When my mom and dad finally decided to prepare for a future that might not include the traditional family home, our lives became embroiled in a major emotional ordeal.

Mom and Dad were starting to consider senior living options and wanted to ready themselves. They had lived in the same home for more than 30 years. The accumulation of household items was overwhelming — much more than imagined.

All too often, the move to a senior living community is predicated by a health crisis or the loss of a spouse — unexpected outcomes. Rather than being forced by circumstance, my folks wanted to be prepared and move by choice. My brother and I offered to help them lighten the load.

We are all guilty: We see something we like, buy it and bring it home. Rather than dispose of items no longer useful, we store them. It’s called the “rainy day” syndrome.

Over the years, the net accumulation can be astounding. Whether it’s a new kitchen appliance, an electronic gadget, a decorative art piece, a book or whatever, it all adds up.

One suggestion I’ve heard: Every time you bring a new item into your home, dispose of two. This is a great idea; we just don’t do it.

Being spring, this is when we traditionally do our deep-cleaning. If you are aging and still in your traditional family home, maybe it’s also time to start “de-accumulating.”

Lightening the load

My brother and I had decided to go all-out. Because of the breadth of the job, this may not have been the wisest decision. What we thought we could tackle in a couple days took a week. And then not done, we had to go back to our real jobs.

Three pickup loads to the dump. Rows and rows of boxes piled 6 feet high on the front porch. The boxes were picked up by a social-services organization and sold to thrift shops. Old TVs, an old computer and stacks of magazines were recycled. We even disposed of a working refrigerator that was in the garage. (You may qualify for the free refrigerator haul–away service and $30 rebate if you are a Seattle City Light customer; call 206-233-2653 or go to their website: www.seattle.gov/light/conserve/rrfaq.)

Dad had tools he no longer used. Mom had linens, clothes and keepsakes. Tears were shed as we went through family papers and photos. A niece volunteered to scan our family photos into a computer for storage. We said goodbye to “heirlooms” that at one time had meant much. Selected mementos were given to family members.

What did we accomplish? We made significant headway in lightening the accumulated load. Mom and Dad were no longer tied to an overwhelming quantity of stuff. Our parents had a newfound feeling of independence and were more able to seriously consider senior living options.

As is often the case, for our family circumstances did not go as planned. Before moving from the family home, Dad passed away. Nonetheless, we were glad we had removed the major portion of their accumulation and had done it with Mom and Dad’s participation.

Shortly after Dad passed, Mom chose to downsize. From both a work and an emotional aspect, the moving process had become much simpler than it would have been.

Resources

Seattle has a “green” conscientious-ness. Most household items can be conveniently reclaimed, recycled and reused.

Dispose of electronic items at such places as Total Reclaim on Sixth Avenue South, where all kinds of electronic devices (computers, printers, TVs, stereos, etc.) are reclaimed in an environmentally responsible manner.

Useable household items, clothes and furniture can be donated and sold through thrift shops run by Goodwill, The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, Value Village, Life Long Thrift Store and many other social-services organizations.

If you’d like to receive cash for items, try the numerous consignment stores located throughout Seattle. Some specialize in clothing; others in furniture and household items. Or hold a “moving sale” in the driveway.

If you are aging and still in your family home, be kind to your kids and family. After our experience — and unless you are seeking revenge — don’t leave the entire “deep-clean” project for your kids.

While physically able, make downsizing an ongoing project. Work at it, maybe a few hours each week. Ask your family to help. Break the process down into digestible bites and it will become doable.

MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. Beck was recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Washington’s 2012 Small Business Person of the Year. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to marla@andelcare.com.