Shakespeare’s famous quote, “All Past is Prologue,” is often referenced by history professors, but organizers like it too. Downsizing and transitioning seniors is a significant part of the average organizer’s business and the order or disorder of the past directly relates to the ease or difficulty of the job which is the prologue to the next phase of life. For adult children who are helping their parents downsize or who are cleaning out the home of someone who has died, the time is now to consider one’s own future downsizing and start preparing.

Most people downsize or move into assisted living when it is no longer a real choice and without much preparation. A broken bone or lapsing memory can force a move that is emotionally and physically traumatic to all parties involved. Use the strength and clarity of mind you have now to start the downsizing process bit by bit either for yourself or for aging relatives.

As always, start with the—relatively—easy stuff. There are several things you might encounter when downsizing an older persons home. Folks who are downsizing currently were either brought up during the Depression or by parents who grew up during the Depression and so have a deeply ingrained habit of saving things that “are still good” or “might be useful,” such as string, bags, rubber bands, jars, checkbook boxes, pieces of aluminum foil, tote bags from conferences, vases from florist shop arrangements and on the list goes.

If you are downsizing, start here with what I am going to call—don’t be shocked—trash (or at best, recycling). When you are in downsizing mode, speed is of the essence. If you dither about how best to handle your rubber bands, you will be in overwhelm mode tout suite. Into the trash (or recycling) they must go, and a resolve to not collect more than three of anything on the above list must be made. If you divest yourself of the trash and recycling a bucket at a time, you won’t have to rent a dumpster or hire a professional hauler later.

Now is also the time to take the old paints to a recycle center or donate them and any other building supplies to Habitat for Humanity. Look up your local waste management company and find out when hazardous household chemicals can be dropped off in your area. At the Napa-Vallejo Recycling Center in American Canyon you can take 15 gallons at a time on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, check out

On the next rung up the downsizing ladder are magazines. For the downsizer, anything older than an infant periodical of less than one month must be firmly chucked into the recycle bin. For the future downsizer, start cancelling subscriptions of those periodicals you never seem to get to, start reading more online or make a rule to not keep a periodical longer than two or three weeks. If you are too busy to read a magazine within a week or two of receiving it, rethink your schedule or rethink the magazine. No one is going to fail you at life if you only read the film reviews and cartoons in the The New Yorker.

Adult children are often quick to become frustrated with downsizing parents who don’t seem willing to cooperate. But let’s look a little closer into the garage, attic, basement and spare room. Is there anything there that your parents have been storing for you or your siblings? I think I was in my thirties before my Dad finally called and asked if I still had any interest in my high school English essays or the wedding dress from my first marriage. The answer was “no” and “definitely not.” Before we criticize the knick-knacks in our parent’s living room we should remove the year books and cheerleading uniform from their garage.