Downsizing is a normal part of aging, especially for those who transition into an assisted living facility or independent living. For many older adults, downsizing can be a particularly emotional experience. Many seniors have lived in their homes for the greater part of their lives, accumulating possessions along the way. Alongside possessions, our homes carry some of our most cherished memories, which can make transitioning into a new residence even harder. While the process will be difficult, there are many ways to make the transition less chaotic.
Senior downsizing can be a personal experience that is different for every person. However, there are some common hardships that arise with downsizing for older adults.
The task seems too big to handle
When you take a look around at all the stuff you have to move, it probably seems like an impossible task. The key to a successful transition is to start sorting through your things one room at a time. Start by slowly clearing out a bookshelf, a dresser drawer, or a closet, and the process won’t seem as daunting in the long run.
What to give? What to keep?
Everything you own might not give you the same sense of joy it did at one time. If this happens, it’s okay to let it go, even if you’ve had it for many years and even if it is expensive. The goal for a successful downsize is to choose items that are useful to you and help you feel great about your life.
How to sort through clothing
Clearing out old clothing can be surprisingly difficult for many people. For some, clothing represents different parts of their life, while for others clothing is a vehicle of expression. You might consider bringing items that you tend to wear most often while donating those you haven’t worn in years.
How to part with sentimental items
This is one of the most difficult aspects of downsizing. Fortunately, you don’t have to part with sentimental items. If your new home cannot accommodate all of your precious possessions, you might consider asking your family members to keep them safe. This way, your items are accessible when you want them.
If you foresee a potential move in your future, or perhaps your parent is transitioning into a senior living community, there are many ways to make downsizing a manageable task. AARP and Chicago Health published a list of suggestions to make senior downsizing feel less monumental. You might consider using these tips to make your transition a smooth one.
• Give Yourself Enough Time– While situations and health conditions can be hard to predict, many older adults find themselves moving into a retirement facility or assisted living urgently. The goal is to give yourself enough time to move in an intentional way. Many times, when the moving process is rushed, items you wish to hold onto are accidentally misplaced or donated. Even if you haven’t planned a move, you might consider slowly sorting through your items in preparation for a downsize.
• Communicate Efficiently– If your aging parents are having trouble maintaining their home and haven’t considered downsizing, you might start talking with them about beginning to clear out their space. Carefully approach the subject with genuine concern, while showing your support. You might say something like “I cleaned out my own garage and found some really great items. Would you like me to help you do the same?” As the topic continues, always remind your parents that they have a say in the matter, and respect their decisions.
• Set Realistic Goals– Knowing where to begin downsizing can feel like an enormous task. Start with setting small and manageable goals, like clearing out one room per week. Before you begin, make sure you have all the necessary items like tape, boxes, and markers. And, don’t forget to make the process fun! Enjoy yourself as you go through your belongings, take breaks, and make sure to stay hydrated.
• Sort Through Your Belongings– As you go through your items, try sorting them into different piles. Categorizing your piles for different uses can be helpful as well. You might consider creating spaces for items to take with you, give to family, sell, donate, and to throw away.
• Donate What You Can– Many organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army will pick up any furniture, clothing, and décor free of charge. Make sure to call and confirm what you plan on giving away to make sure they will take it. Items that are stained or broken won’t usually be accepted.
• Keep the Memories, not the Clutter– When downsizing, many items can be compressed. For example, photo albums and home movies can be digitized and stored on DVDs or on a hard drive for easy access and storage. If you have a collection of items, like teapots or mugs, consider keeping a few of your favorite items and finding a home for the rest.
• Make Your New Space a Home– Senior downsizing is an emotional experience. Take time to appreciate your new space by decorating, organizing, and make sure to have fun with this new chapter. Recreating your new space to feel new or even to look like the home you’ve left can help ease the transition. Showcase your favorite items and remember to be gentle with yourself during this time of transition.
Downsizing comes with unexpected difficulties and obstacles, but fortunately there are many resources to guide you along the way. The resources below offer many suggestions and tips to making your downsizing transition smooth and stress free.
AARP provides a “Home Fit Guide” that takes you through each step of downsizing. From packing lists, tips on hiring a contractor, and resources for home-design, AARP will give you’re the resources you need so nothing is a surprise.
National Association of Senior Move Managers help older adults navigate the emotional and physical nuances that come with downsizing. These managers help with the physical aspects of the move, while also helping you cope with the emotions that come with transitioning out of your home.
Family Caregiver Alliance provides caregivers the resources they need to help support an older adult in their time of transition.
At Maplewood Senior Living, we understand the difficulties that come with downsizing. We help seniors focus on all the time and energy they gain by relinquishing the responsibilities of home ownership. Retirement is meant to be a chance to explore new hobbies, rekindle past interests and find what makes them happy. To learn more about our offerings and how we can help residents cope with their transition, contact us today.
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