Back to top

Downsizing: Talking Points for Parents and Adult Children

adults talking in kitchen about downsizing into senior apartments

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series on Downsizing

Planning to make the downsizing announcement in 2018? Retirees and empty nesters considering retirement communities, senior apartments or condominium living, be warned: dropping the bomb about selling the family home may result in some slack-jawed stares around the brunch table. 

After hearing the news of their parents’ plans to downsize, adult children of younger empty nesters may feel as if their childhood memories—as well as their stuff—are being kicked to the curb. Parents preparing to move to 55+ senior apartments or purchasing a condo can help their adult children see their point of view. Preparing for this conversation may help adult children come around more easily. And, it can represent the starting point of the downsizing process, which is often traumatic for both older adults and their children, for a myriad of reasons.

Luckily, there are people and organizations in Central Ohio that can help make downsizing a much easier process. We spoke with a couple of them during Holiday 2017-2018, and each shared their experiences helping older adults and their families cope with the downsizing process. Chris Davis of Auction Ohio has been holding online and in-home auctions for 10 years in Central Ohio and beyond. Libby Patrick of One More You Transitions began helping people downsize as a part-time job in addition to her career as a social worker. Both are passionate about what they do, and both stress that every family approaches downsizing differently.          

Somewhere along Patrick’s 25-year career in social work, she began to help people organize for a move, and to downsize, or rightsize, as she termed it. Her passion for helping people has transitioned into a 25-year career in helping people rightsize their space and possessions, and to help people make that transition more easily. In 2015, encouraged by her husband, she launched One More You Transitions, LLC, specializing in helping people age 55 and older with the “rightsizing” phase of life.

“About ten years ago I sold most all of my possessions and moved to Florida,” said Chris Davis of Auction Ohio. Driving down the road with the two suitcases I had to my name felt great, very free. I felt as if I was not owned by my belongings.” Davis is an auctioneer and owner of Auction Ohio. Over ten years, he has helped thousands of householders downsize, and commented that everyone downsizing is different—coming from different places with a range of emotions regarding their home and belongings.

So, the subject of downsizing can be a difficult topic for both generations. This two-part blog will discuss some helpful ideas from the experts. This first article discusses tips for parents in helping their adult children understand their need to be free from the costs and maintenance issues of the family home. Increasingly, rightsized, accessible accommodations such as senior apartments and even 55+ active adult retirement communities provide the optimal lifestyle that active empty nesters crave. 

The second will discuss the services that are available for those who do not want to tackle downsizing as a DIY project, or those who just simply have too much stuff to manage downsizing on their own.

Parents: Explain Your POV from a Practical Standpoint

Let the kids know it’s difficult for you, too, but it does offer freedom to choose accommodations like senior apartments that are a much better fit for your lifestyle.

Tell the kids you’re rightsizing, not downsizing to get a place that’s designed to meet your physical and financial needs. Libby Patrick of One More You Transitions began to use the term rightsizing to describe the transition from a large family home to a space that is more appropriate for an older adult’s needs. She says, “I don’t focus on getting rid of your stuff. It is about the person—the client; the family. I want to help people understand the situation and help them cope with the sadness and anxiety that comes with giving up lifelong possessions.” Patrick’s company tagline is “Breaking up with stuff is hard to do.” 

“Since Dad had his double knee replacement, he’s had trouble tackling the trip from the basement workshop to the bedroom. We’d love to have an open floorplan with Universal Design features and maintenance-free living.”

“Demand for homes is so strong right now, we have better things to do with our time than take care of the yard, and we want to take advantage of the seller’s market.”   

“Home maintenance and utility costs are high, and we find ourselves using less of the house. We have found some wonderful luxury apartments that we’re interested in that we’d love to show you.”

Include the Kids to be Hands-On in the Downsizing Process

Most adult children of empty nesters will want to be part of the purge. What could be more fun than resurrecting Malibu Barbie and Stretch Armstrong from their cardboard crypts in the basement? While some may not want any of the family furniture, silverware or china, they may want to share these prized mementos of their childhood with their own kids, if just for a laugh. And if it’s the right toy, it may just fetch a pretty penny at auction. Chris Davis of Auction Ohio notes that the value of collectibles is very cyclical, and the children of the 1980s are now very nostalgic for items they remember from their childhoods. Davis said Auction Ohio recently sold a Hasbro® Transformers™ figure, new and unopened in the box, for $3,300. “Made in China in 1988,” Davis laughed. “Memories drive the market. A comic book collection we auctioned had a couple of comic books that went for $4,100 and $4,500.”

Davis added, however, “I always tell people, ‘Don’t collect things because you think they are going to be valuable someday.’ Collect because those things bring you pleasure.”

Take the kids to see the senior apartments, 55+ retirement community or condominium that you’ve chosen. They will have to agree that garden apartments with attached garages and open floor plans beat a three-floor single-family home for accessibility, maintenance-free living and utility cost savings. 

During the downsizing conversation, parents should encourage their adult children to claim items they would like to keep for themselves. Making the selection process a celebratory family get-together can help adult children to feel better about saying goodbye to their childhood home.

Manage Your Expectations and Find Time to Share

Getting rid of your things can be a double disappointment for parents who are downsizing. Many are disappointed in the value of their belongings at auction, and further, the fact that their children do not want their sterling silverware or Hummel figurines. But many families realize that when they do the sorting together, the most cherished items are the ones that tell the story of the family’s history, and those, however insignificant in terms of resale, are priceless. This is what downsizing together can teach a family. In downsizing my aunt’s three-story Victorian home, we came across an old box of photographs chronicling her and my 90-year old mother’s college years. My brother and I felt as if we’d hit the lottery.

In a 2014 Huffington Post interview, the authors of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home   discuss the value of cherishing items as important parts of your family’s story, even as you’re giving them away. Authors Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand discuss the dos and don’ts of downsizing right down to the correct way to dispose of unwanted household items (try to recycle or upcycle most). 

Author Linda Hetzer says that downsizing can bring families together, and make them aware of their own history. “For some, the process of downsizing aids the sharing of family stories,” says Hetzer. “One of the most precious things children can inherit is a strong sense of family history. The details of your family history are as much a gift, if not more so, than the physical items.” 

So while the children of empty nesters may not want those Hummel figurines that have been in the family for generations, what we do want, and what’s most important, is the story of our family. To be continued….

Chris Davis has been with Auction Ohio for 10 years. Auction Ohio and its affiliates can provide online and in-home auctions throughout Central Ohio and beyond. 

Libby Patrick of One More You Transitions does the majority of her work with clients in Central Ohio, and she has upcoming transition support seminars in Newark, New Albany and Zanesville Ohio on downsizing, rightsizing, or staying where you are.