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Downsizing Your Possessions: What to Do With Stuff the Kids Don’t Want

The time has come. Like many older adults, you’ve made the difficult and sometimes liberating decision of downsizing your possessions. You may think it’s smooth sailing from here. Just pack up your stuff, pass it off to the kids, and move on to the simple life in your new home. Right?

Not so fast. If you’re thinking that Susie will want Aunt Millie’s china and silver and that Tommy and his wife will be thrilled to trade their IKEA furniture for all your big heavy antiques, well, think again. The truth is, your kids probably don’t want your stuff. Or Aunt Millie’s. And your grandkids? Sorry, not a chance.

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downsizing posessions

Your Children Don’t Want More Stuff

“These are different times and people have more minimalist lifestyles these days,” says Marianne Gariti, senior move manager and owner of Moving Forward, a service that helps seniors with all aspects of moving. “One of the first things I do with my senior clients is warning them about trying to give things to their children,” she says, laughing. “It doesn’t always work out.”

We used to hear stories of adult children fighting over possessions when their parents passed away, but that isn’t the case as much these days. People don’t live in the same place for 50 years the way our parents often did.

“Young people move more,” Gariti says, “and they don’t want to take in more stuff than they can’t use.” Basically, what you probably hoped for 30 years ago has finally come true: Your once-messy teenagers have grown up to be adults who don’t like clutter! And millennial and Gen X children just don’t pull out the “good china” anymore.

sell your stuff

What to Do With It All?

As a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), Gariti has learned a thing or two about downsizing your possessions. NASMM helps seniors plan and finish their move from the initial planning to when the last picture is hung.

Her advice? If your kids don’t want your stuff any more than you do, don’t despair! Here are some alternative suggestions for downsizing seniors.

  1. Toss. This is the easiest. No matter how attached you once were, there will certainly be items that you recognize right away as junk! Broken items. Eight-track tapes. Photos of your ex. Go ahead – toss ‘em.
  2. Sell. The next step is to identify things that you no longer want that might be worth something to someone else. Check with a professional (such as a reputable antique dealer, jeweler, or consignment shop) to determine if you have anything of value. If you’re working with a NASMM move manager, they’ll handle this process for you. But the basic idea is this: Sometimes it’s easier to get rid of something when you feel that someone else values it, too. And the money doesn’t hurt!
  3. Donate. This may sound like a last resort – and for some people it is – but it shouldn’t be. Why put something in storage, hoping your kids will change their minds if someone else can use it? “We’ve found that seniors get a lot of satisfaction seeing their excess items go to people who can use them right away,” says Gariti. “Knowing they’ll be used and appreciated somehow makes it much easier to let the stuff go.” Try it, we think you’ll be happy you did.

Some nationally known organizations that gladly accept donations include Habitat for Humanity, St. Vincent de Paul, and Goodwill. Try your local hospice or church thrift shop or a senior center loan closet. Got old pet items like food bowls and crates or towels and blankets? Why not donate them to the Humane Society or a pet rescue organization? Schools, churches, and nonprofits will often accept computers and office supplies, too.


What Your Kids Might Actually Want

Still, want the kids to have something? Ask them what they’d like to have, suggests Gariti. The answer might surprise you. “They may want something smaller,” she says. “Something more personal or meaningful to them.” Instead of all of mom’s jewelry, they may want a few special pieces. Pictures, a clock, or a small table are common choices. Space won’t be an issue, and these possessions might hold a special memory for them.

“The most important thing to understand when downsizing is that things that seem important often feel that way because of the personal meaning attached to them,” says Gariti. “It’s the memory that we associate with an item that makes it important – not the item itself.”

Your turn: How did you downsize? What did you do with stuff your kids didn’t want? What did your children want? Share your story in the comments below!

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  • Sue Sveum

    About :

    After helping her own parents as they aged, Sue began working with other seniors, and now shares what she learned in her blogs for seniors and their families. She currently writes about seniors and healthcare for several websites but her past includes diverse topics ranging from dogs to weddings to ghosts. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and Golden retriever, Wrigley.


    1. Dpopcorn says:

      As a widow with a house and garage full of stuff I soon grew tired of keeping it all up. I decided to move from Florida to California where my children live. One big mistake do not ship stuff you will never use. Decide how big your next home will be. I chose a 1 bedroom, 1 bath apt. I had to rent 2 garages to store the excess. Needless to say it cost me a great sum of money for a costly mistake. Get rid of stuff if you are in your late years. Your kids will never miss it.

    2. I have been in this process for more than 5 years, paying outrageous storage fees. I’m scared to even go there and when I do, I just stand there frozen. I don’t have the strength to move all those boxes. It takes a lot of work & even though I have to do the piles”(toss, keep, sell, donate) it’s a major job! I don’t even know how to start: hire a man to help me? Who? Should I have trusted ppl w me too? Where should I put it? Should I just sort & make the
      piles first? I promised last year was the year to let go of it and here I am… still figuring it out. Thanks for any input.

    3. Karen Bray says:

      I am finding the usual places to make donations do not take things unless they are in perfect condition. Is a shame we are making the landfill problem worse. Just because we have a big country doesn’t mean we can fill it with trash. Very sad.

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