When elderly parents downsize, one of their first questions is what to do with a house full of possessions. The amount of “stuff” seniors accumulate over the years can be staggering. It’s hard to know what to do with the possessions your parents built a life around, especially if the items have a special meaning to them. But rather than transfer their things into your basement or a storage unit, try these downsizing tips for seniors to make paring down a bit easier.
Separate and conquer
Group common household items and review them as a category. When you look at all the kitchen tools or all the bed linens together, it becomes easier to spot duplicate items or those that haven’t held up well.
Preserve items that have significant sentimental value. Ask your parents for the story behind the heirlooms. You may discover “That’s the watch I carried with me during WWII” or “Those earrings were a wedding present from my parents.” If items have more sentimental than monetary value, consider re-purposing the item to fit your lifestyle. Frame the WWII watch and display it on your shelf, or have the earrings reset as a ring you can enjoy today.
Reduce the image inventory
Enlist the help of transfer service companies that can digitize 8 mm film, video tapes, slides and photos so you can enjoy—and preserve—the memories in a compact, easy-to-access format. Safeguard copies of important documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses and titles; scan copies of less-important papers that you’d like to preserve but not store.
Appraise jewelry, art, collectibles
A professional appraiser knows the difference between treasure and trash. Mom’s pearl necklace or the painting over the mantle could be valuable—or not at all. An appraisal can help you determine what’s worth selling and what could be donated.
If Mom or Dad had collections, they may be worth an appraisal. If you choose to sell the group, take digital photos of the items so your parents can still reminisce about the objects without the need to store and maintain them.
Invite the family
After you and your immediate family have decided what items you’d like to keep, invite extended family members and friends to come over and take what they want. Whether they want to keep a memento of your parents or they’re simply looking to furnish an apartment for a college student, they’ll help you pare down the possessions.
Sell the items
If you’re planning to sell items, you have lots of options, depending on how much time you want to devote to the effort.
In person: Consignment stores will take clothing, furniture, and household items but some won’t pay you until the items sell. An auctioneer can an entire household of items or just pieces that you think have value. You can hold a sale on your own, but hiring a pro who prices, stages and promotes a household sale could pay off in terms of a hassle-free experience.
Online: Etsy and eBay have large vintage and collectible markets where you can sell anything from collectible plates to handkerchiefs. You might find Facebook groups that are dedicated to buying and selling antiques. And free ads on Craigslist can help you dispose of basic items.
Don’t expect to make a fortune from these sales. Current market trends often dictate what will “move.” For example, if demand for antiques is down, your parents’ bedroom furniture may not sell—but their retro 1950s dinette set may earn top dollar.
Donate the items
For items that are usable but no longer wanted, making charitable donations is a good option. Bring kitchen utensils, pots and pans, and housewares to nearby shelters. Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore program accepts gently used furniture, appliances and home improvement materials and resells them. Goodwill and The Salvation Army will take many other items. Keep records of your donations so you or your parents can take a tax deduction for the items.
Downsizing can be a big job, especially for seniors and their families. If your parents are moving into a senior living community, the staff may be able to recommend a senior move manager who can help you through the process.