Aging relative? Help downsize possessions using technology

August 04, 2011|Lynn Little

A trip home to visit family and friends is often a highlight of summer. However, these trips also can make us aware of some of the difficult aspects of aging.

Challenges arise when it becomes necessary for an older person to begin thinking of changing where they live. One of these challenges is how to de-clutter and downsize belongings.

Homes that contain generations of memorabilia can be overwhelming. Everyone has personal belongings such as wedding photographs, a baseball glove or a plate that contain meaning for them or for other family members. Paring down and transferring such items are often difficult decisions. The process of sorting is tedious, as well as draining.  

Planning ahead is one way to lessen the pain of downsizing. This allows the sorting and downsizing to be done with less stress. Better communication usually occurs when the sorting takes place over time and not all at once.  

One effective approach is focusing on one collection at a time. For example, tackle the photo collection. Today’s technology allows for consolidation and duplication of photographic images. Photographs and other images can be scanned and duplicated with comments about each image.

The use of technology is a way to get several generations involved. Imagine the joy of creating a CD or video of photographic images that are larger and clearer than the original. This approach to sorting decades of stuff encourages sharing and may help defuse potential conflicts. Furthermore, the owner gets to enjoy sharing memories with others.

There is also the potential for misunderstanding. One of the most successful ways to avoid such problems is to work extra hard on good communication among everyone. The key to successful communication is listening rather than talking, and clarifying anything that is unclear. If each person gets to choose something especially important to them, then negotiating about items of less importance may be more amenable.

When negotiation is not successful, a time-out period might be needed for the passion to cool so that an amenable agreement can be reached. The important thing to remember is that even the sorting process is creating lasting memories. It is the choice of all involved as to whether the memories include fun and family bonding or strife and discord. Communication and time are the keys to creating pleasant memories.

Visit “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate” at for a guide to passing on personal property.   

Decisions about personal belongings also known as non-titled property are often more challenging than decisions about titled property or financial wealth and might lead to family disagreements.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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