Helping Your Parents Downsize

Listen When Parents Want to Talk About Downsizing

Here are some words of wisdom from a counselor about how to talk to your parents about downsizing and avoid the typical misunderstandings that arise.
“I am so mad at my mom!” I was recently told by a friend.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because she sold Grandma’s rocker,” she replied angrily. “Mom asked me three times if I wanted it. Of course I said no, because I knew how much it meant to Mom. Then Mom turned around and sold it!”

Wow, talk about miscommunication. There was so much underlying emotion going on in that conversation that they just weren’t hearing each other.

More or less, Mom was saying: “I won’t be around forever. It is time to start clearing out the house. Grandma’s rocker is very special to me. I want it to stay in the family, and I want you to have it.”

The only part of the message that the daughter heard Mom saying was: “I won’t be around forever.” The daughter didn’t want to think about a future without Mom, so she stopped listening.

Parents, you brought your children up to be kind, giving and loving. When you ask: “Do you want my china?” they will usually say no. Not because they don’t want it one day in the future, they probably do, but they don’t want to take it away from you if they know you love it.

Often parents will ask if the kids want something. Children are very uncomfortable with this conversation because it means considering a future where Mom and Dad aren’t there any more.

Parents, her are some ideas on how to be in control of what happens to your possessions.

Hints are not sufficient. Make it crystal clear. Have a sit-down with your children or send a letter. Say something like: “Kids, we are looking toward our future. We are starting to downsize the house, and we need your help.”

Set a deadline. Not too long, no too short, maybe a month or two. Tell them: “The deadline is X. After that, we will be getting rid of anything that we don’t want that isn’t spoken for. If there is something you want, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Parents, share a list of the items you want to keep for now, and that aren’t available

Kids, when Mom and Dad ask if you want anything, it’s because they have many possessions that they love and have enjoyed over the years. They want those items to go to someone who will also love them, and share their history.

Don’t dismiss your parents. Don’t put them off by insisting that you don’t need to have this conversation for many years. Help them.

Work together with Mom and Dad. Work together with your siblings. Be respectful of your parents possessions and their feelings.

Enjoy this time of sharing. Don’t steamroll. Give your parents tiem to say goodbye to things they love. Listen to Mom’s and Dad’s stories.

Being able to do this together is a special gift – one you will remember for many years to come. Be helpful and kind.

Reprinted from Transitions: Stories of how to help Mom and Dad with their stuff by Jean Long Manteufel. Ms. Manteufel is a Certified Relocation and Transition Specialist and owner of Transitions With Jean.