During estate liquidations or downsizing, family members often come into heavy conflict. Letting go of a childhood home while working with brothers and sisters to decide what to do with Mom and Dad’s stuff is emotionally charged.
When things get heated, use these five easy tips to help calm down yourself and others. Post them in a visible area in each room during a cleanout, and use them whenever arguments arise.
1. Take a Breath
Recognize that there will be times when you will feel overwhelmed. When that happens, give yourself permission to take a break, step back from the situation, and simply feel your emotions.
Try focusing on your breath to help yourself calm down. Inhale deeply through your nose; exhale slowly through your mouth. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. It sends a message to the brain that you are overstimulated and need to relax. The brain then communicates with the nervous system in the body telling it to chill.
Once you are calm, you can ask yourself how you can help. This can provide structure, which helps organize a messy situation.
2. Be Adaptive and Affirmative
Nobody can approach downsizing or cleanouts with rationality alone. Each item in the house holds a memory. Here, a sofa isn’t just a sofa — it’s the spot where Grandma sat while watching Jeopardy. Often the weight of an item has less to do with its physical weight, and more the emotional weight it carries.
When you encounter an emotionally fraught situation, try being adaptive. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if this were me?” Try to connect with your family’s emotions, and act on positive feelings, not the negative.
For instance, when Mom insists on moving a table you know won’t fit into her new apartment, don’t argue. She’s lived with that table for 40 years and letting go probably feels like losing control. Just bring the table to the new place and plan to communicate with her there.
3. No Blame Game
During a cleanout it can be tempting to start blaming people for the situation, or accusing them of making it worse.
If Dad refuses to let go of his rolling toolbox, instead of calling him a hoarder,try naming what you’re feeling. For example, try something like, “Dad, how are you feeling? I am feeling overwhelmed.”
This approach invites communication. It allows the two of you to calmly and openly share how you are feeling, which is critical for building trust during a difficult transition.
When someone else gets aggressive or is escalating a situation, you should stay calm. The more agitated they become, the calmer you should be to demonstrate control. If your sister is blaming you for losing Grandma’s keys, don’t lash out. That’s like seeing a fire and saying, “I should throw gas on it.”
As she gets louder, respond by speaking softly, and with a neutral tone. Try mirroring her language so she knows you’re hearing her. Say, “Susan, what I hear you saying is we need to find the keys.” If that doesn’t work, tell her you can see that this is a difficult situation, and ask her how you can help. If this doesn’t work, give her space to calm down.
5. Create Space
Creating physical space is one of the best ways to neutralize any tense situation. Putting physical distance between yourself and the source of friction allows you to calm down and process your emotions, so you can think more clearly. Take a quick walk, drink a glass of water, stretch in the yard, or simply step into another room.
However, avoid leaving abruptly or acting in a manner that could feel abandoning. Remember, you want to model the proper behavior. You can say, “Jim, I’m getting overwhelmed. I’m going to take a five-minute walk to cool down. Let’s talk about this when I get back?”
Working with family members to downsize a home or settle an estate can lead to heavy conflict. When things get heated, avoid damaging relationships with your loved ones by using these tips to help calm down yourself and others.