Downsizing can be a huge point of contention for seniors who are entering new chapters of their lives. Whether they’re moving from a large family house into a smaller, more suitable home or taking up residence in an independent living community, change often requires them to decluttering, reexamining, and minimizing belongings. Over the years, it’s easy to accumulate a lot of stuff—from high school report cards and baby clothes to DVDs, dishes, and tools. At the time, everything seems important to keep, but in reality, most of these items go unused and untouched for decades. When helping an older loved one declutter, it’s important to be patient and empathetic but still guide with a firm hand. Put yourselves in their shoes and imagine how they might be feeling, but always keep sight of the task at hand. In the end, your loved one will benefit from having fewer things to burden them.

Here are five tips to remember when helping a loved one declutter:

1. Give Time, Space, and Grace

The most important thing when helping a loved one declutter is to guide with a firm but gentle hand. Providing time, space, and grace are all essential to a positive experience for the both of you. If your loved one seems to become agitated or emotional at any point during the process, it’s important to give them time to relive the memories and emotions that may come flooding in. Give them space to sit with their emotions and grace to revisit the item on their own time. The last thing you want is for your loved one to feel rushed or forced into parting with their belongings before they’re ready.

2. Put Everything in a Place

When there are boxes and boxes of spare items tucked away into a garage or attic, you know it’s time to downsize. Putting household items into their proper place within a home—dishes in kitchen cabinets, coats in a closet, books on a shelf, etc.—can help your loved one see how much excess they have in their lives that they could stand to part with. A junk drawer, for example, often becomes that catch-all place where we throw things we don’t know what to do with, which means that we often don’t need to be keeping those items at all.

3. Tackle One Space at a Time

Decluttering an entire home with decades and decades of history and items can be a daunting task. Some of the things you’ll be revisiting may even be passed down from previous generations, so now you’re organizing more than just one lifetime of stuff. Keep the process from being entirely overwhelming by tackling one room or space at a time. Make a schedule to address each room of the house over a period of a few days or even a week. This way you can ensure that every area of the home is addressed properly but it doesn’t feel like everything has to happen all at once.

4. Organize Everything into Piles

Remind your loved one that not everything they don’t keep will go in the trash. Create piles for things to donate, give away to loved ones, keep, and throw out. Knowing that a sweater that no longer fits will go to someone who needs it to keep warm or an heirloom piece of jewelry will be cherished by a granddaughter can make parting with belongings much easier and even bring some joy to the process.

5. Do the 90-Day Test

If your loved one is having a hard time parting with items that they likely won’t need anymore, whether it’s a lawnmower, vintage casserole dish, or Christmas décor, challenge them to do the 90-day test. In addition to their keep, throw away, donate, and give away piles, create a fifth category for the 90-day test. After 90 days, if they haven’t touched these items, they’ll know that they no longer need them and should feel better about sorting them into the pile where they belong.

At St. Martin’s in the Pines, we seek to provide seniors with a comfortable home environment filled with compassionate care and a strong sense of community. Help your senior loved one experience the enthusiasm of everyday living by taking a tour of our campus today.