What to Store & What to Keep

October 30, 2017


Helping a parent downsize from the long-time family home, whether he or she is moving into your house, a retirement home or assisted living, means determining what to do with a whole lifetime of belongings. Anne Beckley, owner of Caring Transitions Inland Northwest in Spokane, Washington, is a certified Relocation and Transition Specialist. She says the process can be completely overwhelming.

“Generally, a senior is moving from a larger home where they’ve been for 25 to 60-plus years into a space of 600-1200 square feet. And there is a huge accumulation of ‘stuff,’ much more than they realize. Sorting through possessions is not only physical but also emotional, and it’s exhausting.”

It can be harder when an illness precipitates the move, but whatever the circumstances there are ways to make it easier.


If it’s possible, start decluttering six months or even a year before the move. Shred old canceled checks and other unnecessary paperwork. Donate clothes not being worn. Pare down kitchen items, especially if your parent is moving into a residence that serves meals. Make sure you and your siblings take your old sports trophies and school yearbooks home. Doing as much of this as possible ahead of time will make the move itself much easier.


Let your parent lead the way on what to keep. The nicer-looking, newer armchair might not be the one that’s a source of comfort. Did your mom collect teapots? Maybe she can take two or three favorites, and you photograph the rest and then present the photos to her in a special book.

Keep the family heirlooms or other special items, such as photo albums and cherished Christmas decorations, that can’t go with your parent. If there isn’t room at the new place, make space in your home or garage or keep them in a small storage unit.


Transition specialists like Beckley say it’s common to try to move too much. Before you rent a big moving truck, make a floor plan of the new home, noting where the doors, windows, and appliances are, and figure out ahead of time what furniture will fit.

Beckley says transition specialists also help determine what has financial value, and auctions or sells those items.

“Often they are not the items our clients think,” she says.Store and move important paperwork, such as banking, medical paperwork and legal documents, in one carton. Make sure to pack important items your parent will need right away – medications, pajamas, toiletries, a change of clothes, fresh bedding – in a box marked “open first.”

If the new home is nearby, consider moving your parent and what they are taking first, and then returning to their home to deal with the rest of their belongings out of sight. A bonus: If there’s something they are missing as they settle in, you can probably still take it to them.

And be patient during the process. Helping your parent sort through their possessions can be difficult, but it’s also a great time to listen to them reminisce about memories, times and people that were important to them.

This article was contributed by SpareFoot.