Leaving a beloved home full of cherished memories is challenging enough, but having to give away personal belongings to move to a smaller space can be completely overwhelming. There are ways you can help your loved ones through the process of downsizing so that you all handle the move with as little emotional stress as possible.

Be a Helper Not a Boss

Remember your loved one is still in charge of their things. They may need your help to move it, sort it, distribute it or sell it, but you do not get to make the final decisions about what stays or goes. You may coax, encourage or persuade, but giving things away against a loved one’s will can cause serious damage to long term relationships.

Don’t expect your loved one to start this process on their own. It is too much of an emotional and physical task to accomplish alone. Simply being there for your loved one can help them get started.


In order to downsize your loved one needs to determine what is valuable, what is intended as heirlooms to be handed down, and what should be donated. Contacting an estate sale professional could help you determine what items are valuable and if an estate sale is something your loved one should consider. Knowing their belongings are valuable and may be able to help them continue to live comfortably may ease the pain of getting rid of things.


If there are items that are special because they were a gift or hold a dear memory, but they are no longer useful, take a picture of them. Put the picture in an album and encourage your loved one to write or record stories about the memory and the people involved. This will be easy for your loved one to store and bring with them to their new home. It will also be much easier and more meaningful to hand the album and stories down to family members rather than piles of things with no shared stories or names of people and places attached to the items.


When the downsizing move is a further off you have more time to help your loved ones discover what they don’t need. You can make a list of the items they use in the kitchen. Each time they use the item, write it down or put a check by it. Items that don’t make the list after a designated number of months can safely be given away. Confidently hold on to items that have a lot of check marks. Try this trick with closets as well. The visual of the check marks may help your loved one have an easier time donating unused items.

Be Compassionate and Empathetic

Some people feel that if they don’t show emotion it will be easier for their loved one to be less emotional and therefore they will have an easier time giving things away. However, it usually works the opposite way. The more time you spend listening to stories about items, sharing memories, laughing and crying with your loved one, the more likely they are to let go of the item. Once the story is passed on to you, your loved one is less likely to cling to the item itself. Downsizing is difficult and your loved one will feel at ease knowing it is ok to be sad to see so many of their cherished things go.

Long, Hard Work

Downsizing is long hard work for everyone involved. If there is not a medical need to rush it, don’t. Take time to be there for your loved one and help them wade through the years of accumulated treasures. The process may become a gift to you as well as your loved one. You may learn more about all of the things your loved one holds dear, and therefore more about them. The most important thing you can do is be there and be encouraging. This will make the final move easier on your loved one.