If It's Time to Downsize

Baby boomer couple packing boxes

When we're just setting out in life, it's all about acquiring things. We move into a house or apartment, purchase furniture, set out to find just the right art for the wall, shop for clothes for our new job, and bring home souvenirs from our travels to grace our shelves.

Yet in later life, our possessions can be something of a burden, especially if we have decided to simplify our lives by moving into a smaller place or perhaps a senior living community. A poll of Caring Right at Home readers last year revealed that 46 percent planned to eventually do just that.

If you or a senior loved one is planning a move to a smaller place—or if your relative is going to move in with you and you'll be sharing space—paring down possessions can seem like an overwhelming obstacle. Whatever your reason for moving or making more space in your home, getting rid of items you've hung onto for years can be a difficult transition. Here are some tips to help make the job easier.

Start early. If there's one great bit of advice as you begin the downsizing process, this is it! The idea of going through an entire home, often filled with decades' worth of accumulation, may seem like a daunting task. So start small. If you have the luxury of advance lead time, start with those junk drawers and boxes in the attic. Throw out things that are useless to you and anyone else—puzzles with missing pieces, mysterious gadgets in the kitchen drawer that don't work anymore or those single socks you've been holding onto. Decide what you will keep, what you will give to friends and family, and which things can be donated or sold (perhaps at a garage sale, online or through a consignment shop). As you empty a drawer and then a whole room, you'll have a sense of accomplishment and the rest of the task won't seem so mountainous.

Be willing to let go of things you no longer need. Sure, that treadmill seemed like a good idea when you bought it 20 years ago, but it's been sitting in the basement untouched for the last 19. Your son's Little League trophies may look better on his own shelf. Walk through your house and make an honest list of things you no longer use. The unread books, the unused pots and pans, and the chair that no one sits in all take up a lot of space. Go through that closet with all the expired personal care items. And if you have unneeded medications, remove them from their containers; destroy the labels; mix them with coffee grounds, kitty litter or some other unsavory substance in a sealed plastic bag; and then throw the bag in your household trash.

Plan for your future life. If you've always been the one to host Thanksgiving because your house was large enough to handle the crowd, and now you're moving to a condo with half the space and your daughter-in-law has offered to host future celebrations, do you really have a need for 20 place settings of china and silver and two giant roasting pans? Save only those things that support your new life. And if you or your loved one is moving to a senior living community that has fully furnished common areas and meals served in a dining room, you obviously can purge even more.

Take measurements. If you're moving to a new place, make sure that items you're planning to bring along will fit. Measure your larger furniture pieces, such as your bed and sofa. Create a floor plan of the new space so you can see what will go where. Planning ahead will prevent you from running up a formidable tab at a public storage company because you didn't realize something wasn't going to fit.

If it's an heirloom, give it away now. There are almost certainly items that you've cherished through the years and want to keep in the family. If so, and if you simply don't have the room, offer them to other family members now. Your grandfather's roll-top desk or a favorite aunt's silver tea service may be welcomed and lovingly taken care of in another family member's home. Have a conversation with family members sooner rather than later. There may be items you don't consider heirlooms—Grandpa's vinyl records or Grandma's vintage purse—that a member of the younger generation would treasure. On the other hand, try not to have hurt feelings if no one really wants some items. For example, reports are that as the baby boomers are downsizing, they're finding that their millennial offspring aren't interested in their classic solid wood furniture or formal dinnerware.

Organize what you're taking with you. If you're moving, consider using plastic bins to move the belongings you're taking with you. They're sturdy, stackable and see-through, so you can tell what's in them. If you're using cardboard boxes, label what's in the box and which room the box should go in once it arrives at your new place. Label both the top and sides of boxes. Be sure that items you will need right away are easily accessible among all the other boxes. You don't want to wake up the first morning in your new place and have to dig for the coffeemaker!

Keep a positive attitude. Parting with treasured possessions can be an emotional time, especially when a senior must move to a smaller place for health or financial reasons. While getting rid of our possessions can feel almost like a death in the family, recognize that living with less stuff can be a liberating experience. Today, many people are embracing the simplicity movement. Be willing to accept the gifts that downsizing can bring. Letting go can open the door to new possibilities.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.