Downsizing before a move can be difficult, but starting the process sooner rather than later has benefits for both seniors and their families.

Moving can be an emotional process at any age, especially as an elder. Many seniors have accumulated decades’ worth of belongings, and the idea of going through them can be daunting. But starting the process of downsizing sooner rather than later can ease the transition for seniors and their families. “It can be an emotional, uplifting experience for adult children and their parents if elders downsize and are in a good place,” says Deborah Heiser, an applied development psychologist who specializes in aging.

The key to making downsizing a positive experience is to start the process before it becomes an urgent necessity. Waiting until an emergency or hospitalization occurs can make the process stressful for everyone. Heiser recommends discussing downsizing early and openly with your parents. “When you spring something on someone out of nowhere, it can be frightening,” Heiser says. “But if you have an ongoing dialogue that’s genuine, then that’s how it can be made a positive experience.”

“Preparation with regard to emotion is key. It can help make it successful.”
Starting the conversation about downsizing early also gives older adults time to ready themselves emotionally. “Preparation with regard to emotion is key. It can help make it successful,” Heiser says. “If you aren’t emotionally prepared, it can make it a very uncomfortable, unpleasant experience for everyone involved.” Giving your parents time to process and accept the change can make all the difference during this transition, she says. You should also open the discussion to siblings, grandchildren and anyone else who might be impacted to avoid future conflicts. If tensions do arise, Heiser recommends seeing a psychologist together as a family.

With the right emotional preparation, downsizing can become a positive experience. Parents might be surprised how much they enjoy the opportunity to pass on family heirlooms to loved ones. “It can be such a wonderful experience that the parents can have, being able to see their furniture or objects with family members who have been treasuring them,” Heiser says. “It can be a really great bonding experience and a really positive experience for everyone involved.”