A Guide for Downsizing for Older Adults
As adults age, many individuals have to downsize in order to transition into a smaller space or long-term care facility. Additionally, older adults may want to downsize to cut costs or simplify their lifestyle. With all the planning and logistics related to the process of downsizing, along with the difficulty of parting with possessions they have owned for many years, it is often an overwhelming and emotional experience.
There are many resources available for those that find downsizing too daunting of a task. Silver Lining Transitions, a San Diego-based senior move management company, helps older adults downsize, organize their home, and move. Her clients are usually those preparing to move into an assisted living facility. Jami Shapiro, founder of Silver Lining Transitions, suggests the following downsizing tips for older adults.
Before you start organizing and decluttering, you need to understand your “why.” Taking on a hard project without a vision for what you are trying to achieve will make it harder to stay on task. Keep in mind that organization and reducing clutter helps improves mental health, saves money and time, and simplifies your life.
Break the task into manageable pieces. Make a list of any area of your home you want to declutter. Doing a “brain dump” gets it out of your brain and into actionable steps. Create a “to-do'' list, starting with the easiest tasks and working toward the harder ones. The momentum should give you the motivation you need to keep going and the satisfaction of crossing off your “to-do’s.”
When organizing, clear off shelves and areas you want to declutter so you have a fresh canvas. Then, gather like items together and begin to fill the space. I like to use labels and bins, so everything has a place. This way, you’re more likely to put things back correctly.
If you want to give items to loved ones, create a “Legacy List” of the most important items in your family, what their story is, and why they are important to you. When your family members understand, they’ll be more likely to accept them as gifts. It’s very important to make your intentions known. One of the things I’ve learned the hard way is how important it is to make sure family members know “who gets what.” Create a digital inventory or at least write things down to minimize disagreements.
If you don’t want to throw something away but you are no longer using it and feel it could be of use to someone else, share it on a site like Freecyle.org or Buy Nothing (localized to your community on a Facebook group). If you didn’t use it or fix it while staying at home during the pandemic, the likelihood is that you really can part with it. If it’s something you feel you’ll miss for sentimental reasons but it’s not part of your Legacy List and you aren’t using it, photograph it and put it on a site like Artifcts.com where you can capture the history behind mementoes.
Pick a date (one week ahead works best) and work backwards. If you want to declutter, make an appointment with a local donation center who will pick up your items. Then spend the next week setting your timer for 10 minutes per day. Fill one bag with trash and one with donations. You can also use stickers for furniture. The key is to have a plan of action, otherwise you’ll likely be driving around with donations in your trunk.
Eliminate the things that take up unnecessary energy from your life. If there is an item you’re holding onto out of guilt or obligation, one of the best ways to declutter is to eliminate the guilt and free yourself for something lighter to take its place.
Jami also stated, “Your home is your sanctuary. It’s an outward reflection of your inner world. When your home runs better, your life runs better. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Releasing items can be like shedding skin. It’s not very comfortable but you’ll grow more when you do.”
Whatever the reason for downsizing, there are resources available to older adults who need assistance. Older adults can also use the seven simple steps listed above in order to plan and prepare for downsizing now or sometime in the future. Doing so can alleviate much of the emotional burden some older adults experience when making this significant transition later in life.
Below: Before and after photos of a garage cleanup when helping older adults consolidate their belongings for downsizing.
Below: Gathering like items together could reveal redundancy and duplicate items that can be consolidated, such as these five salt shakers.
Content and photos contributed by Jami Shapiro, founder of Silver Lining Transitions