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Ask Lela: Helping Aging Parents Purge Their Stuff

Ask Lela Burris

“Dear Lela, my parents are in their 70‘s and they have a LOT of “stuff” in their house. Most of it is clutter, old worn items, and broken things they keep around ‘just in case.’ I’ve mentioned to them that maybe it’s time to start downsizing their belongings in case they ever decide to move to a retirement facility, but they’re overwhelmed, don’t know where to start, and I honestly don’t think they really want to do it at all. I’m worried that I’ll end up having to deal with it all myself later. Do you have any tips for me?”

        -Angela from Chattanooga

Helping Aging Parents Purge Their Stuff

Here’s the deal, working with Seniors is challenging sometimes because they definitely have a harder time letting go of their belongings than younger generations. They grew up in a time where belongings were scarcer than they are now. They were more careful with spending, and place sentimental value on every single thing they have. Older generations seem to worry about needing the items later, so just as Angela said, they hold onto things “just in case.”

But I also understand where Angela is coming from, because there will come a time that these items will have to be sorted through, whether it’s due to a move or a natural cause. It’s such a touchy subject to discuss, and I know a lot of people have this same concern for their own parents and grandparents, so I’m pushing aside the awkwardness and digging into the steps you can take to help seniors purge their stuff.

3 Tips To Help Aging Parents Downsize Belongings

1. Be extra kind and gentle, respecting the fact that they were raised differently than you were. They grew up in a different time, with different circumstances. What seems like a useless torn pillow cover or overabundance of mixing bowls to you may be a sign of comfort, nostalgia, and financial stability to them.

2. Suggest ‘overstock’ be donated to help others. Seniors rarely care about selling things, and they dislike throwing things away. But nine times out of ten, they find so much joy in sharing with others. Suggest donating to shelters, nursing homes, and community benefit programs.

3. Take it slow. Only do a little at a time so you don’t overwhelm them. A full purge-session with a dramatic before-and-after may seem great to you and your siblings, but to your parents, they see it as losing things they worked hard to acquire.

Bonus Tip: Know when to bring in a pro. If you feel that things are borderline hoarder-situation or it’s getting too emotional, you’re not going to be able to do this on your own. After a long discussion with your parents, it may be time to agree that some professional help is needed. Don’t feel like you’re taking the easy way out or letting your family down, because that isn’t what’s happening at all. Professional organizers know how to deal with these situations and they can be a huge asset to helping your parents (and you) feel good about their future.

Read More:

Is Your Spouse Sabotaging Your Organization Efforts?


How To Create Prioritized Action Plans

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  1. My husband and I are retired and love the house we’re in, but a bout of health issues startled us into action. I have tried without success to hire help in the past, but it just didn’t work out. Now we have interviewed two different companies to help us undertake this next part of our lives, which will culminate in a move to “senior spa living.” Actually , that’s not the culmination. One of these companies also will act as estate trustee, pulling all your documents together for probate. Brian can handle EVERYTHING, including declutter, on-line or yard sale, painting, repairs, staging, storing, selling, moving – there’s even a counselor to help with the adjustment!
    We are so #blessed! We will be able to get through this with relative ease and spare our 3 grown children the burden and angst of dealing with not only mountains of stuff, but mountains of emotions.
    This is a burgeoning industry, so look for companies near you to provide these kinds of services. They can even break it down as a buffet of services for you, from the simplest to the most complex.
    Highly recommend!

    • So glad you were able to find a company to help! It can definitely be overwhelming so getting assistance is such a smart move.

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