It is always difficult to leave a long-loved home, but doing so in good health and with the aid of children, relatives, and other services can make moving much less stressful.

Before the need arises, family members should discuss each other’s expectations about downsizing. They need to be realistic about how much to move into smaller spaces, and should express their wishes regarding family heirlooms. Some families have such talks about individual items, but seldom explore the overwhelming task of emptying the house!

Many of us will be called upon to downsize and liquidate our parents’ things. Making a decision about what’s to be done with the personal property of someone you love is a complicated and emotional task. The need to downsize or liquidate often means vacating “a home place”—the place where children grew up.

The thought of clearing away clothing, personal papers, photos, furniture, hand-made holiday decorations, personal items, tools, linens, your own baby clothes and collections is reason enough to ignore the chore. And many people react by doing nothing. Some attack the chore and make decisions far too quickly to suit everyone involved. The options for completing the task include: distribute, donate, discard, or sell.

Expect to be overwhelmed by the memories evoked as you uncover photos, toys, and mementoes. Accept the help of friends and family. Do not try to do the whole house at once. Depending on your time frame, set a smaller goal like a room, a cupboard, or a closet. If you find a box or area of small items that you want to take time to examine, box it and do it later. Remove the things that will go with their owner or to family and friends.

Start at the back corner of the room by removing the fluff (the broken or useless items) and arranging the items to be examined and appraised. Focus on one area at a time; just do it in small portions at a time. With every visit to the house—even to set the thermostat or look for some papers, try to clear away some trash or empty one closet. Junk mail and medical paperwork can pile up quickly. Clutter can smother your mission. Simply clearing a table top can improve your attitude the next time you walk into the house.

After you have determined which items will be distributed, donated, discarded, and sold, act on the decisions. Gather family, selected friends, and heirs for the purpose of division and distribution. Have things picked up by non-profit agencies or discarded properly. Soon, the end of the job will seem attainable.

You may choose to hire an expert for sorting, pricing, selling, moving, and staging. Professionals like realtors, senior move managers, family advisors, and geriatric care managers can help find a service. Examine your abilities and time contraints and discuss your requirements with friends who have had similar experiences. Having a downsizing and/or liquidation sale from
the site allows you the option not to sell as the day progresses. But there may be items left after the sale is through. An auction sale moves more quickly with little room for indecision. But an auction will clear the space in a day.

Older adults may be more agreeable to giving up some items (silver, furniture, heirlooms) if they are being given to grandchildren or special friends or neighbors. For keepsakes, including pictures, ask for the older adult's input in labeling for future generations.

Senior Move Managers

For people contemplating or facing the daunting task of transition and downsizing from a long-held single-family home, there are support agencies available today. This new industry group, known as “Senior Mover Managers,” has gained popularity in the last ten years. Typicalservices may include:

  • Guidance on area communities, realtor referral, customized floor plans
  • Preparation for selling the current house, organizing, de-cluttering, sorting, clearing, packing up, storing household goods, cleaning up
  • Coordinating the move, arranging/supervising movers and the moving process
  • Turn-key set up of the new residence, interfacing with family and other professionals
  • Arranging for the profitable disposal of unwanted items through estate sales, donation, or consignment.

Contact the National Association of Senior Move Managers (online at for a list of local companies. Senior information and referral centers can also link you to local resources.