helping aging parents declutter their house
Life Organization

Helping Aging Parents Purge Their Stuff

These three tips will help adult children of aging parents and seniors declutter their belongings, purge overstock, and prepare their home and family for the future. (Updated October 2020)

A while back, I received this email from someone who genuinely wanted to help her aging parents begin to declutter their home. She asked for advice, and I spent a lot of time considering how to reply to her. Her message reads:

“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?”

Helping Aging Parents & Grandparents With Purging

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 the writer said, they hold onto things “just in case.”

But I also understand where the writer of the letter 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.

help senior parents purge excess 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.

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5 Comments

  1. How do you deal with parents who have a SEVERE bed bug problem and refuse to do what’s needed to take of situation and just live with it, meanwhile no one can or will visit because of situation

    • Lela Burris

      Hi Lynn, you’ll need to speak with a professional about that. I’m not really sure what the best route would be, but either a doctor or therapist might be able to help.

    • Anonymous

      My parents have been having this bed bug problem for a good year. One of dad’s friends ‘share’ them when dad meets and helps him. We have done multiple bug aerosol booms and used spray for the truck, clothes (removed right when he comes home) & furniture in-between booms. They hide in carpet, furniture, molding. It’s also hard as they don’t clean up the ‘piles’ in the livingroom or bedroom. Let them know the scientific reason to get rid of them. They take the iron and other nutriments from our systems and yes, people have died from sever loss. Dad is now helping his friend to do booms but his place is a worse mess.

  2. 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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