How to Help Your Parents Downsize and Declutter


How to Help Your Parents Downsize and DeclutterPhoto by Light House (previously known as Jigsaw Housing)

When the child is the one charged with helping the parents downsize, these guidelines can smooth the process.

Many seniors eventually need to downsize to a smaller space, whether to a retirement community, a nursing facility or a room in a family member’s home. Often, the task of decluttering and packing falls to their children.

If you’re the person faced with going through an aging parent’s belongings, it may be tempting to rent a storage unit and just pack it all away. However, that can be an expensive way to merely delay the inevitable. Instead, I recommend you start the decluttering process as soon as possible. Here are some tips to help you through it.

1. Acknowledge the true magnitude of the task. Moving from a home filled with years of memories can be a very emotional process for your parents. Not only do they have to downsize the physical memories of perhaps as long as a lifetime, but moving may also summon unwanted reminders of their mortality.

For both parent and child, decluttering takes patience. And for the child especially, it can be difficult to stay motivated, since you won’t directly reap the rewards of a tidier space. Further, your decluttering standards may be different than those of your parents. What you consider trash may be your parents’ treasures, and this can sometimes lead to friction. It’s important, though, to involve your parents in the decision-making process rather than taking over completely. Soliciting their input and accommodating their desires is a way to show them you value their decisions and respect their belongings.

So before you get started, mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come. Know that some items may be easy to declutter, such as clothing that doesn’t fit. Others will take more time, patience and thought.

2. Schedule bite-sized work sessions. Decluttering is time-consuming, and it can be tiring for aging parents. If time permits before the move, space out your sessions so you and your parents can maintain the energy to complete the entire house. I recommend no more than four hours at a time, and perhaps just two to three times per week. This schedule allows for a balance between making efficient use of your time and not exhausting your parents.

3. Understand your parents’ lifestyle. Getting a snapshot of how your parents plan to live in their new home will help you narrow down what they keep – with the goal of retaining only what they actually love or need. Even if you think you understand their lifestyle already, it can be helpful to sit down together and sketch out a few details that can serve as guidance as you sort.

For example, if your parents typically launder their clothes once a week, then 10 to 14 sets of clothing for each season would be more than enough to last between washes. If they won’t be entertaining at their new location, they may feel confident donating their punch bowls and tablecloths. If formal events are few and far between, then three to four comfortable formal outfits may suffice.

Below are some questions you could use as a starting point for your discussion with your parents. You could even use their answers to guide a first pass at eliminating irrelevant items on your own – leaving fewer decisions for your parents to make.

  • What type of clothing do you need? (Daily comfort wear? Weekly church outfits? Occasional formal outfits?)
  • What is your current range of clothing sizes? Is it OK to donate all clothing outside of this range?
  • To what extent will you be cooking and baking?
  • Will you be entertaining? If so, what would be the maximum number of guests?
  • Which suitcases and bags are no longer practical for travel (too large to manage, lacking wheels)?
  • Will you want to decorate seasonally?
  • Which books do you still read and which music do you still listen to?

4. Start with the least sentimental items. As with most things, practice makes perfect. My clients have found that the decision to keep, toss, sell or donate becomes easier the more you practice. Starting your decluttering process with the least sentimental items, such as linens and clothing, and working your way toward the most sentimental, such as photos and letters, can be a helpful way to ease into harder decision-making territory.

5. Declutter by category rather than room. Separating your decluttering into categories is helpful in terms of keeping your parents – and yourself – motivated and focused. It’s easier to make decisions when items are grouped, as this helps you see all at once how many belongings you’re dealing with. Also, you can all feel a sense of accomplishment with the completion of each category. I recommend separating items into the smallest categories possible. For example, instead of creating a category of tops, separate the items further into short sleeves, long sleeves, sweaters. Accessories can be separated into belts, hats, scarves and handbags.

6. Keep only sentimental items that will be displayed. Many of my clients have a hard time parting with sentimental memorabilia. But the truth is, some of these items have been buried in their houses for decades. I usually encourage them to keep only the items they’ll have out. After all, memorabilia can’t be enjoyed while hidden away, and disposing of the items doesn’t diminish the memories associated with them.

One possible way to ease the permanence of losing sentimental items is to take photographs of them. However, I don’t recommend this in cases where the photograph can’t be filed away immediately, whether in a digital album or a physical scrapbook. If there is no defined location for the photograph, whether digital or physical, then it becomes clutter. Also, if it’s likely that looking at these photographs will bring on feelings of regret for your parents, I also don’t recommend this method.

7. Take charge of your childhood items. If your parents have saved all of your childhood memorabilia, they may be willing to turn those items over to you for sorting through. This can be quite helpful for parents who are overwhelmed with culling their own possessions. Now is also the time to remove any of your adult possessions that have been stored in their house.

8. Remove unwanted items from the property. You haven’t truly finished decluttering until all the unwanted items are no longer in your parents’ house. Consider ordering a dumpster for trash, scheduling a charitable organization to pick up donations and selling items at a consignment store or online. Although it would be wonderful to earn money by selling some items, if you don’t have time to list them or your items don’t sell quickly, permit yourself to donate instead. It’s important to keep unwanted possessions moving as you continue the decluttering process, as storing them in the house may hinder progress.

9. Treasure this quality time with your parents. Decluttering is undoubtedly hard work, and tensions often arise amid differing viewpoints. So try to adjust your perspective when these moments inevitably come. Instead of viewing the task as a chore, consider it a special time spent with your parents. You may even hear some priceless stories about their youth and your childhood – especially if you maintain a patient attitude, and if you take the time to ask.



Single Family Home Activity in the Antelope Valley

In the last 24 hours

New Listings …  30
Sold …  28
Pending …  21
Expd/Wthd/Cancld …  05
Price Increases …  01
Price Reductions …  12
Number of listings* …  1094
Average Days on Market …  73
Short sale/pay listings …  19
Equity listings …  913
Bank owned listings …  21
HUD, Corp, Probate and Auction listings …  44
Days of inventory (at the average rate**) …  26.43
Days of inventory (at yesterdays rate**) …  33.15
Actual Number of days of inventory***  …  364.67

View the last 8+ years of data HERE!

(each will open a new tab)

New Listings on the Market

Closed (Sold) Transactions

Pending Units

Expired Listings

Price Increases

Price Decreases

Total Number of Listings

Days of Inventory 

Average Selling Price

Monthly Selling Price Points
(Price extremes at the end of the month)

Daily Day’s on the Market

Monthly Day’s on the Market

Total Sort Pays

Sold by Month

Total Sales in Last 12 Months

Avg. Number of Solds per Month over 12 Months


* Count includes all ACTIVE and CONTINGENT MLS listings
** Assuming no future growth or reduction
*** At yesterdays depletion rate (∞ indicates negative depletion,
inventory would not be depleted at this sales rate)

Critiquing The 15-Year Home Loan


Critiquing The 15-Year Home Loan

Question. I bought my first home in the early 2000s when interest rates were much higher then now, and got a fixed, 30 year loan for 6.25 percent. This is a small condominium unit. I am 50 years old and will need to work at least 15 years to be eligible for retirement.

For some time I have been wondering if I should consider getting a 15-year mortgage, as I do not want to be burdened with a mortgage in addition to condominium fees.

Assessing how and when to consider such a change is confusing to me. I would appreciate your advice on the advantages and disadvantages of the 15-year mortgage compared with the 30-year mortgage.

Answer. You have asked two very important questions. One deals with comparison between a 30-year loan and a 15-year loan, but the second one — equally important — goes to the question of when and whether to refinance.

Let’s take the refinancing question first. You indicate that you have an 6.25 percent loan. To switch to either a 15-year or 30-year new loan means you will have to refinance. Before you even consider switching mortgage loans, go out and take a look at the interest rates in the marketplace.

Interest rates are about as low as anyone can remember. It certainly would make sense for you to shed the 6.25 percent loan and get a new loan for a rate that might be as low as 4 percent.

But do not forget that you will have to pay closing costs for your new mortgage, although some lenders currently advertise “no closing costs”. Be ware of getting anything for free; always shop around.

Thus, under current market conditions, I believe you should seriously consider refinancing. The general rule of thumb used to be that until rates come down at least two full percentage points below your current mortgage, it does not make sense to refinance. This rule of thumb is, in my opinion, no longer applicable. When you do the numbers, you will see a dramatic saving to you — even if you take into consideration all of the closing costs associated with a refinance loan.

You also asked about the advantages and disadvantages of a 15-year loan compared with a 30-year loan.

I must state at the outset I am biased against the 15-year loan. While there have been many commentators who have praised what they perceived to be the benefits of a 15-year mortgage, in my opinion, such a mortgage rarely makes sense for the average homeowner.

Let’s look at some examples. Consider a $300,000 loan to be amortized on a 30-year basis compared with a 15-year basis. While there are lenders who will give you a lower interest rate if you take a 15-year loan rather than a 30-year loan, for comparison purposes, let us assume the 30 year rate will be 4 percent while the 15 year rate will be 3.5 percent.

To amortize the loan over 15 years, your monthly payment of principal and interest is $214.5. On a 30-year basis, the principal and interest is $143.40 There is a $71 cash savings per month on a 30-year loan. On a yearly basis, this is a savings to you of $853.20.

Keep in mind that the interest deductions for tax purposes will, by and large, be the same for the first few years, but as your principal balance goes down faster with the 15-year amortization, accordingly your interest payments will also be smaller.

While no one can guarantee at this early stage in the Trump Administration what Congress will do with taxes, it seems fairly clear that the Federal Reserve Board will in fact raise the tax rate. This means that the home mortgage deduction will also be higher, thereby giving you additional benefits for a 30-year loan.

Thus, the major benefit of the 15-year loan is that you will save a lot of interest over the life of your mortgage. Additionally, you are also putting more dollars toward principal, thereby reducing your mortgage balance and building up your equity.

Equity is the difference between the market value of your house and the mortgage or mortgages that you owe. In good real estate market conditions, property values increase on a yearly basis as much as 10 to 15 percent. Even in bad times, we all hope that property values will at least keep up with inflation, although obviously there will be dips and decreases in the market values on a periodic basis.

But assuming we anticipate growth over the next decade, the equity in your house will grow regardless of the amount of your mortgage. This equity is “dead equity” and, in my opinion, you might as well be taking that extra money and burying it in your backyard. In effect, this is my analogy of the 15-year mortgage.

I would rather take the extra money I pay each year and invest it somewhere. I could put it in a pension plan, I could invest it in the stock market, I could give it to my children or I could spend it on a vacation with my family.

After all, what will you do with your house 15 years from now when your mortgage is paid in full? I know of too many people who are currently house rich and cash poor. When you are in retirement, you may not keep that condominium unit, or if you do, you want to make sure you also have some sort of nest egg to be able to enjoy your retirement years. If you have put all of your money into your house, and then you retire, you may not be in the financial position to tap into that equity at that later date.

Accordingly, in my opinion, take the extra money you pay a year and invest it in a conservative, long-term investment for the next 15 years. Even without any computation for interest, this will grow in the next 15 years. That will be the start of this important nest egg for the rainy day.

There is one other important consideration that should be addressed. Generally speaking, most mortgage loans do not contain a prepayment penalty. This means you can pay your loan — in whole or in part — as you see fit, and when you make that decision. If you take a 30-year loan, you always have the right — but not the obligation — to make additional payments each and every month so as to reduce your principal balance. Indeed, if you want, you could make a $214.50 payment each month (the amount of a 15 year loan) and use it to reduce your mortgage, if you have no other investment opportunities.

But the 15-year loan obligates you legally to make the higher monthly payment.

In my opinion, you get the benefits — but not the detriments — of the 15-year loan by opting to refinance on a 30-year basis. Some day in the future savings accounts may be paying a higher rate of return. You may want to consider investing that extra money in a savings account, rather than being obligated, each and every month, to make the 15-year monthly mortgage payments.

However, the advice I give is obviously general. You are advised to discuss your specific needs, plans and tax considerations with your own advisers.