Tis the season for get-togethers with family! The first topic of conversation as you sit around that dining room table for what is sure to be a feast will be on…keeping the seniors in your family organized, right? Well, maybe not, but with dedicated family time these next two months, why not take a few minutes to talk about this subject with your older adult loved ones? Maybe you’ve been concerned about the ongoing safety of a parent or grandparent and think they need to consider downsizing? Or, possibly you’ve worried about getting their important papers organized and their treasured objects inventoried.   Your older adult loved ones have spent a lifetime building their legacy, so take a few minutes over the holidays to have a conversation about what their legacy means to them and what knowledge they want to impart to you.   Here are a few ideas to get you started down this path.


An Emotional Process

When discussing legacy organizing and downsizing with older adults, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a difficult subject for everyone to think about and talk about. Honor the fact that your family member may have significant feelings surrounding this topic, such as anticipatory grief, depression, anxiety, stress, fear of loss, and shame. It’s not uncommon for older adults to struggle with feelings of abandonment at this phase in life. All of these feelings can be compounded by fatigue, pain, and/or other medical conditions.


When organizing older adults, you’ll want to organize both their critical life documents as well as begin downsizing by inventorying important objects and dispersing less important objects. Let’s first discuss organizing critical life documents. This blog will provide a very brief overview of this topic. For more detailed information, check out our blog post, “Organizing Your Legacy.”


Organizing Life Documents

Below is a list of the life documents that you will want to gather. Once you’ve pulled this information together, think about how you want to best store, share, and maintain this data.


  • Notification List
  • Personal Data and Family Information
  • Medical Information
  • Housekeeping Details
  • Insurances and Licenses
  • Memberships and Subscriptions
  • Legal Documents
  • Military Service Documents
  • Financial Assets
  • Real and Personal Property
  • Memorial Instructions
  • Death Notice/Obituary


Dispersing Objects and Downsizing

Now, let’s move on to our second older adult organizing category – downsizing and dispersing objects. Remember, it can be emotionally draining to discuss this topic and help your loved one through this process. In order to ease this transition, try helping your loved one focus on protecting and sharing the items they love so the legacy lives on, while releasing the items that carry less emotional and real value.

If it’s helpful, remind your loved one that when dispersing items, they are giving items a “second life” in a new home. Additionally, help your loved one understand that giving away objects does not mean that they are giving up the memory of the object. It may also be helpful to focus on what the person is gaining versus giving up…a simpler way of life, peace of mind, and a safer/decluttered living space.


Overall, when dispersing items from the older adult’s home, you’ll want to consider what the individual wants to keep, gift, donate, and sell. Keep a detailed list of items that fall in each category. This can be time consuming, so work in small chunks of time and at the time of day that is best for the older adult.   Try to set some deadlines to work towards. Purging is challenging for everyone, not just older adults. Here are a few tips to make the process a little easier:


  • Keep only what the person uses and truly loves
  • Reframe attachments to items – avoid assigning human like traits to an inanimate object
  • Try not to physically touch every object
  • Create rules for elimination such as only keep clothes worn in past 12 months, books/magazines less than three months old, etc.
  • If you can’t make a decision, store a very selective group of items in a box for six months and see if they are used/wanted/needed during this time frame. If not, they are purged.


At times, as mentioned already, families focus more on what is being purged, then what remains. What is critical at this point, is to focus on the items that stay. Spend time as a family listening to your loved one tell the story behind important items. Understand the history, the meaning, and the emotion that transcends the physical object. This information could be lost forever if we don’t take the time to hear the story. This is the best way that the stories live on through generations. This is how we can truly honor our loved one and his/her legacy!


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