The older we get, the harder it is to declutter and downsize our possessions. Memories are strong with the piano your kids took lessons on when they were little. The suits you (or your father) wore to work ten years ago hold bring on a sense of nostalgia. You may not be sure when to throw away the old bank and credit card statements, medical records, and tax filings.

As a baby boomer, what I’ve learned is that as our kid’s transition into the role of caregivers. They help manage a house full of stuff taking on a tremendous amount of time and stress. The legacy that a parent hoped to leave behind can end up having a negative impact on a child. It could potentially damage their careers, mental well-being, and home lives.

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The Cost of the Stuff

I have spent 16 years helping families downsize and declutter estates. Over those years I’ve noticed that apart from the grief, sorting through the stuff is the hardest thing families face. In my experience, it’s the single biggest source of stress.

Now, I finally have the data to back me up.

We recently surveyed 1,010 individuals who have helped settle an estate, relocate, or downsize a loved one in the past five years. They told us that sorting, cleaning, and decluttering the house demanded more of their attention than any other duty. Furthermore, dealing with possessions required them to make more decisions than paperwork, finances, or even selling the house.

In most instances, that decision-making includes other family members. 60 percent of caregivers named “having to deal with family members” as the most stressful aspect of the process.

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Careers and Families Suffer

Nine out of ten caregivers reported having to take time off from jobs and family to help someone downsize a house. Of those, about 18 percent said taking time from work was their biggest stressor. 16 percent cited losing time with family as theirs.

About half of the caregivers we surveyed had to travel long distances to deal with the estate. This means that they had to take a significant amount of time off from work. 47 percent lost several hours per week, and more than 13 percent needed extended leave. Furthermore, they missed valuable recharge time with their families.

Coupled with a lack of preparation, the stress can quickly build. Almost 70 percent of caregivers told us they were surprised by the responsibilities of managing the estate or felt completely unprepared. Two out of every ten admitted they had “no clue where to start.”

As a result, for caregivers dealing with excess stuff, the stress of managing an estate can easily become overwhelming. I’ve seen it push marriages onto the rocks, sever sibling relationships, cause problems at work, and even trigger depression.

Downsize and Declutter Now

The bright side of all this is that preemptive downsizing and decluttering can help solve the problem. Here are some ways to help prevent this stress for your family.

  • Try to declutter one room at a time, using the Four Pile Sort Method.
  • Limit sorting and piling to an hour or two a day and try to make it a relaxing, bonding experience.
  • Prepare yourself for the task at hand acknowledging some things may be easier to let go of than others. Starting with the least sentimental items will make the process smoother. 
  • Understand what your loved one’s new lifestyle will look like when they move to a smaller space. This can determine the first pass at what should go, like clothing that doesn’t fit, unneeded linens, etc. 
  • Ask your family members what items are meaningful to them, and consider passing them on now. 
  • If you aren’t ready to give away items yet, mark them to go to their future home.
  • Now is the time, too, for you to remove any childhood memorabilia or adult possessions that have been stored at your parent’s house. 

It’s true that downsizing and decluttering takes time and energy. By downsizing your possessions now, you can save your kids from suffering any potential stress in the future.

Learn To Declutter Your Home

Senior Move Management and Downsizing

Talking with Senior Parents about Downsizing

When the time comes for a senior parent to downsize to a smaller space or move into a community, WayForth can guide you through the emotional and physical elements associated with these types of relocations.

Our team is pleased to offer senior move management and downsizing, among many other services. All of our services aim to make this life transition easier on you and your loved ones.

Here are a few of the Senior Downsizing Services We Offer:

  • Senior Move Planning & Financing
  • Sorting, Packing, Resettling, and Moving of Belongings
  • Selling, Donating, or Disposing of House Contents
  • Prepping & Cleaning the Home for Sale

Learn More About Senior Moving


At Wayforth we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.