Senior downsizing: giving away mementos

As you downsize your parents’ living arrangements, deciding what items are given to which family members is a daunting task. Some families have traditions of passing certain items down to the daughters or sons of the family. For example, a mother may pass her engagement ring to her eldest son to use when he gets engaged. The older daughter might get the silver service and a younger daughter will get the China. A father may pass along his watch to his son. These are difficult decisions, especially if there are many children and many items. It is also very difficult when there is only one child or out of town siblings which can make the experience extremely overwhelming.

In a perfect world, parents thoughtfully decide ahead of time who will get what and preferably record it in a document for all to see. Some families use the sticker method – they call the family together and each person takes turns deciding what they like and a sticker with their name goes on the bottom of whatever they’re selecting. In other families, there may be strained relationships and/or discomfort in discussing matters pertaining to death, so there is no plan in place.

As you plan to transition your parents into a smaller residence, you can give some of the excess belongings away now. Antiques, furniture, electronics and more can be divvied up among the kids and grandkids. If there is a favorite piece of furniture that will not fit comfortably into the smaller home, you can ask family members if anyone is interested in that item or directly offer it to someone.

A sturdy piece of furniture can become a precious family heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation. Jewelry can be handed down and treasured forever. Sometimes several pieces of jewelry can be re-designed into one piece to memorialize the person. And, it is not a crime to sell certain pieces of jewelry that no one really likes or would even wear.

While some objects, especially jewelry, have great monetary value, there are other items that can be just as beloved. Photo albums, knick-knacks, recipe files or a favorite storybook can have great sentimental value. Passing along great memories will give children, grandchildren or other family members a lifelong reminder of their older relative.

Sometimes the volume of memorabilia makes it impossible to decide what to do and many frustrated children end up tossing it all or worse, boxing it up and letting it “sit and rot” until the next generation tosses it. Consider having the photos, recipes and letters scanned. There are numerous services that will scan for you – either in town or mail away.

Most assisted living or small condos do not have the storage space a house has. There are safety issues at hand when seniors move into a smaller space with too many pieces of furniture or knick-knacks. Tripping on clustered items is an all too common occurrence for those who don’t take the time and thought to effectively downsize. Adult children who live out of town or have their own overwhelm going on, will often times contact a professional organizer to assist in the transition to a smaller place.

Change can be difficult but with proper planning and outside resources, the move can be a time to recall fond memories, learn about the old days and really identify what is most valuable and worthy of being handed down and loved for generations to come.

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