Helping a parent, buy more about relatives or friends downsize can be complicated. Where you see a houseful of stuff to sort and toss, erectile the person moving is apt to see treasures, abortion essentials, and a lifetime of memories.

Here, 20 expert-tested ideas to avoid and make downsizing less stressful for everyone.


Downsizing tips: How to sort

1. Avoid tackling the whole house in one go.

Though it’s more efficient for you to plow full steam ahead, The person moving is apt to be stressed emotionally, if not also physically.

Work on one room or area at a time. About two hours at a stretch is ideal for many older adults, says Margit Novack, president of Moving Solutions in Philadelphia and founding president of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

2. Frame decisions as yes-no questions.

Open-ended choices put a reluctant mover on the spot, raising stress. Avoid asking, “Which pots and pans do you want to keep?” Winnow them down yourself first, and then present a more manageable yes-no option: “I’ve got your best frying pan, a large pot, and a small sauce pot. Does that sound good?”

Items that exist in abundance work especially well to presort: clothing, kitchenware, tools, and anything else you know the person has way more of than he or she will have space for or need.

3. Use the new space as a guide.

Measure exactly how much closet or cabinet space the new place has (assisted living communities will provide this information if you ask), and fill an equivalent amount of space as you sort. Mark off the comparable space so the person has a visual guide.

Beware of excessive multiples. In assisted living, the person only needs one frying pan, one or two sets of sheets, one coffeemaker, one or two coats, and so on.

 4. Banish the “maybe” pile.

Relocation experts call it the OHIO rule: Only handle it once. The less decisive a person is about an item they risk becoming more attached.

Tempting as it is to set aside tough sorts for later, unless there’s room to “hold” them at a relative’s house, it’s not generally worth paying storage-rental fees (unless it’s a very large estate and time is tight). That’s because once they’re boxed, the person downsizing isn’t likely to look at the items ever again. (Out of sight, out of mind.)

Exception: Save time by boxing piles of paperwork, which doesn’t take much room. Papers are time-consuming to go through and present an unpleasant task for many disorganized people.

5. Encourage the person to focus on most-used items (and let the rest go)

Be patient and follow the person’s lead — what seems old and useless to you may be a source of great comfort and joy and therefore worth moving. “Don’t go by the newest and best; go by what they use,” Novack says. “You may think Mom should pack her pretty cut-glass tumblers for assisted living, but the reality is that those ugly stained plastic ones are what she uses every day.”

When facing especially hard choices, ask for the story behind a dubious object — where it came from, when it was last used, whether a young family might put it to good use. This takes time, but the payoff is that once they starts talking, he or she may have a clearer perspective and feel more able to let go, Novack says.

Downsizing tips: How to cope with treasures

6. Pack representative bits of favored items (not the whole kit and kaboodle).

Photos, memorabilia, and collections typically take up far more space than the average assisted-living quarters can accommodate. Many services digitize images and papers for you for reasonable prices — sell the idea that every family member will get a copy.

7.  Cull a collection by asking, “Which is your favorite piece?”

Assure that one or two “best” items can have a highlighted location in the new home. “People sometimes feel OK about giving up the rest if they have a sense of control over the process,” Novack says.

8. Take photos of the rest of a collection and present them in a special book.

Its not exactly the same as owning, but it’s a space-saving way for a collector to continue enjoying.

9. If it’s meant to be a gift or legacy, encourage giving it now.

Urge the person not to wait for the next holiday, birthday, or other milestones to bestow. Remind him that there’s no space for storage. Ask, “Why not enjoy the feeling of giving right now?” (And if you’re the recipient — just take it, and encourage the relatives to do the same. You can lose it later, if you don’t want it, but the immediate need is to empty the home.)

 Downsizing tips: How to sell

10. Think twice before selling items on your own.

Craigslist, eBay, and other self-selling options are time-consuming when you’re trying to process a houseful of goods. Be realistic: “The value of an item isn’t what you paid for it or how well made or special it is — it’s what someone is willing to pay for it,” warns Novack.

11. If there are several items of high value, consider an appraisal.

Go through the entire house; the appraiser will charge per visit and is more interested in relatively large lots, be sure to mark the items you wish to be appraised prior to his arrival. Auction houses, whose goal is to sell items at the best price, are better options than antique dealers, whose goal is to get items for the lowest price. However, you have no control over what someone pays for the items. Consignment shops will also sell items, but they tend to cherry-pick (they take fewer items).

Downsizing tips: How to donate

12. Understand how charities work.

The main donation outlets include Goodwill, the Salvation Army, The National Kidney Foundation , and Saint Vincent DePaul Society. Depending on your area, popular alternatives may include other charities or a local hospital or PTA thrift shop. Senior living communities and moving companies often furnish lists of area charities that accept donations.

These charities work by selling castoffs; they don’t want (and often won’t take) dregs that are better left to the trash. Some take only furniture; some won’t take clothing. Larger charities tend to accept a wider variety of items. Get a receipt for a tax deduction.

Clarify whether they offer free pickup (a huge time-saver). Some charities will remove items from the ground floor only.

13. Target recipients for specialty items.

It’s time-consuming to find willing recipients for everything, but it may be worth the effort for items that your parent, friend or relative would be relieved to see in a good home. Examples: Schools may welcome musical instruments, old costumes, or tools. Auto repair shops and community maintenance departments may take tools and yard tools.

14. Try the “free books” tactic.

In some communities, setting items on the curb with a sign that says “Free! Help yourself” will make items miraculously disappear. This works great for books, and sometimes other items. (Libraries don’t normally take books while some charities or schools may. Like selling items on Craigslist or eBay, the preparation can be time-consuming and tedious if your goal is fast disposal of a large number of objects.

Downsizing tips: What to discard

15. If it’s chipped, broken, or stained, toss it.

Charities don’t want nonworking Christmas lights, snagged clothes, lidless plastic Tupperware, or any items that they can’t sell. Just trash these items.

16. Weigh your loyalty to recycling against your available time.

Avoiding waste is noble, but finding a home for every object can be incredibly time-consuming. “If you recycle the other 364 days of the year, tossing a few things in the interests of time is fine. You have to be pragmatic.

17. Don’t be shy about tossing replaceable items without consultation.

Not worth moving, donating, or even conferring about: old spices, junk mail, old magazines, outdated medications, unused toiletries, plastic food containers, candles, stuffed toys (most charities won’t accept them), and the contents of the junk drawer (just hang onto change and spare keys). Get rid of it when the homeowner isn’t looking.

18. For a price, you don’t have to haul it away yourself.

The local garbage company may have limits on how many large black trash bags it will take, and not all local dumps take unsorted trash, either.

Waste Management’s Bagster is a smaller-scale alternative to a Dumpster, and it doesn’t harm your driveway. Buy one of its large bags at a home-improvement retailer (about $30, depending on pickup location), fill with up to 3,300 pounds of trash, and call to schedule a pickup.

Smaller local junk dealers may haul things away for free.

Downsizing tips: Get help

19. Consider bringing in the pros.

The fastest and less stressful is a professional liquidation service who can handle all phases. Finding a reliable estate liquidator that will handle everything from sorting, selling and clean-out is some time difficult to locate. Finding one through ASEL referral is your best choice.

20. Investigate one-stop solutions if time is tight.

Deciding whether to sell, donate, give away, or throw away is stressful and takes a lot of time. Another way to outsource the tasks is to have a professional liquidator hold an estate sale. Locate a company that offers “full service” and referred by the American Society of Estate Liquidators. Be sure to either mark or remove the items that the parent, relative or friend wishes to keep prior to their arrival. Also, find one that has multiple ways of liquidating, like estate sales, consignment, eBay, Craigslist, auction and etc, as not everything will sell during an estate sale.