Even when you know “it’s the right thing to do,” helping parents or loved ones downsize from the large family home can be emotionally difficult. To make it easier for everyone…

Take your time. If possible, give the process a few weeks—even months. Older adults typically don’t have the physical or emotional energy to do this for more than a few hours at a time, so tackle it in small doses. Let your loved ones share their stories as you sort through their possessions. 

Important: Unless asked to do so, don’t just throw out belongings or make other decisions on their behalf. That will feel disrespectful and demeaning.

Start in emotionally neutral rooms. Tender memories are stored in different rooms for different people. Example: Many people keep old letters and photographs in their bedroom closet, so leave that area for last. Instead, start with less challenging rooms such as bathrooms, kids’ bedrooms or the garage. 

Distribute precious mementos now. Encourage loved ones to give away jewelry, china and other valuables they may be inclined to hold onto. Doing so will allow them to see the next generation enjoy them. Important: Prepare your parents that their 30-year-old granddaughter is unlikely to want their dining room set even if it’s a “valuable” antique. Suggest they give each person one keepsake—a vase, a necklace, a book, a figurine.

Eliminate maybes. The “maybe” pile typically ends up in a storage unit that costs thousands of dollars before the stuff is thrown out or given away anyway. 

Figure out what stays. Map out the new residence to help determine what furniture and other items can fit. Tip: If your loved ones are going from 12 kitchen cabinets to two, try putting essentials into two cabinets in the current home. Give away the rest. 

Hire a senior move manager who specializes in downsizing for older adults. If you live far away, you may not be able to spend a lot of time on this. Senior move managers help with going through belongings…distributing, donating and discarding unwanted items…moving clients…and setting up new residences. They also can find homes for quality collections or donations, but they will be honest with you if something is best thrown away rather than donated. He/she works closely with all of the donation sites in your area and online sites for specific collections, so he will know who will take your donations and who won’t.

Rates range widely from about $40 to $125 per hour depending on location. Find a senior move manager in your area at the National Association of Senior Move Managers website, NASMM.org.