Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on 9-11. Volunteer today


Most Popular


The Big Move

The Downsizing Marathon

Packing up the family heirlooms lets everyone involved relive great memories.

When I was a girl, I had a yellow Easter dress with a matching parasol purse. Hand-me-downs were a way of life for us, so it was exquisitely special to have a dress that was all mine from the time it was new. I wanted that dress to remain mine—forever. I would squeeze myself into it like a sausage into its casing while proclaiming that it still fit, hoping to avoid the dreaded act of passing my favorite along to my younger cousin. That's a bit how The Big Move has felt—as if we were trying to squeeze all my parents' treasures from a large, four-bedroom house into a two-bedroom apartment. I think my parents really thought they'd be in their house "forever," just the way I had felt about my dress.

The decision to move and the process of choosing my parent's new home were physically and emotionally exhausting for all of us. In hindsight, however, they were nothing compared to the downsizing process. There were myriad decisions to make, including sorting through a lifetime of precious keepsakes from my parents' travels around the world, clothing, antiques, family heirlooms, furniture, and books. It was a daunting task—overwhelming to me (and if I felt that way, you can imagine how my parents felt about it). Just contemplating the need to part with a lifetime of acquisitions was exhausting for my parents, and I wanted to spare them as much of the strain as possible.

To make matters more intense, other responsibilities had forced me to delay my arrival in Arizona to the week before moving day. A downsizing marathon in a week? Crazy? Yes, indeed.

What Happens to the House?

Determining the fate of the house was crucial. That decision would, in part, determine the time line and flexibility in packing and moving. It's not a great time to sell a house in Phoenix right now, and I've wanted to be near my parents to support them in the coming years. So I've decided to try cross-country living for a while.

I will have a base in my parents' home and will travel back to Washington, D.C., as needed. For many years, I have lived in Washington and traveled quite frequently to Phoenix. I want to help my parents with this transition, to ensure they receive quality care and support, and to spend as much time with them as possible during, as my dad has jokingly referred to it, their "golden years."

What Goes and What Stays?

Many families going through The Big Move hire consultants to help with sorting. It's difficult to part with that favorite set of dishes or item of clothing, and even with mementos that may not look like much but have sentimental value. Sometimes an objective person rather than a family member makes the process faster and easier.

However, because I am a glutton for punishment and like to organize, I undertook this process mostly by myself, as my sister's time during that week was eaten up with other responsibilities. This was a money-saver but also a time-consumer. While the abbreviated time frame made the process stressful, I had worked with my parents bit-by-bit on organizing and weeding-out projects for several years. I was exceedingly grateful I had initiated those projects, as we had less work to do in the home stretch.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.



National and state fact sheets listing services, programs,  benefits, laws and policies for grandparents raising children. Read

GrandFamilies Guide

Information, tips and tools for grandparents raising grandchildren. Read


Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Carrabba's Italian Grill Chicken Plate, Member Benefits

Members save 15% on lunch and dinner every day at Carrabba's Italian Grill.

Member Benefit AARP Regal 2

Members can save $3 on any size popcorn and soft drink combo at Regal Cinemas.

membership ancestry

Members save 30% on  a one-year subscription to

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Being Social


Wisdom Circle

Join our circle to ask for — or give — advice on topics such as love, friendship, grief, parenting and grandparenting. Discuss

Grandparenting: Joys & Challenges

There are many joys from being a grandparent, so let's celebrate them together! Discuss

Raising Grandchildren

Grandparent caring for grandkids share tips and discuss challenges, solutions and triumphs along the way. Join