Downsizing for Seniors
By: Mary Bounds
Studies estimate most people use about 20% of the things they own. A survey from the University of Kansas states 56% of those aged 50-59 and 62% of those 70-79 admit they have more things than they need. In contrast, seniors who streamline their households, say they enjoy a freer, less stressful lifestyle. Yet downsizing remains a sensitive subject for many older adults. Relocating to a smaller home, efficiency apartment, or assisted living center can be an emotional experience. Add to that the need to scale down a lifetime of possessions, and it can be overwhelming. With proper planning and forethought, however, the process of downsizing can be a positive experience for everyone involved. It is best to begin downsizing before the need is urgent. Starting the process a week before moving day can create undue stress. If possible plan to spend a few weeks or months sorting through items. Don’t work alone. The job will be more enjoyable and efficient if a friend or family member is actively involved, reliving memories along the way.
Before the process gets underway, ask adult children to reclaim and remove any of their items. This will hopefully deter unforeseen family feuds. Consider also if this is a good time to pass down family heirlooms. It can be deeply rewarding to watch loved ones appreciate the history and sentiment of a meaningful gift.
Begin with large items such as furniture. Determine which pieces are no longer needed, then devise a “distribution plan”. Some prefer giving these items to family or donating them to charity, while others welcome the quick cash from selling their excess furnishings. Either way, once the large items are removed, the overall job will appear much smaller.
Next tackle one room at a time. At this point the task becomes more nostalgic. Smaller items tend to have sentimental value far beyond their usefulness or worth. Take time to reminisce with others and gently move forward emotionally. Experts in the moving industry suggest photographing mementos and souvenirs for a keepsake scrapbook. Ask a grandchild to scan family photos into the computer for convenient, frequent viewing. Once the memory is “safe” it is easier to let go.
Sort articles into groups by deciding which to keep, sell or donate. When duplicate items are found, keep only one. No one really needs three toaster ovens! Eliminate clothing that has not been worn in over one year. Then note which pieces to sell at your inevitable yard sale or in a local consignment shop. Finally consider donations to charity. Some charitable organizations pick up donated items at the home, and don’t forget that nice tax deduction!
If this still seems too daunting to take on, there are professionals who can help lessen the load. A number of private and non-profit agencies have trained specialists to assist seniors through the physical and emotional demands of the downsizing process. Services can be customized to meet individual needs every step of the way. Check local listings for resources nearby.
Once the process is complete, the outcome may surprise you. Downsizing does have an upside. Fewer items to clean, maintain or store, means more time for hobbies, travel or new adventures. Incredibly, less truly can be more!