As your family grows, it becomes almost natural to acquire more things: a second car, a larger new home, an inground pool, a backyard patio, a camper/RV, etc.
When we’re young and raising a family, it’s as if “stuff” just starts to accumulate without much notice. But what happens when you reach retirement age and your kids have left the nest?
You might be left with more belongings than you can store away and/or equipment you’re paying for that’s digging into your retirement savings.
For many, the thought of downsizing may sound too difficult, as many items hold significant or sentimental value. It can also sound too stressful to start the process. But if your home is becoming too much to handle on your own, it might be time to consider downsizing.
At What Age Should Seniors Downsize?
There is no secret age when it’s time for you to consider downsizing your home. Because every person is different, the right time will depend on several factors:
- Your ability/mobility
- Your daily needs
- Your health/wellness
- Home maintenance requirements
- The housing market
The answer to the question is different for everyone, but one thing we can all agree on is you’d rather make this decision while you’re an active participant vs. having to downsize when you are physically unable to take part in it.
Say, for example, down the road you require surgery and are unable to move freely around the house as you once did, due to certain limitations. Yes, this is the time to downsize, but it will be much more difficult and stressful, and you will need to depend on the help of others.
This also means you might not be the one to decide what goes and what stays while you’re in recovery.
Top 5 Downsizing Tips
At Sweetwater, we’ve welcomed many residents into our communities who needed to address the issue of downsizing. We know how much stress and energy this requires, so we wanted to share a few tips we’ve learned that have helped many of our residents feel comfortable and confident about their move.
Tip #1: Don’t Rush
When first beginning the process of sorting through your belongings, it can be emotionally taxing. Try to avoid jumping headlong into it.
Try starting in an easier room, like a bathroom, that contains less items you may be emotionally attached to.
Be sure to take time out for breaks along the way as well. This will give yourself some time to take your mind off things for a bit.
Tip #2: Donate/Pass Down
How long have you had that weight set in your spare bedroom? You may have had big plans for those dumbbells at one time, but how realistic is it that you will use them now?
Maybe it makes more sense to sell them (or give them away) and invest in a nice pair of walking shoes instead? They take up less space, and you may be more likely to use them.
How about that old fishing equipment in the garage? You used to fish with multiple rods and tackle boxes back when you had a boat, but since you sold it, maybe you can get by with just one rod and one tackle box and give the rest away.
Consider the items in your home and decide whether it’s time to give them to family members, sell them at a garage sale, or donate them to a local charity. The best part is you don’t have to do this all at once. You can put items away for donating or selling and when you’re ready, you can give them away.
Tip #3: Create Digital Copies of Photos
Photos are among the most precious memories a person will ever accumulate. They can also be very hard to let go of—but who says you have to? As photos age, the image quality degrades.
Find a tech-savvy friend or family member and ask them to scan all of your photo albums for you and store them digitally on your computer. This will eliminate the need for extra space to store stacks of old photo albums, protect your photos from damage, and make it easy for you to view them whenever and wherever you want to.
Tip #4: Save It for Later
You will find that some things are easy to get rid of—especially if there is no personal attachment to them. At times, though, you may find yourself struggling to decide whether or not you can bear parting with other items.
Designate a special box or bin for these items. You might even decide to temporarily store them at a nearby storage facility. Sometimes, a little separation from these items will give you time to think more clearly and objectively about them. This makes it much easier to have greater confidence in deciding what you absolutely must keep, and what you can give away.
Also, be sure to invite loved ones over to check out these items, too. You might decide to pass them on to the next generation to keep them in the family.
Tip #5: Work with a Senior Moving Manager
Senior move managers are specialists who help with every step of the downsizing process—from sorting through your belongings and hiring a mover to organizing an estate sale and arranging your new living space for you.
Kimberly Alwin, member and secretary for the National Association of Senior Move Managers (www.nasmm.org) and owner of A Smooth Move in Austin, MN, believes that hiring a move coordinator can be a great first step.
“We always begin with a consultation,” Alwin said. “Sometimes we work with just the people making the move, and sometimes we work with the entire family, but it is good to have that initial point of contact so we can begin talking through the process,” she added.
While they provide a number of services for seniors looking to downsize, one of the most important is helping them to visualize what their new living arrangement will look like with their possessions in it.
“We walk through the layout of their new living space together, complete with furniture placement, to help paint a realistic picture of how their things are going to fit before they move,” said Alwin.
Senior move specialists will take photos of how someone’s home is decorated, and then arrange their new living space to look and feel as much like the original as possible.
“We want to help people understand that downsizing does not mean letting go of all the things that they love. In the end you can see the weight lifted off their shoulders when the move is complete and their new space feels a lot like their last home did,” Alwin added.
Another thing that a move manager can do is provide objectivity. Oftentimes, when you are dealing with so many things that have so many memories attached, it can be difficult to judge whether or not something should be held on to. A move manager provides a mechanism for people to step outside of their emotions and talk through the decision-making process rationally, leading to more confident decisions and more effective use of time.
Checklist for Seniors Downsizing
- Start small; Take your time
- Donate throughout the process
- Document photos/memories
- Store items you can’t decide on
- Hire a Senior Moving Expert
Find Senior Downsizing Tips & More
We hope you’ve found this article helpful as you consider downsizing your home and moving to a retirement community.
If you have questions for us, Sweetwater would be honored to assist you. Feel free to give us a call or schedule a tour of one of our facilities. We also encourage you to stay connected to our senior living blog for more tips, resources, and information.