When It’s Time to Downsize

Most people express the wish to remain in their own homes as they grow older. But as time goes by, our priorities might change. Maybe we don’t want to keep up such a big place, or health challenges make our home unsuitable. We might decide to move into a smaller retirement home, or to a senior living community, or perhaps with an adult child.

Almost any move is a lot of work, but when the relocation means deciding what to do with a lifetime of possessions, the effort can be more emotional than physical.

Here are tips for making the process easier.

Begin sooner rather than later. Even as you first begin thinking about moving, start thinking about your things. What about those shelves full of books? Those antique snuff bottles you collected over the years? That junk drawer in the kitchen and long-unopened boxes in the attic? It’s much better to spend a leisurely afternoon sorting through a box of letters, photos or years of bank statements than to be rushed as a move approaches.

Call in experts. Today there are decluttering specialists who can help you decide which possessions “spark joy,” as author Marie Kondo puts it, and which ones are just taking up space. There are senior move managers who help with the relocation process. Some moving companies specialize in older clients. Aging life care managers help older adults and families navigate this process and locate reputable professionals to assist.

Next, sort things into categories, such as:

Keep. What will you need where you’re going? Once the move is planned, make a diagram of the new space. Measure floors and cabinets. Then measure existing furniture and take stock of housewares and other practical items. Which pieces would be useful in the new home, and which ones would just make your new place feel crowded? Decide which non-functional items are meaningful treasures that you want to hang on to, and which you can let go.

Give to family. There are almost certainly items that you’ve cherished through the years and want to keep in the family. If so, why not offer them to other family members now? To avoid conflict, have the conversation early on. And while we always hear about family members bickering over heirlooms and family treasures, don’t get your feelings hurt if you face the opposite situation! As baby boomers downsize, many have found that their kids and grandkids don’t want their furniture or formal dinnerware – or even family photos and their own baby books!

Sell. You may be able to sell some things. This can be quite an undertaking, so often it’s best to consult an expert, especially for items of value, such as artwork or objects with historical significance. Appraisers, antique and collectibles dealers, auction houses, consignment shops and estate buyers can help you get a fair price for certain items. Selling other items online might be the way to go. And there’s always that old staple, the garage sale. But again, remember that tastes change. The lovely silver service your mom inherited from her own mother may sell just for the value of the metal, not the workmanship.

Donate. Your donation is tax-deductible, and it’s good to know that your things will have a second life and the resale will help those in need. Some organizations offer home pickup; other times, you’ll need to transport items to a certain location. (At present, some of these organizations aren’t accepting donations, so call ahead first.) You might also give away items online. It’s safest to meet an unknown recipient at a neutral site, away from home.

Discard. Almost every home is full of odds and ends that someone held onto but that have no value. Hopefully you’ll find a home for most everything, but if time is pressing, you may need to throw some things away. Hire a junk hauler to help remove large items. Contact your community’s solid waste agency; they may offer special pickups and may have a recycling program for some items.

What about storage?

If your move is sudden, storing possessions temporarily might be a good choice. Important papers could take some time to properly sort. Truly valuable items shouldn’t be disposed of hastily. You might want to postpone some of the fine tuning of downsizing until you’ve settled into your new place.

Maybe a family member or friend could offer the temporary use of some basement, attic or garage space? If that’s not an option, you can rent a unit in a storage facility. But be warned: This short-term solution can easily become long-term! When possessions are out of sight, out of mind, it can be easier to put off dealing with them and you might end up paying storage fees for years.

LifeCare Advocates life care managers can help older adults every step of the way during a move—from choosing a new place to live to dealing with the move itself.

Categories: Senior Living