Helping your elderly parents to downsize

Downsizing is something many elderly people do. Here are some essential tips for easing the transition from the family home to a retirement home.

As the small tasks of everyday living become more difficult for your ageing parents, it may be time to start talking about downsizing from their family home to a home more suited to retirement.

Before you discuss the issue with them, make sure you are quite clear about why you are raising it. You may be worried about your parents injuring themselves, and you would feel better if they moved to an assisted living unit. The critical question, though, is would they feel better? They may prefer to remain in their home and install grab rails in the bathroom or wear a panic button so that they can summon assistance if needed.

When you do start a conversation about potential life changes, don’t tell them what you have observed or think. Instead, start by asking open-ended questions about how they are doing or what concerns they may have.

And when they talk, you need to actively listen. What are your parents’ concerns? What ideas and solutions have they thought about, or are they open to?


Some elderly parents may acknowledge that it is time to downsize, whereas others may be more reluctant. Anxiety about moving to a new home can result in elderly parents becoming stubborn and even angry, but these reactions are normal. At every step in helping them downsize, you need to keep in mind how you would want to be treated if you were in their position. Would you want to be told what to do or be part of the discussion about the best way of going about things?

Ask them:

  • How do they want to spend the final years of their lives?
  • How do they feel about their current living situation?
  • Would a new environment help them carry out their plans?

Have the courage to give your parents a reality check, but don’t pressure them with a deadline or an ultimatum. They should be able to process the situation in their own time unless they are living in an unsafe situation.

The more information you have, the better you’ll be able to address any fears and concerns your parents may have. Gather information before you start the discussion, but be sure to present this information as options. The idea is not to issue instructions for your parents to follow.

Find out:

  • Which suitable retirement centres are in their area?
  • What does assisted living cost?
  • Is Meals on Wheels or a similar service available in their neighbourhood?
  • What are the available transport options if they stop driving?


Once they have decided to move to a smaller home, there will almost certainly be a lot of clearing out to do, and you will be expected to take on the lion’s share.

Although you may be an expert at decluttering your own home, the task can be physically and emotionally taxing when it comes to helping your elderly parents downsize. The more you prepare and work in advance, the smoother the transition can be – and the earlier you start, the less overwhelming it will be for everyone.

You may also need to involve other family members, such as siblings, who will also be helping and should be involved in the decision-making process. If you have good relationships, having extended family members around may help your parents cope with the moving process and accept the transition to another home.

In the decluttering process, you may come across quite a few things that make you wonder why your parents kept them. Be gentle as you encourage them to let go of things they no longer have space for.

Decluttering also gives your family a chance to relive and rediscover old memories. You’re likely to come across toys, family photos, and other sentimental items that were part of your childhood. Sorting through them together will help your family move on from the home when it’s time to sell.

Separate the items your parents want to keep by type or room. This will make unpacking the boxes from the moving van easier.

For the items your parents won’t be needing, you should have three categories:

Donate extra clothes, non-perishable food, kitchen appliances, and other items someone else could use. Giving to charities will probably make parting with things a little easier.

Sell non-essential items such as furniture, tools and electronic goods that still have some market value. Ask a second-hand dealer who deals in these items to make you an offer, or list them on eBay, Facebook Marketplace and other online forums. The money you make can go towards moving fees.

Throwing away old items is the hardest part of moving. Emotional attachments to objects are normal, but you shouldn’t let that cloud your judgement. Be sure about what your parents need, and discard items that aren’t in good enough condition to donate.


The ageing process can be difficult for parents as well as their adult children. Be willing to open up the conversation even if it’s difficult. The more you can discuss while they’re still in reasonable health, the better it will be for the whole family.

Always keep in mind that your parents are adults who have competently managed their lives so far. Their autonomy is as valid a consideration as their safety. Ultimately, any decisions about their lives are up to them – unless they show signs of significant cognitive malfunctioning, such as dementia.

Most people try to avoid feeling nostalgic before moving house, but it doesn’t really work. Relocating your parents is guaranteed to be an emotional experience – for them and the rest of the family. So, try to embrace those feelings with your loved ones instead of running from them.

Writer : Sarah-Jane Meyer

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