Home » Blog » The Gift Of Decluttering With Your Parents

The Gift Of Decluttering With Your Parents

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go through my parents’ house with my dad and declutter in preparation for downsizing. My mom had suffered a stroke and it had become clear that the many stairs in my parents’ 1916 home would be too much for her to navigate. I offered to help my dad get things ready as the job seemed overwhelming for him to do on his own. I was working full time and my kids were at various stages of middle and high school so it took a bit of maneuvering to find the time but we eventually settled into a rhythm. I would come over to the house for a couple of hours on the weekend and we would have one closet/room/cabinet as the target. We would empty it, go through the contents deciding what would come with them to the much-smaller new home, what I wanted to take or send to my brother in Iowa, what should be donated and what was trash/recycle. In the beginning my dad had a hard time making the decisions without my mom present but as we moved further into the project he got more comfortable with the process. When we were finished that day I would stop by the assisted living community where my mom was staying to share our progress, often bringing pictures, letters or other things we’d come across to share with her. That was really fun because the artifacts would often spark memories that she would share with me and I would leave with new insights about her life, my parents’ marriage and my childhood.

My mother passed away the following year. We were mostly finished decluttering the house by that point but it had taken many months to get through everything, even though their house was not cluttered and they had already downsized once. After the fog cleared from the initial loss my first thought was ‘I’m so glad I made the time’ to declutter with my dad. It was an opportunity to spend quality time with both of them in smaller chunks of time that didn’t feel emotionally draining. I heard some fantastic stories, got clear on what possessions should be prioritized as family heirlooms and felt the pleasure of being helpful as my dad reiterated his thanks every time he saw me. This would have been a completely different experience if my dad and I had done it after she died. I can feel the weight of that sentence even as I’m writing the words. I’m so grateful that I felt compelled to write about it and encourage others who have aging parents/relatives to take the same approach and applying the following three tactics.

One of the many photos we uncovered of my parents as high school sweethearts in 1958

do it in small chunks

It’s so much less intimidating if you are only tackling small pieces at a time. It may be a single box or cabinet that takes an hour to go through. When your parents are still living and not in a hurry to move you have the luxury of time, so take it! When you remove the overwhelm by parsing out the areas to tackle it becomes more appetizing to your parents as well, many of whom are feeling their own complicated feelings about the process. Even if your parents live far away, take a slice of time when you visit to go through some things together – the smaller it is, the less it feels like work.

Even tackling a single box is forward progress, and you may uncover some great stories in the process

shift your mindset

Hard things become more attractive when you associate them with a positive experience.

Which sounds better:

  • ‘I have to go through my parents’ massive amounts of stuff’


  • ‘I get to spend some time with my parents and learn something new about them’

Both versions of reality are true but one sounds more appealing. If you are thinking about the latter version vs. the former it starts to feel like something you want to make time for.

The gift of time, take advantage of it while you have it – 2 of my kiddos with my mom

create a ritual

Add something both you and parents enjoy as part of the ritual of decluttering. Maybe it’s bringing takeout from a place you all enjoy, maybe it’s playing music that takes you back while you are tackling a chock-full closet. In my case it was the ritual of stopping by to see my mom and share what we had uncovered that day. It gave both of us so much pleasure and I that is what I started associating with the process each time I left for my parents’ house.

One day we found the prom dress and wrap my mom wore in this photo, I couldn’t wait to show her!

I recognize that not everyone would be set up for the same experience that I had. Parental relationships can be complicated and studded with minefields. Physical distance is an obstacle that can be challenging to overcome. Life is busy and schedules are packed. I get it. As we all get older there are fewer opportunities to hear the stories associated with the possessions and memories hidden in your parent’s homes. I am so grateful to have spent the time I did helping my dad when I could have easily told myself and him that I just didn’t have time. And a bonus: the heavy lifting that would have come later is now done and made lighter by the fact that it happened while my parents were still with us. I still miss my mother every day but my memories of my last year with her are heavily laced with the positive. If you have the same opportunity with your parents I hope you take it!

Similar Posts