How to help your parents declutter

23 Oct 2018


Are your parents getting on in years? Are they perhaps needing to downsize? Are you staring at their lifetime of belongings and thinking ‘what is going to happen to all that stuff’?


If you are feeling overwhelmed by their stuff, there is no doubt that they are too.


Most people feel overwhelmed when tackling clutter. However, for some people, the thought of decluttering and letting go of lifelong held possessions is even more confronting. It is a reminder that the end of their life is nearing.


Also, our parents lived through a much different era than we do today. They couldn’t pop down to kmart or IKEA and get anything they desired for an affordable price. They worked hard, scrimped and saved in order to buy something they really desired. They were brought up to conserve their belongings, to reuse and repurpose. Their relationship with ‘stuff’ can be much stronger than ours.


Here are a few tips to get you started….


1. Broach the subject


Of course, talking about it is the first step. Try not to shy away from talking about death. Some conversation starters include:


“Have you thought about what you would like to happen with your furniture/ paintings/collection/things?”


“I have been thinking that you have a lot of things to take care of. I’d like to help you downsize so that you have less to worry about. Would you like that? Would you like my help?”


2. Start with an easy category


Ease into it. Don’t dive straight into photos or their beloved collection of model cars. It depends on the person but you might like to start with books, bedding and kitchenware - this can be an easier place to start as it is more impersonal.


3. Be strong with your own clutter boundaries  


You have your own clutter problem to deal with so only take the things that you need or truly love and enjoy. It can be hard for a parent to understand why you don’t wish to take the china collection that they have owned for the last 40 years into your own home. Remind them that you have memories which will always be treasured regardless of what stuff you take.

Photo by Jasmin Schreiber on Unsplash


4. Antiques are difficult to sell


Letting go of large items like furniture can feel like big progress because of the space you gain. But the reality is that it is really hard to sell antiques these days. Your parents may still value them for the monetary value they had when they bought them. Most second hand stores won’t take antiques anymore because they are too hard to sell. You could try list them on gumtree, ebay or facebook marketplace but be prepared to accept a low price or to give it away for free.


5. Tell them their life was special because of them


Remind your parents that they are the reason their life was special, not because of the items they own.


6. Take photos


Honour special items by taking photos and making online photo albums or printed photo books. Include stories and you have a special keepsake to pass down through the family without the clutter.


7. Hire help


Decluttering is time consuming and emotionally exhaustive. A neutral outsider can help take some of the emotion out of it so you can achieve more in a shorter time. Professional organisers and declutter coaches have different approaches. Choose a person that is right for you/your parents.


Photo by Claudia van Zyl on Unsplash


Final thoughts...


You might think about helping your parents declutter but then just put it in the “too hard” basket.You might wonder if it would be easier to wait until they move into a retirement home or even until they pass away. However, the more you can sort/purge now, the easier your job will be after they do pass away and you’re dealing with grief. Sharing the process with your parents can also be a lovely way to bond and spend time together.


Helping your parents to declutter now can bring them immense relief. The feeling of freedom and lightness, that comes from decluttering, is a wonderful gift.


Good luck and reach out to me if you would like support. xx


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Melbourne Australia