When seniors are getting closer to retirement, they don’t often think about downsizing. Perhaps, they think about traveling the world or spending time with their families. However, at some point, most seniors will encounter the situation in which they need to make a decision to downsize. One of the main reasons older adults procrastinate in their decision to downsize is because it can be very stressful as it is a daunting task to contend with all of the possessions one has accumulated over their lifetime. Many do not have a support system in place to walk them through and navigate the entire process.  For others, they have a support system, but geographically, that support system may not be nearby.

Rest assure, downsizing does not have to be stressful and overwhelming. There are companies that offer relocation and transition assistance.  Admissions staff of senior living communities can also serve as a valuable resource offering tips and advice to assist one throughout the entire process.  There are also real estate agents that specialize in selling homes for seniors known as “SRES”, Seniors Real Estate Specialists. They, too, can serve as a valuable resource helping seniors to navigate the tasks of downsizing. 

The following is a list of some simple tips that can help seniors make a stressful process more manageable.  

Start the Process Early.

If you are beginning to think about moving to a retirement community, then now is an excellent time to start the process of downsizing. Do not wait until you are ready to move as it can be overwhelming and, at that point, you will have many other things requiring your attention. 

Start Small.

Most likely, you already have several things in mind to toss out in the kitchen or garage. However, one should avoid delving into such a big room at the very beginning. With years of belongings to sort through, it is advised to begin with smaller spaces as well as an area with less emotional attachment. The laundry room or linen closet are good options. Understand your needs. If you’re moving into a two-bedroom apartment, four sets of sheets should be plenty. The remainder can go.

Recognize That You Can’t Keep Everything! 

To know what items you can and should purge, you first need to know which items you absolutely cannot part with. After you have created the initial list, pare it down even further. It can be a tough exercise, but the reality is that some of the things you think you need to save may not be necessary to keep after all. For example, that shirt you kept in the back of your closet for fifteen years because you were certain you would wear it again, yet haven’t– it’s probably time to part ways. 

Get Rid of Duplicates. 

You’ll find this is especially true in your kitchen. You may have two or three spatulas and ladles; a couple of oversized stock pots; four different sized cookie sheets; a blender; food processor; coffee grinder; and a nut chopper. Now’s the time to reduce the extras and the clutter!. If you’re feeling wary of handing off that second roasting pan because you use it every Christmas (but at no other time during the year), consider giving it to a child or grandchild who can bring it over for the holiday and take it home when they leave.

 Only make “Yes” or “No” piles – not a “Maybe”.

When you’re going through belongings that have accumulated over years, some things are going to tug at your heartstrings.  Naturally so, and if you’re like most, you’ll be tempted to add a third pile of things to keep in the event you have the space. Don’t fall for it. You’ll end up with a “maybe” pile that’s bigger than either of the other two! You will also not have made any significant progress in sorting, rather, just moved it across the room. Take a hard look at every item you pick up. If you use it regularly or expect to in your new place, keep it. If it’s been sitting in a closet or on a shelf for a year or more, it’s time to let it go.

Reduce Collections Creatively.

It can be hard to part with a collection of porcelain dolls or snow globes you’ve acquired over the years from all of your vacations. However, they will only take up space or likely be stored in a box where you’ll never see them anyway. Instead, pick only your two favorites to keep and simply take high-resolution photos of the rest. Then, have them made into a photo book that can sit on your coffee table or mantle wherever you go. You and guests will be able to enjoy them without the clutter. There are also tech tools or websites such as Fotobridge.com that will convert those boxes of photo negatives to digital.

Consider Legacy Gifts Early.

If there are certain heirlooms or pieces you plan to leave to your family in your will, consider giving those gifts to be enjoyed now. This has two benefits: First, you’ll get the items out of our way. Second, you’ll be able to enjoy the feeling of giving those items to your loved ones now. While you’re at it, find out if there are any other items your children want that you aren’t aware of — you might find an easy way to make them happy and lighten your load. Use it as a chance to bond and invite the kids and grandkids over for the weekend. Talk to the young ones about where you bought your favorite trinkets. Tell them about your family’s heirlooms. Let them help pack, ask questions, and spend time with you. Get help posting items for sale online. It can be one more moment your family shares together in the house you’ve loved – before you start making those memories together in your next place. Remember that it’s your family that’s important for the memories you cherish, not the “things” around you. You will take your memories anywhere you go. 

Allow Some Time to Reminisce.

While you’re cleaning and sorting, there will be some days when you want to stop emptying the kids’ bedrooms and look through the kindergarten drawings, soccer trophies, and once-prized stuffed animals. It’s okay to pause and let the nostalgia take over. If you need to cry, that is okay. You can move to another room and come back to it later. Again, if you would like to take some photos of those most precious drawings or homemade cards from your children, do so and add them to your photo book.  You have time to reminisce, this is why it is good to start early – just don’t let it prevent you from eventually getting the job done.

Hauling the “Junk”.

Finally, there will probably be a lot of junk left over. This would include things that have piled up in a garage or crawlspace over the years, such as old paint cans. There are many national companies that will come by and haul these things away for you. All you have to do is point to the items you want to be removed, and they will recycle or trash the items accordingly. 

A word from someone who has downsized:

“I learned a great deal about the challenge of downsizing or “right-sizing”, as we call it here.  First, my children didn’t want our “stuff” because they have plenty of their own. I selected the things that were necessary, important, or meaningful to me and my 45 years with my husband. Then, I allowed family and close friends the choice of items that had sentimental or special value to them. Finally, I arranged for everything else to be sold or donated, thinking that, if I enjoyed these things, someone else deserves a turn. The two main lessons I learned are: It is both comforting and liberating to be surrounded by my most cherished possessions, and no clutter. Second, the best gift we can give our loved ones is not to leave them this painful task without us.”

– Cheryl, an Independent Resident of The Highlands at United Methodist Homes