Angela Alvig, CPA

Helping Your Aging Parents Part 2: Downsizing

Published 2 Months Ago5 minute readInsights from Angela Alvig
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Downsizing is a phase of life that eventually arrives for most of us. 

You might witness your parents facing the downsizing phase as they prepare to move into a smaller home. Even if they have no such plans yet, a little preemptive downsizing will make future transitions easier for everyone, so you may want to help them dive into the project sooner rather than later. 

A well-organized household makes life easier for everyone, especially for those who are “aging in place,” -- choosing to live independently at home. Isn’t it amazing how much stress can be removed from your daily life when your home or workspace is neat and clean? I’ve found that I can’t get my best work done until my area is organized and decluttered. It just makes my tasks easier when I know precisely where to go for everything I might need. 

Organization is even more important as people age. We’ve found that a sense of control over day-to-day life is crucial to successful aging in place. Most-used items, such as food, medications, and cleaning products need to be easily accessible. This is especially true when physical limitations come into play.

Our team at Simplify Wealth has plenty of experience helping clients clear out their homes. We’d love to share some wisdom we’ve learned over the years. 

Sorting with the “Four Box Method”

Try the “four box method,” as described on NextAvenue.org. Create four spaces (ideally boxes, but piles, bags or zones will also work) among which you can divide up whatever’s been keeping your parents from using the guest bedroom since 1965. Next Avenue suggests these categories:

  • Keep Until I Die: items with sentimental value, such as family heirlooms, personal letters, wedding china, and photo albums.
  • Keep For Now: unsentimental items, such as furniture and art.
  • Appraise and Sell: unwanted items of value.
  • Garage Sale/Donate: unwanted items.

Decide whether there are any other categories or sub-categories. For example, your parents may be ready to pass some heirlooms on to children or grandchildren right now, or they may have a special category of donations, like sending gardening or crafts materials to a targeted non-profit or local school. 

Choosing to downsize and declutter is a big decision as a person ages. It isn’t just about the “things,” it is about the prospect of losing their independence. Be patient as your parents go through their possessions. If your parent hasn’t moved in a while or hasn’t gone through their things lately, they are sure to come across many items that spark memories. Use those walks down memory lane as an opportunity for family connection. Understand that downsizing is harder as you age and give your parents the space to move at their own pace, one room, or even one drawer, at a time.

Clearing the House: Helpful Steps

Let’s say your parents have moved or otherwise departed, and all personal treasures are out of the house. Now it’s time to completely clear the property. These are our next steps:

SCHEDULE: Scheduling pick-ups in advance is often beneficial or necessary. Touch base with movers, charity pick-ups, recycling and trash removal to find out how to arrange pick-ups.

SORT AND SEEK: We sort items into four categories: to be sold, given away, recycled and trash. During the sorting process we look for valuables that may have been missed. We often find cash and other valuables in pockets, drawers and books. 

SELL: Valuable items can be sold. We work with several local consignment shops and have connections to sell items at auction. It’s also possible to sell via Craigslist.org, Nextdoor.com and Facebook Marketplace. 

DONATE: We donate as much as possible to local charities and are very knowledgeable regarding what charities will accept. In the case of very large donations, we work with an appraiser to maximize tax deduction benefits. Be prepared to confront the issue that value is in the eye of the beholder. For example a recent Star Tribune article stated that people no longer want china hutches and huge dining tables, and charities often reject them because there’s no demand for them in the resale market.

RECYCLING AND TRASH: After the valuable items are sold and donations are made, we take great pride in our eco-friendly approach to clearing out what is left by minimizing what we send to the landfill. We recycle as much as possible and we use our connections to find new homes for other unwanted items. For example, we save old furniture from dumpsters thanks to our wide variety of contacts, from high school theater programs who need props to local craftspeople who will gladly pick up items to restore.

Choose Compassion

As you undertake downsizing with your parents, recognize that it’s a process that has its challenges and may provoke some emotional responses in everyone involved. We all have emotional attachments to our stuff. Take the opportunity to really hear the stories your parents recall during this activity – it can be a bonding experience.

Have compassion for the feelings that inevitably arise when people are forced to make hard choices, or to recognize that their treasures don’t have the personal or financial value they expected.

If you would like to learn more about what it would look like to work with our team, give us a call at 612-203-2718.