How To Organize Your Parents: Part 2

Last week I had the privilege to speak in front of a group of about 150 Senior Citizens about the topic of downsizing. I veered away from the topic and talked about some really important things that may be happening in their lives. In part 2 of the series I am talking about taking the step of actually donating or purging of items and recording of memories.

Give with purpose

So how do you know what to donate and what should just go in the trash or given to family members? I always talk about the phrase “Give with Purpose”. Many of my clients are happy to donate their items if they know that they are going to be appreciated by the person that receives them. Find a charity that works with what your values and interests are. There are ways to make charitable donations to church organizations and certain thrift stores are run by organizations that beneift certain non-profits. When you know that you are benefiting a cause that you believe in, it is easier to part with your items.  

How to do this:

  • When getting rid of items, think about the good that they are going to do in someone else’s life.
  • Many things do not have value like you thought they may have.
    • Contact a local collector of antiques and see if anything has value
  • Try to think outside of the box when making donations. Think about your state or local heritage center or museum.

Record your memories

To me the most valued thing is not actually posessions but rather memories. I want to know who the people are in the picture. I think it is nice to know that the pony you had as a child was named “Paint” and you got him as a gift when you turned 6. Finding out that your mom went picking chock cherries to make jelly in a certain pan every year is a fun thing to know.

How to do this:

  • Take a video camera and set it up on a tripod and sit and ask questions. Most people love to talk about themselves and you may be surprised what you learn.
  • To give you some talking points, go through a stack of photos and talk about the people in the pictures.
  • I have set out photos at a family reunion with a sheet of paper by each photo and had people write down what they remembered about the photos. That is where we found out that what my cousin thought was a picture of her dad was actually a picture of my dad.
  • Maybe other family members have the childhood photos. Have a tech savy family member scan them all in and put them on an external hard drive and give an external hard drive to each member of the family. This is a great way to preserve those memories for everyone to enjoy.

Decide what is of value to you now and let your thoughts be known

Take the time now to let your family know what is of value either finanically or sentimentally. You may need to have the conversations that are uncomfortable. If you are the parent, communicate it with your children what you find value in. If you are the child and you have some love of an object, let your parent know in a kind way.

How to do this:

  • You can work with your estate attorney to list certain items in your will.
  • My grandmother hand wrote on masking tape on the back of items who she wished them to go to. The family respected her wishes and it worked. This is a good example of how things can work out.
  • A bad example is the aunt who visits from out of town and puts her name on everything. That is showing greed and not love or concern for other members of the family.

 Make decisions now while you are in good health.

Having dignity and being in a good place mentally is such an important piece when aging. Make the decisions now while everyone is in good health. Nothing is worse than having an emergency happen and having no plan in place. Make that plan and stay in control and make sure that wishes are honored.

How to do this:

  • Make the decisions when body, mind and spirit are in the right place. Everyone should have a plan in place, even those under the age of 50.
  • If a health emergency happens and a home needs to be sold in order to go to live in a retirement community, you do not want the task of getting the house ready to go on the market and sort through everything in a limited time frame. Take the time now to start going through everything and deciding what should stay and what should go. Begin the process of decluttering. Take one area of the home at a time and apply the organizing principals that I have been blogging about. Do you need help? Did you know that there are professional organizers who work specifically with aging services?
  • If something were to happen to you, would your children or family know what is of value to you and what is not? Would they know that the china cup saying made in “Prussia” was the one your grandmother received on her wedding day?
  • Would they even know who is in photos? Take the time to get that information recorded in some fashion be it by video or by writing about the photos.
  • Don’t just assume that if you told Susy that she can have something that Betsy isn’t going to contest it. Write it down or better yet, give the items to the people who you want now so that they can start to enjoy them.

Join me for the final piece tomorrow where I will be discussing how to organize the important papers of our lives.

 To Joyful, Simplified Living,

MS. Simplicity

MS. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger operates her business as I Did it with MS. Simplicity. She is a Professional Organizer based out of Fargo, ND and her website can be found at . Need to contact MS. Simplicity privately, you can email her at For daily organizing tips find the MS. Simplicity fan page here.

If you try any of my suggestions, I would love to hear from you. It helps me to understand what my readers want me to write about and what they think is a waste of their time….thanks for taking the time to help me out