When It’s Time to Downsize
The kids are grown, and you no longer need all those bedrooms. Every year, the yard seems to need more attention. You’re retired, and you’d like to travel more without worrying about your home. It’s time for a move to a senior living community! Or maybe your care needs have changed, and you’re considering assisted living.
Moving into a smaller place can be so liberating! It can free you to spend more time doing things you enjoy, rather than worrying about home upkeep and dealing with all our possessions. But deciding what to do with a lifetime of furniture and household items can be a formidable task. Here are questions to ask as you decide what to keep, what to part with, and what to do with items you no longer need or have space for:
What are the space limitations of your new home? What furniture and personal belongings will fit? What can you do without? Measure spaces and make a floor plan. Planning ahead will prevent you from running up a big bill at a public storage company because you didn’t complete the task by moving day.
What should you do with unwanted possessions? Your first thought might be family members—for example, a grandchild who is just setting up living in their first apartment. You may wish to give some items to a charitable organization. You might hold a garage sale, or sell items online.
Who can help? If you are worried about the work, decisions and arrangements that need to be made, ask for help. Family and friends might pitch in. Professionals can help, too—did you know there are senior move managers who specialize in assisting with this process? If you’re planning a move to a senior living community, ask what they recommend.
What about heirlooms and mementos?
This can be the hardest decision of all for seniors who are downsizing. Most of us have accumulated photo albums, old home movies, souvenirs of travels and family events, collections, and antiques that have been in the family for generations. Here are four things to remember when sorting through items that have sentimental value:
- Consult potential heirs. If you have furniture, mementos and heirlooms that you won’t be keeping but that might be of interest to your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, invite them to come over and make some selections. Be clear about your timeline. This visit can be a wonderful opportunity to share old memories and family stories. It might even be a good time to reconnect with relatives you haven’t seen in years. Maybe your own adult children aren’t interested the dishes your grandparents brought over when emigrating from Russia, but your cousin’s children might be avid family historians who would love those family treasures.
- Don’t move too fast or too slow. If you discard items with sentimental value, you can cause real pain and regret in the family. But if you cling too much to “treasures” you’ve accumulated over the years, you may be burdening yourself with possessions that serve no good purpose.
- Go digital with old home movies, photos and slides. These can now be converted safely and inexpensively. Perhaps a grandchild or other family member would be a willing volunteer in curating a collection.
- Take the time to label pictures, heirlooms and mementos. This way, others can appreciate their family significance—a real gift to your family. Studies show sentimentality about family tends to skip a generation. How emotionally gratifying to imagine a not-yet-born family member treasuring the souvenir spoon your great-great grandmother bought at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair!
Everyone who has been through this process agrees: The earlier you start, the better. As soon as you begin considering a move, begin sorting those junk drawers and taking inventory of those unopened boxes in the attic. And begin the conversation with family early, as well. This way, downsizing will seem more like what it really is: rightsizing.