How to Convince Your Aging Parent to Declutter Their House

Amy Natt
February 4, 2020

How to Convince Your Aging Parent to Declutter Their House


Is your parent moving in with you or into a nursing home? Are you in charge of helping them downsize and part with possessions?

60% of seniors say that they have more things than they need, and 28% say they have been told they need to downsize.”

Deciding what to do with all their belongings is difficult. Your parent likely has numerous sentimental items they have held onto for years. Your childhood drawings, old photographs, gifts from loved ones, and other personal items are hard for your parent to part with — but what if it’s necessary? There isn’t enough space for your Mom or Dad to keep everything, and you don’t know how to convince them to let any of it go.

Keep reading to learn how you can convince your parents to declutter their house in 7 steps.

How to Convince Your Aging Parent to Declutter Their House

Step into your parent’s shoes and let yourself think about how they must be feeling. How would you feel if you had to part with most of your stuff? Some possessions might be easy to toss out, but what if you have to get rid of sentimental items you’ve had for years? 

As we age, memories from long ago become harder to recall. Specific objects, sounds, or even smells can cause those thoughts and feelings to come rushing back. Objects that bring us happy memories or make us think of loved ones are proudly displayed in our homes or stored for when we want to reminisce on happy times. 

So, what do you do when you have to be the “bad guy” and tell your Mom she can’t take the 10 large totes of old photographs with her because there is no room to store them? Or what about your Dad’s mini-library collection of old books?

1. Handle Sentimental Items With Care

Sentimental items like the ones mentioned above are going to be extremely hard for your parent to let go of. Thinking outside of the box might help you save the memories without having all the clutter. Take pictures of things your parent is attached to that they have to part with and scan old photographs to make digital copies. 

Store the photos on a computer, tablet, mobile phone, or a digital photo frame for your Mom or Dad to enjoy. Helping them memorialize their favorite possessions this way shows your parent that you respect them and their belongings. Allow them to keep their most prized possessions, so they don’t have to part with everything. 

Don’t ever assume that an item is not important and toss it in the “get rid of box” without consulting your parent. What looks like trash to you could be something of major significance to them. You’ll need to discuss what belongings are the most important for your parent to take and decide what they are going to part with together.

You must include your parent every step of the way and work together as a team. A little bit of respect and excellent listening skills go a long way to keep your parent as comfortable with the situation as possible.

2. Take Possession of Your Childhood Belongings

Old drawings, pictures you colored as a child, gifts you made and brought home from school, and any of your personal possessions you left at your parent’s house need to be handled by you.

Ask your parent what items they would like to hold onto and come up with a plan for the rest. Make scrapbooks out of your artwork, school projects, and awards. Don’t have room to keep them? Take pictures or scan them into a computer — as mentioned above.

Does your old bedroom still look like you never left? Posters hung on the wall, furniture still in place, pictures of childhood friends on your desk, or maybe even clothes in the closet?

Take pictures before you touch it so your parent can remember it the way it was. Box up any unwanted belongings that you don’t need. Donate clothes or other items that are still in good shape. Pack up anything you want to keep and take it home. Handle your possessions first so you can easily see what is left.

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3. Create An Action Plan

Once you have discussed what items have sentimental value and you’ve handled your childhood belongings, you can come up with an action plan on what to do with the rest.

Break it down by room and categorize everything into manageable chunks. Categorize kitchen items into cookware, dinnerware, laundry items (pot holders, hand towels, etc.), cleaning supplies, furniture, and decor. Only take what is necessary for your parent to keep and items they will use where they are going.

The living room, bathroom, bedroom, and other rooms of your parent’s house can be categorized the same way. After you have come up with categories to organize all their belongings into, talk to your parent about what they want to keep and what they don’t. You might need to help your parent reduce the items on their “to keep” list if there isn’t room for what they wish to bring. 

In that case, remind your parent how much space they will have and ask them if they think everything they want to take will fit. Asking their advice gets them to think about the amount of stuff they have and where they plan to put it in their new space. This way, they can come to the conclusion they need to part with more stuff without you telling them they have to.  

Recommended Reading: Ask the Expert: ‘Tis the Season to Give...Away?

4. Hire or Recruit Help

Moving and decluttering is an enormous job. You’re busy with your own family, work, and other obligations. Finding time to help your parent sort, pack, move, and toss out everything is overwhelming. You have no idea how you are going to manage it all on your own. Don’t let yourself get flustered and stress out.

Take some deep breaths and think about hiring help for tasks that you can afford to. Hiring movers or someone to clean can take a huge load off your shoulders.

Do you need help organizing and packing? Create a list of all the tasks that need completing. Determine what tasks you have to take on yourself and what tasks you can delegate to someone else. Ask neighbors, friends, or other family members to pitch in. Assign them tasks and give them clear instructions on what you would like them to do. Make sure they know what items not to touch, so nothing gets tossed out by mistake.

5. Be Patient

Patience might feel impossible to achieve when you’re arguing over something that seems insignificant to you. Your parent desperately wants to keep everything, and you don’t know how to convince them to let most of it go. It could be tempting to toss everything out behind your parents back and ask for forgiveness later. 

If that thought crosses your mind, don’t do it. Your parent has to decide to part with their possessions on their own when at all possible. You wouldn’t want someone coming into your home and discarding your belongings without your input —would you? 

Show your parents respect and keep a level head at all times. If you feel like you’re getting too upset, then do yourself a favor and walk away. Take a break and clear your head before you try to talk to your parent again. Maybe you feel like you’ve said everything you can say, and your Mom or Dad is acting unreasonably. In that case, it might be time to ask for help or seek advice from a professional.

Recommended Reading: Ask the Expert: Talking With Aging Parents

6. Ask a Close Friend or Relative to Mediate

Does your parent have a close friend or other family members that they turn to for advice? Someone they respect that they would listen to if they don’t listen to you? Seeking help from the people closest to your Mom or Dad could make the difference between a nasty fight or a peaceful conversation. 

Seeing your child become an adult and not needing you anymore is an awkward time in your parent’s life. Add to that your child is now telling you what to do, and it’s not surprising that your parent might push back. All your life they have had to be the wise one that made all the decisions, and now you’re telling them they are wrong, and they have to listen to you. 

Hearing the same words coming from a trusted friend or family member can make the delivery more tolerable. What if your parent doesn’t have someone like this in their life? Consider consulting a professional for help.

7. Consult An Aging Lifecare Manager

You’re frustrated and upset, and you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried talking to your parent several times, but they refuse to part with anything. There is no one around who can help, or your parent won’t listen to other family members or friends. What are you to do when you’re stuck in such an impossible situation, and you only want what’s best for them? 

An Aging Lifecare Manager can help. Our knowledgeable and compassionate staff will assess and evaluate the situation. We’ll help you talk to your parent and act as a mediator, so both your feelings are heard. We’re here to help support you through this challenging transition and help you make the tough decisions as a team.

“They went beyond just doing their jobs. In fact, when I moved my mother to Colorado, a caregiver escorted her on the journey. Caregivers have been key in helping us get Mom’s house, etc. ready for the next phase of listing and selling.”

Betty Will

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Life over 50 is complicated. From illnesses to general aging-related difficulties, there's a lot to learn and a lot to cope with. We understand and we're here to help answer questions and provide guidance on your options.


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