The story is all too familiar. Mum and Dad have lived in one house for a good chunk of their married lives creating wonderful memories. They have raised their children and seen them fly the nest, and now they are enjoying their grandchildren visiting them. Over all those years they have also been busy collecting, mementos and memorabilia representing the rich tapestry of events that have shaped their lives and the lives of their children.

And then, often without warning, the time suddenly comes that one or both require nursing care. A niggly health inconvenience escalates and becomes a major event. Or suddenly you are facing the death of one or both. When this happens it usually triggers the sale of the family home. The need to downsize and declutter to move into a smaller and more manageable sized place.

It’s then that you realise squirrelled away around the house, in the garage, under the house and around in the garden, are years and years’ worth of important (to them) “stuff”. Old camping equipment, sports gear, wood and tools for projects, furniture, building materials, toys from the grandchildren, old bikes, TVs, Mattresses, books and magazines, old furniture inherited from their siblings or parents- the list goes on and on ….

In every box, in each drawer, under each pile is another memory and another story that is triggered as they are unearthed. The question becomes how do I get rid of all this “junk”?

Having to help elderly relatives “downsize” is not easy physically or emotionally, especially when it happens quickly. You are also often wrestling with grief, emotions, financial pressure, their ongoing health concerns, moving them into a new house, lawyers and real estate agents.

It really is worth having open and honest conversations well ahead of “crunch” time with older relatives, to try and pre-empt this scenario. When the time comes, de cluttering can be a long drawn out and fraught process. The bulk of this work usually falls on the remaining family, (usually those who live closest) and can take its toll when adult children are trying to juggle work, children and other commitments. Often it all gets too much – and many of these treasured possessions end up tossed into a flexi bin, dumped hastily into a skip or driven to the dump.

So how to start the downsizing Mum and Dad?

A good old-fashioned garage sale can be a great start. Or booking a council inorganic rubbish collection.

A list. Tackling one room at a time, filling one bag or box every day. One trip a week to a charity shop. Involving family and friends and offering help.

One method is to consider each item and ask how often it has been used in the last 12 months. This works especially well for clothing, tools, books and kitchen items. If the item hasn’t been touched in over a year- chances are it won’t really be missed.

Try asking questions like, “If I was just buying this now, how much would I pay?” These creative techniques may prove to be very helpful for some with difficulties removing clutter.

For larger items, a quick set of photos can be emailed around family members to see which furniture they might like, and then ask them to come and collect. Unwanted furniture can then be offered to the charity shops like Hospice, SPCA, Habitat for Humanity and St Johns- who may come and collect from you. Trade Me or Neighbourly are both great places to get rid of quirky and more unusual items and furniture. List things with a few clear photos for $1 no reserve- in “as is” condition with a “pick up only” option. This can often shift plenty of items. Be sure you always add in the notes which suburb you live in for pick up, and clear dimensions for any large items. Family can often assist with loading items onto these sites and monitoring sales and any questions.

Books are often things that are hard for some people to part with. Ask yourself honestly – how many times that book has been read, and how many more times will it likely get read in the future? These days our public libraries are well stocked, you can read online and easily get hold of a plethora of interesting books very cheaply at any second-hand shop. Books are very heavy to move and will be expensive to shift if you must pay someone to take them away. So, get them down to the Hospice book shop, or for more unusual books try Trade Me – or gift them to friends and family.

Photographs and old slides can be scanned onto computers. If a willing child or grandchild has time, this can make a wonderful project for them. You can also create a small book of favourite photos, create canvas artwork, or buy an electronic photo frame that rotates through many of the favourite photos. All these are great gifts for ageing folk who don’t often “need” anything. Original photos can also be gifted to family over a special night of story-telling, something so important for passing down the family history to younger generations.

Jewellery can also be gifted to family and friends. The act of sorting through a jewellery box with all the family members around a table and hearing all the stories about each piece can create such a special memory. Costume pieces and unwanted items are usually welcomed by charity shops. The same gifting and storytelling process can be applied to artwork and household ornaments- which may not hold much in the way of monetary value- but sentimentally for the family they hold the key to beautiful memories.

Builders tools and left-over building materials in Auckland can now be shared for free on a new app called Civil Share, or listed free for pick up on Trade Me, Facebook markets or Neighbourly.

If you do find yourself having to suddenly declutter and downsize a whole house in a hurry and are considering a flexi bin, hiring a skip, booking the inorganic council collection or professional rubbish and junk removers – it pays to know where all those memories and memorabilia might end up.

In most cases Mum and Dad’s stuff will simply end up in a hole in the ground somewhere in NZ as landfill. Buried. Finished. This is true of flexi bags, skips and most inorganic rubbish collection services and many rubbish removal companies. Buried in the ground never to be seen or used again. Not great for environmental sustainability, and probably not what Mum and Dad would want done with all their “stuff”. Every year Kiwi’s tip the equivalent of 126,000 shipping containers worth of junk and rubbish into landfill which is not sustainable. Keep in mind a small single garage worth of stuff would fill a 12m3 truck or a very large skip easily!

Junk Run is different.

Junk Run is committed to diverting waste from landfill. Everyone at Junk Run gets a kick out of reducing landfill and putting unwanted waste to good use elsewhere. Junk Run’s commitment is to reallocate, repurpose, reuse, and recycle with the care and respect Mum and Dad’s cherished items deserve.

Junk Run have nurtured strong alliances with key charitable networks, social enterprises, and recyclers that enable us to redistribute at least 70% of the waste that is collected. With professional two-person professional teams per 12m3 truck, we will do all the sorting, lifting and carrying, deliver it to where it needs to go and clean it all up afterwards for you. We will come to Mum and Dad’s home and do all the work for you.

While we are on the subject of rubbish, be a tidy Kiwi and think about decluttering your own home on a routine basis and reduce the amount of junk removal your children will need to do one day – so you don’t need to be “downsized”.