Downsizing and Real Estate

7/20/2022 | By Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar, editor at large at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, offers tips for downsizing, including tips for parents and adult children, enlisting a senior move manager, and dispensing of old items.

For many families, the caretaking role comes as a surprise. And so, apparently, does the role of clearing out the clutter from your parents’ home – or yours.

“By far the majority of people fail to plan, not just for wills and advance directives but even downsizing,” says Julie Hall, director of the American Society of Estate Liquidators in Charlotte, North Carolina. “They underestimate the amount of time, energy and resources it takes.”

Tips for downsizing

Don’t wait

Even if you’re not planning an immediate move, it makes sense to start now to make it easier on yourself, your parents and your adult children when the time comes. The task of whittling down a lifetime of possessions can be paralyzing, but the key is to tackle it one drawer or closet at a time.

“Start with as little as 10 minutes a day,” says Debbie Sokobin, owner of Next Chapter Concierge, a senior move manager in Rockville, Maryland. “Try on those old pants. If they don’t fit or are out of style, give them away.”

Dispensing of old items wisely

senior couple taking a break with coffee and sitting on a sofa during packing. Photo by Feverpitched Dreamstime. These tips for downsizing include guidance for parents and adult children, enlisting a senior move manager, and dispensing of old items.

Ask the kids or grandkids what they want, but be forewarned: “Our children don’t want our stuff,” says Sokobin.

What people really want to save are the memories rather than the possessions, says Jennifer Pickett, associate executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

And if Mom really wants you to have something, be gracious. “Even if you don’t need the china, take it. You can sell it later on,” says Pickett.

Related: Wisdom from a senior move manager on dividing family possessions by ‘creating legacy through objects’

Tips for downsizing with the help of a professional

When a move is imminent, it can be even more stressful. “If people have made the decision to move on their own, it’s a different experience than if they don’t really want to move or feel they are being pushed,” says Paul Regan, of Paul the Organizer in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania.

Regan, who has worked with clients between the ages of 70 and 102, starts with a floor plan of the new residence and prioritizes filling that space before beginning to empty out the old place. “My first concern is safety,” he says. “Is there carpeting on which they might trip? If they’re using a walker, is there enough room between the bed and the dresser?”

At this stage, adult kids are likely to be on the scene. “Often when kids are involved, things go well, but you have to be careful to respect the person who is moving,” he says.

Related: A Seniors Guide overview of downsizing with search for local providers

A senior move manager can help relieve stress and be a buffer between generations. On average, managers charge between $40 and $80 an hour and can complete a downsizing in 25 to 40 hours, says Pickett. They can also provide you with tips for downsizing and refer you to other sources of help, such as photo organizers, free paper-shredding events, estate sales and appraisers.

If you think an item has value, have it appraised, Hall says. She once rescued three vases from the trash bin that were sold at auction for $78,000. And if family members are bickering over an expensive item that can’t be divided, Hall’s advice is to sell it and divide the proceeds or take the whole family on a cruise.

© 2022 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Related: Pass It On!

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor at large at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit