Downsizing and the aging family

No more room for another family heirloom?

Did your parents ask you in childhood to love, honor and cherish…all their stuff…til death do you part?   The generation that birthed the baby boomers may have planted the seed of heirloom responsibility while rocking you in the family cradle. Baby boomers took the baton and loaded their homes with Grandma’s quilts, Mom’s snow globe collection, and piled on “stuff” of their own. snow globe collection

Now Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials are on deck to receive multiple generations’ possessions. Their typical reaction is to say “no thanks”. They are practicing what parents and grandparents have instructed them “to do more with less”!

Tiny houses, lofts and condos are top of mind. Younger adults today embrace minimalism and in doing so emulate the way their “grands” lived. This closes a multigenerational circle. Your family members who lived through the Great Depression and WWII were the original repair and recycle generation.

Reflection, reminiscence and reconciliation go along with the process of aging. It is natural for aging family members to convey their pride and love for their children, grandchildren, etc., by promising or gifting the possessions they value, the family heirlooms.

So how do you help your aging loved ones downsize without family feuds and hurt feelings? Contact an Aging Life Care Professional™  to facilitate emotional family conversations and to assist your aging family members with the downsizing experience. If possible, older adults should have a say in what happens to their things.

What are a few ways to dispose of belongings and still honor the memories and preserve the family history?  Photograph the dishes, that chair where all the babies were rocked, the living room furniture that you weren’t allowed to sit on as a child, the quilts, all of it and make a digital archive or hard copy photo album. Share the album with family. Video or audio-record the stories that the old folks love to tell. Re-purpose items. Select one or two special items in a collection to display in your home. Turn mementos into artwork for others.

Be true to yourself too.  In general, renting a storage unit or loading up your garage with boxes only prolongs hard decisions. Discarding things does not erase family history. Be mindful of the feelings you have as you wrap, sell, store or save your aging family member’s possessions. That which brings you joy, honor it. That which brings you pain or sadness (or no emotion at all), dispense with it. Try not to fight with your sibling over things. Treat family members with kindness. Be gentle and tender with aging loved ones and embrace moments of nostalgia.