If you have retired and your children have moved out of your house, you may look around and realize it is time to downsize. Perhaps household chores are becoming a burden, or health issues require you to move, or you simply don’t need all that space anymore. Once you have made the decision to move, you need to decide what to bring with you, what to get rid of, and how. The task can seem overwhelming, but taken one step at a time, it’s manageable, especially with your loved ones’ help. Here are our top five downsizing tips for seniors, based on our experience with many clients.
If you’re reading this post as a family member or friend who is going to help a senior to downsize, these tips may be helpful to you, too, both on a practical level and as a reminder of what your loved one is going through.
Tip #1: Decide on a Destination First
It may seem obvious, but in order to downsize in a way that works for you, you need to understand where you are going. If you’re moving in with an adult child, you may not need most of your small kitchen appliances, for instance, as they probably have a fully-stocked kitchen. If you’re moving to an independent apartment in a senior retirement community, you might need to keep your toaster and coffeemaker, but get rid of most other appliances if you’ll be taking most meals in the communal dining room. And if you’re just moving to a smaller house or condo, you might want to keep most of your kitchenware, but ditch specialty items that take up a lot of space and are rarely used.
Unless you know where you’re going, though, you won’t be able to decide what you’ll need when you get there. So take time to consider this step carefully, taking into account your budget, your physical abilities and needs, your personal preferences, and the concerns of your loved ones. Don’t jump ahead of yourself and start getting rid of things you may later realize you need—although realistically, the bigger danger is not getting rid of enough (see Tip #2 below).
Another benefit of concentrating on your destination at the outset of the process: it helps you to be oriented to the future, not stuck in the past.
Tip #2: Decide What to Keep
Even as your eyes are turned toward your future residence, it can be difficult to shed some of the things that make your current place home. You may have lived there for decades, and it can be hard to let go of little things that made your house or apartment “home.”
Resist the urge to keep everything because “It’s sentimental.” (By the same token, if you’re a family member trying to help a loved one downsize, try to see items through your loved one’s eyes: what looks like a frayed old sweater to you may be a cherished reminder of a deceased spouse.)
Resist the urge to keep everything because “It’s sentimental”!
Begin by identifying certain essential items. They may be irreplaceable, like wedding rings, family photo albums, or military service medals. Those items are the things you would grab first if your house were on fire, and will unquestionably be moving with you.
You probably have many other items of sentimental value. Depending on the nature of the item, you will have different options. With collections, you might want to keep a few special pieces. For items that are of a practical, not a sentimental nature, ask yourself how often you use them now or will be likely to use them in your new home. If you have two items that serve the same function, consider getting rid of the one you use less.
Tip #3: Giving Away and Selling Possessions
Deciding to let things go, and then actually doing so, is a challenge. Some things that you had intended to leave to loved ones in your will can be given to them now. This accomplishes multiple things: you get to see their gratitude, there is no debate over who you intended to have the item, and it’s one less thing you have to move. Be aware that there may be some things you value that your loved ones don’t need or can’t take. Try not to take it personally.
There are a number of ways to dispose of items that your family members don’t need but that are too good to throw away. An estate sale is a good option, especially if you have large items you need to let go, like furniture. Most estate sale companies will come right to your home and handle everything for a percentage of the profit from the sale.
You may also choose to have a yard sale instead of, or after, your estate sale, to get rid of remaining items. Be sure to look into any permits your neighborhood or city might require. If possible, select a date with temperate weather, and be sure to advertise the sale well at major intersections near your home and in your neighborhood. After the estate sale and/or yard sale, there will probably still be items left over. You may want to donate them; some organizations will send a truck right to your house to pick up donations.
Tip #4: Let Go (Emotionally)
Decluttering and downsizing can feel liberating, but it can also feel like you are losing something precious. Saying goodbye to items that are a part of your history is hard. While it’s not like losing a person you love, it is still a loss, and feeling grief is very natural. If you are experiencing this, you are not alone in having these feelings. If you are helping a loved one to downsize, try to empathize with what they are going through, and be patient as they are saying goodbye to their home and many possessions.
Don’t underestimate the importance of ritual in the grieving process. It may sound silly, but there is value to walking through the rooms of your home and saying goodbye, especially if you have lived there a long time. Before you move out, consider having a gathering there with family. You may not be the only one who will want a chance to say farewell to the old homestead. It might be therapeutic for everyone to share memories. Perhaps you can have a family picture taken in front of the house, or have a small painting made of the house to take to your new home.
Tip #5 Make Your New Space Home
Wherever you are transitioning to, take steps to make it as homelike as possible right off the bat, enlisting the help of family if possible. When packing, create an “open me first’ box with not only items that are essential from a practical standpoint, but also items like a favorite throw pillow or afghan that say “home” to you. Invite friends and family over as soon as possible; having people you love around you is what makes the place you live your home.
If you need legal help with any part of your transition to a new home, we invite you to contact our elder law team.