10 Secrets to Successfully Deal with Your Parents’ Clutter

Cleaning out your parents’ home can be a stressful task, especially if it’s full of decades of clutter. To make the process easier, here are 10 secrets to successfully deal with your parents’ clutter. These tips will help you efficiently and effectively organize, declutter, and dispose of the items in your parents’ home.

1.  Words Matter

What you say and how you say it can make a world of difference.

  • A difference in how the message is received.
  • A difference in the actions that are taken… or not taken as a result.

Such is the case in talking to your parents about the delicate, sometimes difficult subject of decluttering possessions that they’ve accumulated over a lifetime. Items you might describe as clutter aren’t clutter to them at all. In fact, they might view those items, lovingly, and something to be cherished.

If you would like to start a discussion with your parents about paring down their possessions, it’s important to use positive words that will inspire, encourage, and empower them to act. 

Here is a list of words you might use and not use in talking to your parents about decluttering their home.

Positive words to be used:

“Tidy up”



“Live with less”

“Less to manage”




Negative words NOT to be used:

“Throw away”





“Clean out”



2.  Attitude Matters

If you want to help your parents downsize and declutter their stuff, your attitude and your siblings’ attitude about the entire process from initial conversation to implementation, and to completion can make or break the decluttering process.

If you have a negative attitude that is a burden, “something you have to do,” or “something that annoys you,” because you have your own life and you basically have no time for this, that negativity will color the entire experience.

Conversely, if you have a positive attitude, one of truly wanting to help your parents who love you and have spent their lives caring for you, and that now the time has come for you to lovingly help them, then the experience they have and you have will be completely different.

Remind yourself to be loving and kind as it is not an easy step for them to take.

3.  Approach Matters

Start to notice that your parents’ home is becoming more and more cluttered and disorganized…

When the piles of mail, unpaid bills, important papers pile up and are being ignored, it’s probably time to broach the subject with your parents, by simply engaging them in a conversation that might sound like this:

“You’re getting a little older and we’re concerned about you.

We’d love to help you tidy up and get organized so it’s easier for you to find things and that you’re safe from tripping and falling. And so, you can make wise decisions about what you want to let go of, giveaway and donate.

You’ll have a lot less to manage and be able to enjoy your life more.”

The important thing is to make them feel that they are in control of their lives and of the process.

It’s also important to have this conversation to plant the seed sooner than later before crisis sets in.

4.  Respect Matters

Ask questions about their prized possessions. Have them tell you stories about why a particular piece of furniture, accessory, or photo means so much to them.

In addition to learning more about your family’s history, you’ll be showing your parents love and respect by finding out what’s most important to them.

Let them decide what’s important, what to keep, what to give away, donate, or let go of. 

When you treat your parents with respect, and when you treat their things with respect, you will garner their respect and trust in return.

Remember, just because something means nothing to you, it could hold many memories to them. When you build that trust, you can gently guide them to taking a picture of it or recording a story about it, so they can more comfortably let it go.

5.  Emotions Matter

Downsizing and decluttering is an emotional journey that takes time.

If you want to successfully help your parents, take time to:

  • Ask how they are feeling as you go through the process.
  • Get them to explain why they’re feeling that way.

Listen. Really listen.

You’ll be glad you did, especially after they’re gone and can no longer tell you those stories or share their feelings with you.

You will empower them and give them the strength to continue the downsizing and decluttering journey, knowing that they’ve been heard, really listened to, and supported. 

It will likely be an emotional journey for you as well because you are also revisiting memories, people, and places you’ve experienced with your parents.

6.  Why Decluttering and Downsizing Matters

  • As your parents age, as the big house is too big…
  • As things seem to keep piling up, and I ignored or not attended to regularly…
  • As your parents are less visit, play and cognitively able…

Safety and security become a primary issue and a reason for decluttering, downsizing, and simplifying their surroundings. By having less stuff, it’s not only physically empowering for them because they’re able to maneuver more easily, but it’s also more emotionally empowering, making it more peaceful, relaxing, and less stressful.

7.  Systems Matter

Knowing what systems and decluttering methods that work for you, your parents, your personalities and available time to declutter matters.


  • The Burst Method
  • The Category Method
  • The Room-by-room Method

These are just 3 examples of decluttering methods that I’ve outlined in my workbook.

By starting in small, manageable spaces, i.e., one shelf, one closet, one for the time, these decluttering methods will help you accomplish your goal, quicker and easier.

8.  Collaboration, Coordination, and Compromise Matter

In addition to the physical and emotional components of downsizing and decluttering your parents’ home, it will take collaboration, coordination, and compromise from all of you.

These three C’s helps pull everything and everyone together to make it happen.

In my own family, each of my siblings played a key role in decluttering our parents’ home which they lived in for over 30 years.

My sister is a techy so she helped digitize, important records, and my other sister is a doctor, so she helped make sure all of the medical records and prescriptions for an order.

My brother is a banker, so he oversaw all the fiduciary responsibilities and of course, my role as the “Downsizing Designer” was managing the project, the sorting, donating, and disposing of items from our parents’ home.

Each of us played a key role based on our individual strengths, but it did require collaboration, coordination, and compromise.

9.  Compassion Matters

Remember, this is a huge step and transition for your parents. Compassion matters.

Know that they are likely afraid.

If they grew up in the depression era, they had few possessions and they valued them. They might fear losing everything when they declutter, likely they are fearing losing their independence.

It’s not easy, to let go of things that illicit memories or things they value and our sentimental about.

Your parents are getting older. They realize they might have physical, or cognitive issues. Their energy level is probably not the same. They might be visually impaired so it’s hard for them to sort, organize, and physically manage the process.

Being aware of these limitations and their concerns is important and compassionate.

10. Tools to Help You Declutter Matter

For those of you who are wanting to successfully declutter and downsize your parents’ home or perhaps you’re in the midst of it right now, I’ve compiled a list of products that my family used. They were extremely helpful during that process.

They included:

  1. Photo stick that easily saved photos and records from their phone or computer.

2. Important document binder that holds all necessary, documents passwords, etc.

3. A digital photo frame that I still keep in my living room as a reminder of our family adventures.

4. Books I’ve read and reread that are both inspirational and tell you how to.

Each of these resources is available on Amazon.

I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small commission if you purchase from my link, but it does not impact the price that you will pay.

If you wish to receive this list, email me at [email protected]. Subject line: Products to Help Declutter Parents’ Home.

I hope this helps you succeed at decluttering and downsizing your parents’ home. As always, I welcome your comments and invite your questions. You’re always free to email me at [email protected].

Never miss an episode! Click the following link to like Rita’s Facebook page or subscribe to her Decluttering YouTube Channel. Check out our YouTube playlists if you want to learn more.

Follow me on social media for more updates:


Rita Wilkins Offers Lifestyle Design And Interior Design Services  

Do you want to learn more about downsizing and decluttering? You can also connect with me by following me on Facebook and LinkedIn. Would you like complimentary advice from the downsizing designer? My book Downsize Your Life, Upgrade Your Lifestyle: Secrets to More Time, Money, and Freedom is now available in paperbackaudio, and on Kindle! Get your copy soon. 

Next Post

Top 7 Colourful Kitchens For your Home - New For 2024 | Maxine Brady

Thu Sep 21 , 2023
Be inspired by these 7 colourful kitchens with these hot new trends all new for 2024. Long gone are the days of boring white kitchen units, now you can choose cabinets in all the colours of the rainbow. Picking which colourful kitchens to go for can be tricky. You’ll need […]

You May Like