Involve the Whole Family When Possible
Chances are you are reading this because you’ve already tried to get your folks to pare down before it’s time to leave the family home. Even though you’re tempted, it's generally not a good idea to "help" them by sorting through their stuff and packing it out the door, when they're not around. If you try to make a major decision about their belongings because "they can't", chances are you're going to shoot yourself in the foot.
As a goodwill effort to prevent emotional flare-ups, and ensure a more peaceful resolution, schedule a meeting with the whole family, if possible, to discuss an exit strategy several months before the ideal move-out date. (If you can't assemble in one place, do it by phone or conference call.) Propose and negotiate some talking points and send them to everyone before the meeting: Under what circumstances will you call each other to consult about "keep or donate" decisions? When and how will you involve the person who's moving? What key possessions would you and your other family members like to keep in the family?
Encourage the person who's moving to actively participate in decisions. Your parent should be able to pick what they keep, unless they truly cannot make these types of decisions for themselves and have an appointed guardian. It's best to let them take their own furniture if they want to, -- they know what makes them most comfortable, and comfort and familiarity often count for more than aesthetics. If you don’t feel you have the ability to effectively communicate with family members, suggest hiring a professional with senior moving service experience to help. It’s well worth the cost and gets you off the hook.
Give Them Lots of Leeway When Moving
Don’t rush them, and move fairly slowly when packing up; think months, not days. If the family decides to take it on themselves, it really needs to be a three to four month process. Older adults need time to go through the love letters, the crafts projects, and the photographs from Myrtle Beach. Enjoy the process, because it's a wonderful chance to go back and reaffirm the full, productive life your folks have.
Complicating matters, if your parent lived through the sparse Depression years, chances are they've spent a lifetime saving and collecting. Decades of squirreling away can look like a house that's packed crawlspace to rafter. As you begin organizing, keep in mind that seemingly worthless belongings may have huge sentimental value for at least one parent, and even yourself, and you'll need time to sort through these things in a way that moves at a fairly slow pace to avoid raising anxiety levels.
Be Real About How Much to Keep
In almost every case, people take more stuff than will fit in their new space. Many times, even a senior moving service gets called back in to help do more weeding out after the move.
Avoid this situation by first getting a sense of how much square footage and storage your folks will have in their new home. Getting realistic about space constraints up front -- even sitting down with them to sketch out what can go where -- will help force some of the harder decisions about what to get rid of. Point out the health benefits of living without clutter.
Begin by taking on one room -- even one drawer -- at a time. Encourage them to evaluate items one by one and sort them into piles located in separate rooms in their house: one for items to move to the new home, one for those you and other family members might be interested in keeping, one for those to donate, one for those to sell, and one for those to throw away (mostly broken or damaged items).
If this approach doesn’t fly, then helping them decide on a favorite charity to donate to may be the way to go. Many organizations will arrange a home pickup. Be sure to get a receipt so they can deduct the value of the donation on their tax return. Any item over $5000 will need an appraisal. You'll need to be extremely patient with your family member and yourself throughout the process. Have some support for yourself in place. Remind yourself constantly it is all a process, and allow everyone to adjust to the changes.
When All Else Fails, Move First and Purge Later
Moving is a loss of familiar surroundings and personal things -- and it's really tough emotionally on aging parents. If your folks have already decided to move into retirement community, yet are not open to hiring a senior moving service, and clinging to every last potholder as they pack, you may need to get them moved first and worry about purging the non essential household items later. Give them six to eight weeks if possible to settle into their new home and remove themselves from the current environment. It should be much easier to get them to let go of things by then. Out of sight, out of mind!