If you’re like a lot of seniors, you’re probably struggling with deciding which items to keep and which items to let go of as you transition into this new time in your life.
After all, you’ve acquired a lifetime worth of belongings. And, while some are everyday items that can be discarded more easily, other belongings hold special memories and are more difficult to part with.
Downsizing can be downright physically and emotionally draining.
With nearly 75 million Baby Boomers in the United States, it’s no surprise many are thinking about what’s the next step as they enter retirement. In fact, nearly half of respondents in a Demand Institute poll said they’d like to downsize.
Downsizing provides many benefits:
Less home maintenance (cleaning, repairs, upgrades)
Lower mortgage payments
Lower property taxes
Less outdoor maintenance (lawn, snow removal)
Lower utility bills
Minimized stress from having to take care of less
If you feel like downsizing can benefit your lifestyle - or have a loved one who is in a situation where downsizing is necessary - it can be difficult to know where to begin.
You’re not alone. Many seniors struggle with where to start when it comes time to downsizing.
To help you get started, we’ve developed a downsizing checklist that removes the stress of figuring out where to begin. It’s also important to note that there is help available. Downsizing doesn’t have to be a task you take on yourself. Professional downsizing experts can help you develop and implement a plan to make the downsizing process as stress-free as possible.
Choose Your New Home
This will be a driving factor in determining to what extent you need to downsize. There are several options to consider. You can:
Rent or buy a smaller home or condo.
Move in with a family member or friend.
Move to a senior living community where rentals are available.
Consider a facility if you’re in need of additional care, such as a nursing home, assisted living facility or memory care facility.
Many retirees also choose to stay in their current home, but want to downsize their possessions to reduce the level of day-to-day upkeep and maintenance. It’s a tough choice, since the physical stress and anxiety over the thought of moving can sway your decision.
Even if you choose to stay in your current home, downsizing your possessions alone can make your household more organized - and make life easier and safer so that you can maintain your independence.
Determine A Disposal Plan
Before you begin sorting through your items, make a list of how you will dispose of them. Establishing this first will keep the downsizing process organized and provide a guide for you as you sort through each room.
Examples of ways you can dispose of items include:
Keep for your next home
Give away to a family member or friend
Donate to a charity
Sell through a garage sale, estate sale or online marketplace site, like ebay or Craigslist
Toss in the trash or recycling bin
It’s also important to determine a plan for disposing your items. For example, will you open up a room where all disposed of items will be stored until you are finished with the downsizing process? Or will you take a carload at a time to donate to charity as you accumulate items to give away?
Establish A Plan For Sorting
After you’ve decided where your downsized belongings will go, the next step is to establish a plan for sorting them. Breaking up your downsizing plan into individual projects can make the process go more smoothly - and make you feel like you’re accomplishing something as you check off each project on your plan.
Here are some tips you may want to include in your plan.
Go through each room and remove any large pieces you no longer need. For instance, if you’re moving from a 3-bedroom to a 2-bedroom home, you no longer need that third bed. Removing large items will clear a path and allow you to focus on smaller items.
Break up each room into its own project. Once you have done this, start with the room you use least. This may be a spare bedroom or a basement area where you’ve stored items you simply don’t need anymore.
Within each room, establish smaller projects. For instance, a closet could be a project in itself. Even a jewelry box, bookshelf or dresser drawers can be their own projects. Establishing smaller projects allows you to take on a little bit at a time, without feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the whole downsizing project.
Decide when you will sort. Will you dedicate every Saturday morning to accomplishing one project? Or are there times of the week when help from family members or friends is most convenient - especially when it comes to carrying heavier items? Keep each project limited to just a few hours or less so that you don’t tire out, physically or emotionally.
For most, sorting through decades worth of belongings is the most stressful and time-consuming part of downsizing. There are so many moving parts to the process, downsizing can quickly become overwhelming.
That’s why assigning tasks to yourself and anyone else assisting is important in order to keep everyone involved organized and focused.
Make sure you allow yourself enough time to complete your tasks. Don’t think that it’s going to take a Saturday afternoon to get through your home. Downsizing takes time and consideration, and you’ll put a lot of thought into it. If you don’t give yourself enough time to sort through your belongings, you’re more likely to become stressed and the process won’t work.
Be sure to save time for a little reflection as well. Although you should try to keep a firm “yes” or “no” pile, not every item you pick up is going to be a simple answer of “keep” or “get rid of.” You may need to re-evaluate certain items a second time after an initial sweep of your home.
Take Action If You’re Overwhelmed
If you find yourself having trouble completing your checklist, or are still experiencing heavy amounts of stress, there’s no shame in reaching out for help.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with downsizing, especially when so many of your belongings carry an emotional attachment.
Hiring a downsizing expert will help ensure the process goes smoothly while addressing any time constraints you may have. When looking for a downsizing expert, make sure the company:
Has experience specifically in downsizing
Is insured, since it will be handling your possessions
Has a proven track record and can provide references
Can meet any time restraints you may have, especially if you are moving to another home
A lot of seniors not only struggle with the downsizing process, but knowing whether it’s time to downsize at all. Our article, When Is It Time To Downsize For Seniors?, provides examples of situations you may be experiencing that provide clues as to when it’s time to make a move.