and record stories of the most significant items.
  6. Encourage your parents to designate their wishes. The lamp promised to me by my grandmother from the time I was a little girl, was given to a cousin because my grandmother didn’t tell anyone else her intentions. You can use create your own document or use a platform like or
  7. Schedule a family show and tell. Set a date later in the calendar either in person or by Zoom to give your parents time to think about what they want to share and what the significance is of their belongings. If possible, family members can come prepared to take these items.
  8. Have your parents pack what I call a “Tequila Box”.  This is the box of love letters and other things they may not want opened. Have them write “Do Not Open” and seal it with a bottle of tequila and a humorous note.  Most people have at least one family member who will ignore the label.  Leaving behind a fun item is a way to acknowledge death will happen and add levity and some humor to the experience.

Silver Linings Transitions is a reliable senior and specialty move management company located in San Diego. Our dedicated team is here to provide comprehensive assistance to clients who are embarking on the journey of rightsizing, which involves transitioning to smaller homes or senior communities. Additionally, we offer expert services in decluttering and organizing within the comfort of their existing homes. Whether you need support in downsizing or creating an orderly living space, our professionals are committed to helping you every step of the way. For more tips on downsizing, visit our website