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Help your aging mom & dad downsize

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It's a fact of life facing many baby boomers, and even Gen X'rs: Mom and dad are getting too old to continue to live on their own.

But they don't want to leave the home they raised their families in, with three or four decades of accumulated memories and treasures.

If someone in your family is facing this, there are now companies that will help downsize your parents, and make the job much easier for everyone.

Auction Firms Step in to Help

We visited an estate auction, common when someone dies and their possessions end up auctioned off. But this was no ordinary estate sale.

It was a decision jointly made by an older couple and their children, who all agreed to say farewell to a lifetime of  furniture, clothing, fine china, books, ceramics and board games. In all, nearly 50 years of accumulation.

Calling a professional to help is the newest trend for families trying to help parents downsize.

Too Overwhelming for Adult Children

Ida Hoehn is one of many boomers who feel helpless when it's time to help move Mom or Dad to a senior community. "It was too overwhelming for me," she said.

"You look at all the things, and think about all the pots and pans, and the closets. You look at the clothes and the cupboard, and think: I can't handle this," Hoehn said.

So she turned to Maggie Beckmeyer, of "Auctions by Maggie ," one of hundreds of local auction companies that now help seniors downsize.

With bowler hat and Pippi Longstocking pigtails, she helps children who often live hundreds of miles away with busy jobs and lives of their own.

"The children may live out of town," Beckmeyer said. "So they have to trust someone to do it here."

Local firms like Beckmeyer's, which handles estates primarily in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, along with national franchises like "Caring Transitions," are part of a new industry called "Senior Move Management." 

There is now a trade group called the National Association of Senior Move Managers , where you can look up a company near you.

The University of Minnesota has set up a website called " Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate ," filled with resources to help aging parents downsize.

Even if your parents want to "age in place," and stay in their longtime home with the aid of lift chairs, special bathtubs and even small elevators, this type if clearing out is still helpful.

Beckmeyer sorts, sells and donates to charity what won't sell, for a total cost of $500 to $1,500.  Families keep the proceeds of the auction, which can end up covering the company's costs.

"It's money well spent for overwhelmed children, and parents who don't want to let go," Beckmeyer said.

Letting Go Can be Tough

Beckmeyer says convincing mom and dad to part with their things is the toughest part for many adult children.

She said, "It's hard for older people to realize they have to give up their things."

But she has a way for easing the transition. She said, "I always tell them you still have your memories, no one will take that away from you. And the really neat thing is that your possessions are going to live in all these other homes."

That's what sold Ida Hoehn. She said, "You have to do it. You know, what are you going to do with all your parents' stuff? You can't move it.  But if someone can use it, that's good."

Beckmeyer admits many seniors are reluctant, but says with the right words they eventually let go.

"I helped an 87 year old woman, and told her the buyer was so thrilled with her china closet. And she got excited because it was a happy thing."

Turns Sad Occasion into a Happier One

The ultimate goal of these services: taking the pain out of life's biggest transition.

"Downsizing has to be a happy thing," Beckmeyer said. "You have to know its going to be someone else's treasure."

Convincing mom or dad it's time to move is never easy. But with the right approach, and a plan for dealing with their furniture and years of accumulation, it doesn't have to be so hard.

As always, don't waste your money.
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