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HELPING AGING PARENTS/RELATIVES TO DE-CLUTTER…

SOURCE:  Excerpted from article by Patricia Lee/Houzz/realtytimes.com

“When the child is the one charged with helping parents downsize, these guidelines can smooth the process.  Many seniors eventually need to downsize to a smaller space, whether to a retirement community, a nursing facility or a room in a family member’s home.

If you’re the person faced with going through an aging parent’s belongings, it may be tempting to rent a storage unit and just pack it all away.  However, that can be an expensive way to merely delay the inevitable…instead, you could start the process as soon as possible, and here are some tips to help you through it:

1. Acknowledge the true magnitude of the task.  Moving from a home filled with years of memories can be very emotional process.  Not only do they have to downsize the physical memories of as long as a lifetime, but moving may also summon unwanted reminders of their mortality.  For both parent and child, de-cluttering takes patience – and for the child especially it can be difficult to stay motivated, since you won’t directly reap the rewards of a tidier space.  Further, your decluttering standards may be different than those of your parents.  What you consider trash may be your parents’ treasures, and this can lead to friction.  It’s important to involve your parents in the decision making process rather than taking over completely.  Soliciting their input and accommodating their desires is a way to show them you value their decisions and respect their belongings.  So mentally prepare yourself for what is to come…

2. Schedule bite-sized work sessions.  De-cluttering is time consuming, and it can be tiring for aging relatives.  If time permits, space out your sessions so you can maintain the energy to complete the entire home….no more than three or four hours at a time, perhaps just two to three times per week.

3. Understand your parents’ lifestyle.  Getting a snapshot of how you’re parents plan to live in their new home will help you narrow down what they keep – with the goal of retaining only what they actually love or need.  Sit down and sketch out a few details that can serve as guidance as you sort.

Below are some questions you could use as a starting point for your discussion with your parents.  You could even use their answers to guide a first pass at eliminating irrelevant items on your own – leaving fewer decisions for your parents to make.

What type of clothing do you need (Daily comfort wear?  Weekly church outfits?  Occasional dress-up?)

What is your current range of clothing sizes?  Can other sizes be donated?

To what extent will you be cooking and baking?

Which suitcases and bags are no longer practical for travel?

Which books do you still read and which music do you still listen to?

4.  Start with the least sentimental items.  Practice makes perfect.  The decision to keep, toss, sell or donate becomes easier the more you practice.  Starting the de-cluttering with the least sentimental items such as linens and clothing, and working toward the most sentimental, such as photos and letters, can be a helpful way to ease into harder decision-making territory.

5.  De-clutter by category rather than room.  This will be helpful in terms of keeping your parents – and yourself – motivated and focused.  It’s easier to make decisions when items are grouped, as this helps you see all at once how many belongings you’re dealing with.  Also, you get a sense of accomplishment with the completion of each category.

6.  Keep only sentimental items that will displayed.  The truth is, some of these items have been buried in their houses for decades, so encourage them to keep only the items they’ll have out on display.  Memorabilia can’t be enjoyed while hidden away, and disposing of the items doesn’t diminish the memories associated with them.

7.  Take charge of your childhood items.  If your parents have saved all of your childhood memorabilia, they may be willing to turn those items over to you for sorting through.  This can be quite helpful for parents who are overwhelmed with culling their own possessions.  Now is also the time to remove any of your adult possessions that have been stored in their house.

8.  Remove unwanted items from the property.  Consider ordering a dumpster for trash, scheduling a charitable organization to pick up donations, and selling items at a consignment store or online.  It’s important to keep unwanted possessions moving as you continue the de-cluttering process, as storing them in the house may hinder progress.

9.  Treasure this quality time with your parents.  De-cluttering is undoubtedly hard work, and tensions often arise amid differing viewpoints.  So try to adjust your perspective when these moments inevitably come.  Instead of viewing the task as a chore, consider it a special time spent with your parents.  You may even hear some priceless stories about their youth and your childhood – especially if you maintain a patient attitude, and if you take the time to ask.

SOURCE:  Patricia Lee/Houzz Contributor/realtytimes.com  IMAGE: movelady.com

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