Helping Seniors Downsize

Published In Blog

In most cases, the need to downsize is a function of the need to move. Moving from the family home can be one of the most stressful events an older adult ever faces. Tough decisions have to be made about what to take and what to do with the things that are being left behind. A lifetime of accumulating cherished treasures presents a particular challenge in these situations.

Very often, there is added stress because the move is a result of an illness or death of a spouse. However, even the healthiest and most independent seniors often find relocation physically and emotionally demanding.

Be prepared for the following challenges:

    1. I don’t even know where to start! – downsizing and moving can be incredibly overwhelming. In even the smallest of living situations a starting place can be virtually impossible to identify.
    2. I can’t do this by myself – defining a time and a place to start is critical.
    3. The value of everything – almost EVERYTHING will hold a sense of value to the owner . . . . . . a memory of a place, an experience, a cherished friend. And with those memories come endless stories. Sharing stories may help with the sense of loss that comes with giving up these tiny legacies. Be patient . . . . this will take some time.
    4. What will happen to the things that I cannot take with me? — The disposition of cherished articles is complicated at best. Some people worry that their prized possession will end up with someone who won’t appreciate the value and take good care of it.
    5. I can’t stand to watch my things get sold – If a sale is part of the process, it might be wise to not involve the senior in the pricing and actual sales event when it occurs.
    6. Resistance to giving things away . . . “I can’t give things away until I know what people want.”

Tips for managing the process:

      1. What will the next living space look like? – Develop a plan that shows how much can realistically go with the senior to her next place.
      1. Start small . . . one drawer at a time, one shelf at a time. Develop a game plan for where to start the process. Begin in the place or room that the senior uses least.
      1. Determine the things to keep, give to family and friends, sell, donate or throw away.
      1. Work with professionals. Consider a moving company or move manager.
      1. If you have a sale, encourage the senior not to be on site at the event.
      1. Take pictures. A photo album lessens the pain of losing something and is much more portable than the actual items themselves.

Some Resources:

Caring Transitions is a service that helps seniors and their families with moving, relocation and estate sales.

AARP is a membership organization, open to people age 50 and older, and one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. The AARP website is rich in resources and excellent advice on relocation.

National Association of Senior Move Managers is the leading organization for Move Managers in the United States, helping to take the stress out of downsizing and moving older adults.

This article has been updated in October 2023.

Leave a Reply