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It’s Not Just About the Dining Room Table

What to say to parents when they downsize and offer you family possessions…

The holidays are right around the corner, and many of us are looking forward to gathering with family, near and far.  As we sit down together for the holiday feast, don’t let a discussion about the china cabinet or the dining room table take away from the peace of the holidays.


  1. Acknowledge the gift gracefully

Your parents were probably the ones who taught you to say thank you, so say thank you. It is, after all, a gift to have parents who want to hand things down to us and want us to carry on the family history. Usually, the reassurance that parents seek is that the history of the family doesn’t pass when they do.


  1. Ask about the history

As a mom myself, I’m watching my kids grow up, and I’m getting stupidly sentimental about some things.  I appreciate any and all opportunities to share some of the stories of my childhood and of theirs. When your parents offer you their dining room furniture or grandmother’s 12-piece place setting of delicate, hand-wash only china, take a deep breath and ask them to tell you about those items.  Let them share their memories that involve those items. Even better, offer to take photos of some of these items and capture those stories in an album or journal.


  1. Ask for what you do want

Even the most minimalist of us values items that represent our family history or remind us of someone we love dearly.  If there is something meaningful, share why it is important to you, and ask for it.  Your parents or grandparents might be surprised by what you ask for.  By sharing your connection to the item, you’ve given them exactly what they needed to hear. The reassurance that you honor and love them and that this item perfectly represents that love for you.  Think outside of the box.  You don’t have to take your mother’s and both grandmother’s sets of china (unless you plan to host formal sit-down dinners for 40+ people), but perhaps you could take a tea cup from each set for display.


  1. Get yourself out of the middle

When one of my children was struggling with algebra (my favorite math), my mother-in-law gave me the best advice – hire a tutor and get yourself out of the middle.  She was correct.  My child and I were butting heads more than we were transferring skills!  That tutor was the best money I could have spent.  This is even more true for a downsizing parent. The parent-child relationship establishes communication patterns that are hard to break. The parent is always the parent, and you may not be the best person to help them navigate a life transition involving downsizing.  Instead, consider hiring a professional organizer with experience in organizing for life transitions who will provide the techniques, expertise and resources to organize everyone and everything through the transition.