“My mother has so many clothes, shoes, and accessories she could open a boutique. Now she’s moving to assisted living and she doesn’t want to get rid of anything, and I don’t know what to do.” If you’re in the same situation, here are effective solutions for helping someone with this downsizing chore.

Ask her to set criteria for making decisions about what to keep and discard. Let her make these decisions; try to be patient and non-judgmental. She’ll assign each garment to one of three categories: discard, maybe, or keep. Assign a color to each category. Use sticky notes in the three colors and tag each hanger with the appropriate category color.

Criteria for discarding clothing might include some or all of the following:

  • Permanent stains. As my grandmother’s eyesight diminished, she couldn’t see all the food stains on her clothes. She was eager to get rid of stained items when we told her about them.
  • Disrepair. These items can’t be repaired due to missing buttons, rips or tears, frayed fabric, or holes.
  • Difficulty level. Small buttons, hooks and eyes, back closures, and tight things like Spanx are difficult for people with arthritis or tremors.
  • Unneeded. Does her new lifestyle (assisted living) require evening/formal wear, travel clothes, or uniforms in the quantities she has now?
  • Unloved. She doesn’t like or want it or hasn’t worn it in years (if ever).

Remove everything that goes into the discard category from her home immediately. This will make it easier to deal with what’s left.

Criteria for things she’ll keep should be based primarily on need (not want). For example, she’ll need underwear, nightwear, and warm clothes for winter. A reminder about limited storage at assisted living might motivate her to put fewer garments into this category.

Clothing for the maybe category includes whatever she’s unsure about needing or doesn’t know if it still fits.