After speaking with many people about moving to a senior living community, it became apparent that one of the greatest stresses for them is the thought of downsizing. After all, many have been in their current homes for 30 years or more. Even for someone like me who has moved a lot in my lifetime I still seem to have too much stuff every time I move. Where in the world does all this stuff come from? Apparently, I, like so many other people, have a hard time getting rid of things. In many cases, it’s due to the sentimental value of the things we’ve collected. We can also easily convince ourselves that many of the things we haven’t used or even looked at in the last 10 years are going to come in handy someday. You know, like that box of old TV and stereo remote controllers, or those clothes that still have tags on them. Turns out you won’t ever wear those items no matter how many times you tell yourself you will!
Okay, so we all know why we keep things. Now let’s take a few minutes to look at ways in which we might be able to take just a bit of the stress out of the process of giving some of them up.
1. Start early. The best way to get started, is to begin the process of eliminating items. Give yourself plenty of time for this process. It took years to accumulate all those precious thimbles, spoons and figurines, so believing that you can downsize quickly is just not realistic. It can take months or even years, which in many cases is okay since there can be as much as a two-year waiting list before you can move into your new active living retirement community. Take your time, and don’t try to sort through your entire house in one day or weekend. Take it one room at a time, and work at it over the course of several months.
2. Start small.Don’t start with the garage, attic or basement.These are usually the areas with the stored belongings that have the greatest emotional attachment. One area that comes to mind as a great place to start is that junk drawer you have in the kitchen. I’m certain that there was a time when you were sure that you would need that 8-inch piece of twine. Toss it. One small step for you, one giant leap towards beginning the downsizing process. While you’re at it you can probably feel safe getting rid of those spare D-cell batteries you bought back in 1979. You have years and years of things to sort through. Start in an area with which you have the least emotional attachment. The laundry room or linen closet are also good options. Take some time to understand your future needs. If you’re moving into a two-bedroom apartment, four sets of sheets should be plenty. The rest can go.
3. Think about less space. If you’re moving to an apartment or cottage, you might not have a garage or office space. Nearly everything in those spaces will need to be sold, tossed, or relocated to other rooms. These areas might also contain good items for a garage or yard sale (or just give it to your son, Ron, who can never say no to mom). Remind yourself that anything you give to a thrift store, or sell at a garage sale is going to help someone else. It might make it just a bit easier to part with that JuiceMaster.
4. Two might be too many. Kitchens are the worst offenders for having items that seem to reproduce on their own. Where in the world did all those spatulas and ladles come from? Even with the dining options that many retirement communities offer, you may still want to do a little cooking, but you will probably not need enough pots and pans to feed the entire family at Thanksgiving. Give them all to the kids and let them cook for you. This goes for the rest of the house, too. If you have more than one of something, take a minute to decide how many you will really need.
5. Create a space for sorting –There was a show on TV some time ago where the homeowner was asked to separate items into three sections. Keep, sell or toss. If you don’t feel like selling anything, two sorting stations will be fine. I know it will be hard, but try not to put too many things in the ‘keep’ pile due to sentimental reasons. If you do, you will still have too much stuff when you’re done sorting and you definitely don’t want to go through this exercise twice. If you are seeing something for the first time in the past 10 years, it’s probably ok to let go of it.
6. Oh, those collectibles. Dolls, trains, plates, baseball cards, and other collectibles can be the most stressful part of the downsizing process. Some of the things we collect over the years are very near and dear to us. Unless you’re moving into a small studio apartment, you will probably be able to bring your most valuable items with you. Collectibles are very personal things and can hold memories that you will never want to let go of. There are no “rules” for whether or not you should keep something. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself when deciding what is really important.
7. Sell. Sell, Sell, or don’t. If you want to sell some of your things, consider consignment, a garage or yard sale, or one of the many online resources, like Craigslist or eBay. Just keep in mind that it can take a lot of time, effort and energy. If you don’t need the extra money, consider donating some of your items to charity. Not only will you feel a weight lifted off your shoulders, but you will be helping someone in need. Everyone loves a win, win.
8. Pass it on. There are certain items in every family that will eventually be passed down. Family heirlooms are precious and deserve to stay in the family. Consider passing it down during the downsizing process? Wouldn’t it be great to see a family member enjoying the gift now? It’s another win, win situation. You are downsizing, and the person receiving the gift can have the pleasure of being able to thank you for it. Many of us are of the mindset that we need to keep everything we have so that there will be something for everyone once we’re gone.
9. Keep time on your side. By starting the downsizing process early, you will have plenty of time to enjoy the memories of some of your things before giving them away. I believe that this is an important part of the process of letting go. Also, while you’re cleaning and sorting, keep in mind that with today’s technology you can take pictures of those items you know you need to get rid of but always want to remember. Not too long ago this would have been a pretty costly thing to do. Now you can take thousands of pictures, check the quality instantly and store them on a thumb drive. If you invest in an electronic tablet you can look at them anytime you like.
10. Make downsizing a family project. It could be fun to sort through your many years of memories with the family, but there can also be a downside. If you have three children and only one set of pearl earrings, there might be some hurt feelings. Set some simple ground rules that everyone can agree on before you get started. It’s important for everyone to keep in mind that there is probably not a single item in your possession that is worth starting a family feud over.
Making the move after you pack
One good way to help reduce the stress of a major moving event can be to develop your moving strategy before you begin the downsizing process.
Will you be rounding up family members to help pack and drive a moving truck? Maybe you would feel best paying for a full-service moving company to pack, ship and unpack your things. Maybe you want to use a combination of one or more of these ideas. With mobile storage option like PODS, for instance, you can pack a container, and then the storage company does the shipping for you.
There are now many companies that are specifically in business to assist seniors with moving, either to smaller homes or moving into senior living communities. The National Association of Senior Move Managers reported nearly 1,000 companies as members in its 2015-16 annual report. They’ll usually do as much or as little as you want, from packing and moving to home cleaning and estate sales. In addition, if you are moving to a senior living community, your move-in specialist should have someone that they can refer you to. These are people trained to help at every step of the way, from downsizing, to transportation back and forth, etc. They are generally very reasonable in cost and well worth the expenditure. It’s important to keep these options in mind as you downsize because it might change your opinion on whether to keep or sell certain items. If you’re moving everything yourself, a 300-pound china cabinet might be better suited for the consignment shop to avoid the hassle and risk of injury. If you’re paying for full-service, you might be more inclined to keep it, but know that such heavy items add onto the price tag.
Always be on the lookout for potential scammers. It’s fairly rare, but there are some companies out there that will promise one attractive price for a full-service move, and then once your stuff is all packed up in the truck, they’ll demand more money while holding your items hostage. Do your research and use companies that come with recommendations from family and friends.
I hope that this article on downsizing and moving has helped you in some small way. If you have questions please feel free to contact us.