The prospect of downsizing can be a difficult one for seniors facing the move to an assisted living facility. A lifetime of memories associated with possessions can be daunting to wade through for families and caregivers.

But, rest assured, there are ways to help ease the transition for your senior loved one.

Downsizing is an inevitable part of moving to a new residence: taking old clothes to Goodwill, throwing away that leaf blower that hasn’t worked in five years, and getting rid of all the things you’ve accumulated that your family no longer needs.

But, downsizing can be particularly wrenching for the elderly, who may find it overwhelming to think about letting go of the items they’ve gathered over a lifetime. If a senior loved one is faced with a move to assisted living where there may be less storage space, that clutter in the closet may turn into a stubborn roadblock — or even a justification to resist moving.

This can mean a tough conversation for family caregivers, who are usually the ones faced with confronting their parents about downsizing. Fortunately, there are strategies you can follow to make the process easier, even if a senior loved one has a more serious hoarding issue.

Does Your Senior Loved One Need to Downsize?

Getting rid of longtime possessions we’ve grown attached to isn’t easy for anyone, but for our elderly loved ones, it can feel like giving up cherished memories, especially if they are faced with leaving a long-term home on top of it all.

This isn’t just a matter of the occasional senior citizen not wanting to give up the mementos. In fact, it’s quite common. A recent study looked at survey data from 22,000 participants and found that about 30% of people over age 70 had done nothing to give away belongings over the past 12 months. Yet…more than half of the respondents in all age categories believed they had too many belongings. As an example, 56% of those aged 50 to 59 and 62% of those 70 to 79 reported having more things than they needed.

For these folks the problem isn’t denial, but rather, the extraordinary difficulty associated with giving up items that are so closely linked to their identities, their past, and their memories.

When Clutter Gets Out of Control

Sometimes it isn’t so easy to convince your loved one that they have too much stuff. If their collection of belongings is actually impairing their everyday functioning and threatening their health or that of others, they may be suffering from an elderly hoarding disorder.

It’s important to note that if you know of someone who is having trouble letting go of personal possessions and is distressed at the thought of discarding them, that alone may not constitute elderly hoarding behavior. However, if a person’s clutter is so extreme that their living space is unusable, unsanitary, or hazardous, or if they are exhibiting symptoms like self-neglect and social withdrawal, it may be time to consider whether they have Diogenes Syndrome (elderly hoarding disorder) and whether they should move into assisted living.

Tips for Talking to Your Parents about Downsizing

Whether you suspect your loved one has senior hoarding issues, or they simply have too much stuff for a small assisted living apartment, broaching the topic of downsizing can be a scary thought. You might be wondering, how can I ask mom and dad to give up so many memories they obviously cherish, and risk upsetting them?

Enlisting trusted friends and family to help your loved one clear their clutter can be an enormous help. Having others around to share memories with can make the process less painful, for one thing. It can also make it less overwhelming and time-consuming as seniors can easily be daunted by the size of the task, or feel physically incapable. Sometimes, though, the situation is so dire that professional help is warranted. Senior move managers can help the elderly downsize their possessions and are experts at helping with the transition into senior living.

The end result can be a hassle-free transition and a much lighter load.