Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Independent, Assisted Living & Memory Care section, August 16, 2019
Tips for Helping Your Loved Ones Downsize Effectively
It’s a rite of passage: You grow up, move out of your parents’ house and build a home of your own. Time goes by. Your parents may retire, develop hobbies, start second careers — And for most adult children, the time comes when they need to help their parents downsize.
Parents may be downsizing for any number of reasons — Moving into a smaller retirement condo or apartment, relocating into an assisted living facility or moving closer to grown children and grandchildren. Regardless the reason for the transition, downsizing can be an extremely stressful event for all involved.
For downsizing parents, one of the greatest challenges is letting go of things you might have held on to for years or even decades for mostly sentimental reasons. Often when moving into a smaller space the challenge is determining which items you really need.
The team at Goodwill Industries of San Diego County sees donations as a result of these activities all year long. Sometimes after an estate sale, sometimes after the death of a parent or spouse or sometimes when the parent has decided to start ‘freeing the clutter’ before a move.
To better assist your parents with this process, Goodwill has created a series of tips and questions to ask your parent when going through the journey:
1 . What rooms will you not have in the new place?
Downsizing often means eliminating rooms that need to be furnished — Less bedrooms, no formal dining or living room, etc. Elimination of these rooms can be an excellent tool for helping parents eliminate excess items and also generate large amounts of donate-able items that can be of use to others.
Tip: Start with the rooms you won’t have in the new place first and figure out which things simply won’t have a spot in the new home (i.e. no place for a large china cabinet) and develop a plan for those items before moving to other rooms. Using a floor plan or map of the new home may be very useful in helping your parents visualize furnishings and available space.
2. When was the last time you used this item?
If the answer is over a year and especially if it is a very niche item (think deviled egg platter, bundt cake pan), the time might be right to let someone else use and enjoy it.
According to Goodwill, housewares are the #1 most in demand item at their retail stores: Small appliances (toasters, blenders, can openers, etc.), decorative dishware (platters, serving dishes and bowls), home décor (signs, frames, framed art, candle holders, etc.) and furniture (all types).
Tip: Go through potentially unused items with your parents and speak honestly about how frequently and essential an item is. Is your mom holding on to a blender because she used to make milkshakes for the grandkids that are now in their twenties? Time to let someone else benefit. However, if the automatic can opener seems unnecessary to you but your parent is adamant about holding on to it — ask why. You may not realize that advancing arthritis makes an appliance you consider unnecessary essential to them.
3. Are any family members collectors or thrifters?
You might not even know that cousin Bob has a thing for vintage salt and pepper shakers or aunt Susan really loves Dooney & Bourke handbags.
Tip: Before beginning to donate items, ask around within the extended family first to see if anyone might like specific items that are no longer useful for your parent — It will often give them joy to see them live on with a good home inside the family.
4. What things need to be appraised?
Frequently parents have amassed a collection of items throughout decades in a house and if Antiques Roadshow has taught us anything, its that you never know where treasures are hiding!
Tip: Before sorting items to potentially donate or discard, ask your parents about specific items they may have acquired or inherited that may have value. Frequent finds include sterling silver tea sets/service pieces, original artwork, pottery, first edition books and specific furniture styles such as Federalist or Stickley. If these items are not going to a family member and will be donated, it is important to let Goodwill know these items are valuable as they will be handled and marketed differently for resale, usually via the Goodwill eCommerce web site.
High value collectibles are of great use to Goodwill, as these larger ticket items really help boost overall income from retail sales — helping more in the community with free job training, job search assistance, employing and training people with disabilities and helping remove other barriers to work.
5. What things do you have in the house that can’t be donated?
While many people see organizations such as Goodwill as a catch-all for everything in the house that isn’t needed, there are actually several types of items Goodwill cannot accept or simply aren’t usable (Click here for the full, current list):
- Light bulbs and batteries
- Weapons and ammunition
- Any used/opened cosmetics or toiletries
- Any hazardous materials such as chemicals, fertilizer, paint, cleaning products
- Medical Sharps/Medical Waste/medications
Tip: Check the City of San Diego web site for places that accept hazardous materials and upcoming recycling events.