For most seniors, moving from their home of many years to an assisted living facility is a difficult process. Sorting through decades of possessions and family history can be emotional. Additionally, helping parents with downsizing or moving can be especially stressful for adult children. As a result, it is essential to remember your parent’s feelings before digging into logistics. It is recommended to begin with a plan, sort items carefully and enjoy time with loved ones during this process.

Planning and Expectations

To begin, create a template of the new room or home. Include accurate measurements and note placement of doors, windows, appliances, etc. Children should help parents understand the realities about what they will (or will not) be able to bring to the new residence.

For both parents and children, decluttering takes patience. While it might be tempting to complete the process as fast as possible, it is actually beneficial to spread it out over several weeks or months. It is recommended to keep the process accomplishable.  Schedule small work sessions using the following suggestions:

  • Set time limits: try to limit sorting and packing to no more than 2-3 hours per day
  • Focus on one small area or room of the house at a time
  • Take frequent breaks. Stop to take a breather or have a snack.

Spreading out the process will help keep both parents and children relaxed and encouraged.

Sorting Possessions

The big question is likely what to do with possessions that have accumulated over many years. What you consider trash, may indeed be a treasure to your parents. Although it may be easier to make the decisions yourself, it is important to involve your parents in the decision-making process.  Asking for their input shows that you value both their opinions and their possessions.

As you declutter, sort items into four categories: keep, sell, donate or toss. During the sorting process, it may be helpful to take the advice of Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo suggests picking up each item and asking, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is yes, consider adding the item to the ‘keep’ pile. If the item does not spark joy, it will be sorted among the sell, donate, or toss categories.  

Before diving in, recognize that some items will be relatively easy to declutter. Other possessions will take more time and consideration. Begin the process with the least sentimental items. More decision-making practice will be helpful as you ease into sentimental items.


There is often an emotional connection to items, and parents may have valid reasons for hold on to them. Attempt to make space in the assisted living facility for some items.  Be sure that there is a safe place for photo albums, special gifts, and other precious possessions. Collect and organize important papers including deeds, wills, medical records, etc. The ultimate goal is to save as many possessions as space and reasoning allow.


Many people have trouble parting with items of monetary value. It is difficult to know how much items may be worth. Therefore, getting an appraisal from an expert such as a jeweler or art collector can be helpful. Additionally, some estate sale companies will complete free appraisals. Other options for possible valuables include selling items on sites such as eBay or Craigslist or to a consignment shop. Lastly, if you are willing or organize and operate it, a garage sale can be a great option.


Donations should framed in a positive light. The possessions are not being discarded, but instead are being passed along to benefit someone else. Many local charities are willing to pick up some larger items. It is helpful to call in advance to see what items organizations are willing to take. Additionally, most thrift stores accept donations and are often run by charities.  


Some items simply will not find a new home. Shred or toss obvious items such as insignificant documents or outdated food. If your parents have an abundance of items that aren’t appropriate for sale or donation, renting a dumpster may be a good option.  Do not go overboard in the purging process. The goal is to make your parent’s new residence feel like home.

Treasuring Quality Time

Decluttering is undoubtedly hard work, and there will likely be tension around differing viewpoints. When difficult moments arise, try to adjust your perspective. Rather than viewing the task as a chore, consider it a special time to spend with your parents. Allow time for your parents to reminisce on fond memories of the past. Additionally, use items and photographs that you find to recall your family’s history.

Downsizing to Assisted Living

Because both parents and children are confronting a big life change, downsizing to assisted living can be an emotional experience. Maintaining patience and taking time to acknowledge parents’ feelings can be crucial to the overall process. While the outlined tips are suggested, do not get too caught up in the logistics of decluttering. Be sure to take time during the process to let your parents know that you care for them.   

Vineyard Bluffton is here help you and your loved one navigate through this process. We are here to make this transition as smooth as possible so contact your nearest Vineyard community today!