Home Downsizing Tips for Seniors

Thursday Feb 09th, 2023


Downsizing one's home as a senior is an extensive process that may bring about a mix of emotions. However, it is also perfectly doable with the right planning ahead of time! If you are preparing for your own senior move or plan to assist a friend or relative with this task in the near future, you will want to make note of the nine steps below, all of which are key to ensuring success during the downsizing process.

Carve Aside Time to Downsize

The process of downsizing is a gradual one; seniors should not expect to be able to mentally or physically prepare for a move in just a few short weeks. "It will take time, probably more than you think," professional organizer Julie Coraccio of Reawaken Your Brilliance says. Colleen Ashe, founder of Ashe Organizing Solutions, agrees. "Homes that have been lived in for 20-plus years will not easily be emptied without time and effort," says Ashe, whose company specializes in working with seniors. "To reduce the stress of a big move, start the process of cleaning out the home now. Don’t wait for someday."

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Downsizing can certainly be daunting; seniors who could use extra support throughout the process should not be ashamed to reach out for assistance. "Don’t be afraid to ask for help," Coraccio states. "If you have the funds, hire someone. Or ask family and friends that you love, trust, and who are nonjudgmental."

Implement Some Organization Rules

Having a few guidelines in place before you sort through every drawer and cabinet will help streamline your downsizing process. "Set up rules to make things go more quickly for you and if you have help," Coraccio suggests. “For example: All expired pantry items and makeup can be discarded. Anything that’s ripped, rusted, torn, in horrible condition will be pitched. All duplicate items will be pared down to one."

Know What to Keep

Since your new home will be smaller, you'll want to have a strong sense of what will and will not be able to come with you. "Make sure what you plan to move will actually fit in your new home," Ashe notes. “We recommend creating a floor plan to include all the furniture the senior is thinking about moving—and confirming that it will fit before it gets on a moving truck."

Part With Those "What If" Items

We all save things for the purpose of utilizing them for a project down the line or with the hope that a former passion for a hobby will re-emerge, notes Jenny Albertini, the founder of Declutter DC. However, it's important to abandon those "what ifs." States Albertini, "Now is the time to part with anything that hasn't been used or fixed or enjoyed recently. Downsizing and transitioning to this next phase of life can be stressful, but you can use this opportunity to set yourself free from clutter and non-priority items that have surrounded you at home."

Donate to Causes You Care About

Seniors moving out of their long time homes will often wish to donate any belongings that will not be passed down to relatives and friends. "Donate to causes you’re passionate about," Coraccio urges. "Is there something going on in your local community, like a flood or fire, where people would be grateful for your stuff?" You can even check out an organization in person if you wish. "Visiting the charity also helps so you can see it’s going to a good home," Coraccio notes. "Sometimes, when people know that their stuff will be loved, it will be easier to let go."

Additionally, Coraccio advises, seniors shouldn't assume that their loved ones necessarily want to take one more items in their own homes. "Many times, people may not want your items, especially younger generations," she says. "Heirlooms, art, jewelry, and personal items tend to have more meaning, and frankly value, than your piggy bank collection."

Hold Onto Photographic Memories

Seniors who wish to honor special memories and moments should still feel free to do so—there are many ways to hold onto belongings such as photographs and t-shirts that do not take up significant square footage. "I love digital photo frames," Coraccio shares. "We have one and it brings me a lot of joy. You can create a sentimental quilt that you’ll love and is also useful."

In fact, you can even record a video of your soon-to-be former space, if you wish! "The good news is your memories come right along with you at no cost," Ashe says. "We encourage family members to take a walking tour through the home and make a video for their loved one. Walk through the home and share some of your favorite stories."

Say Goodbye to Anything Embarrassing

"My favorite book to read in preparation for a downsizing move by a senior is The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning," Albertini says. "Don't let the title scare you away! It offers many helpful ways to frame why it is important emotionally to address our things before we get so old that it is hard to manage the process on our own." Albertini reiterates one of the most important lessons she learned from the book. "One particular category the author recommends dealing with are 'dangerous or secret things'—items that would embarrass you if someone else saw them, or cause trouble for your loved ones," she says. "Take a few moments and dispose of these items on your own, and maybe even consider a ritual bonfire or ceremonial throwing them off a bridge if the item demands it!"

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