Real Estate: Helping Your Parents Downsize

Three years ago, I took on the task of helping my mother-in-law move from her condo in Morristown, NJ to an independent living apartment in another NJ town. Twenty-three years ago, she and my father-in-law had sold their original house in Morristown and moved into a way-too-big condo in another town. But after my father-in-law passed away, my mother-in-law was left with the big condo in a town she didn’t really like. We convinced her to move back to Morristown into a smaller condo (which was probably still too big), but she liked and felt very attached to ALL of her things. This was the second downsize. I spent the better part of a week helping her scale back her belongings and decide what she really needed / wanted, and donate or give away the rest. At the time, my family lived in a bigger house in Newton and there were a few pieces of hers I liked, so my MIL decided to ship those to me.

“The TRUCK arrived one Sunday morning with the few pieces I liked…PLUS the rest of the stuff my MIL thought we should have! Yikes!”

Everything was smooth sailing at the new place in NJ until my then-86-year-old MIL took a few falls. It was time to move out of the condo and into independent living. After much cajoling, she settled on a 2-bedroom apartment that was definitely not big enough for all of her possessions. Off to NJ I went to help with this downsize. I arrived to find that she had emptied the contents of the cabinets, credenzas and dressers and placed them on the dining room and kitchen tables and every other flat surface in the house.

The first day there was very little sorting because most of it was a trip down memory lane (we got this on a trip to England, we bought this in China…). The second day we had arranged for antique dealers, resellers and smaller stores to come in to see if her items were salable. I tried to warn her that much of her valuables were not so valuable because no one was buying this stuff anymore. All of the dealers wanted the sterling silver, NO ONE wanted the silver plate, china, or crystal. She had an assortment of mid-century items that she deemed as “not much” but the dealers paid handsomely for them. After that, I looked around and realized we hadn’t gotten rid of much. I took photos and sent them to my kids and other family members, but we had very little interest. Finally, we called a consignment store and my MIL gave much of it away and then donated the rest to a local charity.

What was left had special meaning to her and I quickly realized I was traveling back to Newton with her mother’s china, silver, candlesticks, and antique collection box filled with trinkets. Since we had downsized, I really didn’t have the room for the influx of goodies. Hence, a small storage unit.

If you think your grown children will gladly accept these items, think again. I debated giving my niece my mother’s silver for her wedding shower – it was anyone’s guess if she’d like it. Well, I was flabbergasted when she cried (happily) upon opening the gift. However, she still doesn’t want my mother’s china that my sister has moved twice.

The good news is that I have found and vetted extremely qualified people to help facilitate your parents move:

  • Laurie Nordman at Next Stage Associates is fantastic! She has the patience of a saint and a soothing way with the older set. She will help you sort through, and think through, decisions about all that Stuff in basements, attics and nooks. She’s  an integral part of your family’s team in finding the best ways to downsize for the next move.
  • Joan Roover, owner of A Thoughtful Move is a miracle worker. Joan has a crew that gets your house ready for a sale as well; she has organizers, painters, handymen, and cleanup crew, etc. When she tells me a house is ready for photography, it is! Joan will contract with the mover and be on site the day of move to facilitate, thus, you don’t even have to be there.
  • I have also used and recommended Everything but the House. EBTH is an online auction house for your unwanted items; furniture, art, jewelry, collectibles, even cars. They will organize, catalog, photograph, and list your items on their site for a week. All items start at $0.00, although be advised, most of the action takes place on the last day of the auction.

My best advice when selling a home you/your family has lived in for a long time and don’t have the bandwidth to handle, is to talk to one of the people on this list, above. If you’re selling your parents’ things, prepare them or yourself for disappointment. For the first time in history, two generations are downsizing simultaneously – boomers and their parents. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a future for the possessions of our parents’ generation. It’s a changed world.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m happy to discuss the aforementioned people or the sale of a home with you or your parents.


This guest post contributed by:

Margaret Szerlip


Email: Mobile:  617.921.6860

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Author: Margaret Szerlip

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