When the time comes, downsizing for seniors can present a multitude of emotional and physical challenges. Sorting a household of possessions – and wading through a lifetime of memories – can be daunting for both seniors and their caregivers.
If the need to downsize comes up unexpectedly due to health or other concerns, the weight of the task can be more challenging to process. The majority of seniors over the age of 70 have more than they need – but find it incredibly difficult to give up their items.
As overwhelming as it may seem, downsizing can help to create a simple, safe and stress-free environment for your senior loved one. This checklist is packed with downsizing tips for seniors that will benefit everyone while minimizing stress and maximizing productivity.
1. Evaluate and process the reason for senior downsizing.
The first step is to have an honest conversation about why downsizing is a necessary next step for the senior in question. Discuss the pros and cons of downsizing and what reasons are directing the action.
By keeping the lines of communication open and having a clear goal in mind, you will be better able to handle an overwhelming surge of emotions by not springing the change on your loved one at that last minute. Give the entire family time to process what is about to happen and let them have space to adjust to the change.
Some common reasons for senior downsizing include:
- Maintenance. MetLife Mature Market Institute reports that adults 55 and up want help with gardening, minor home repairs, meal deliveries, and housekeeping.
- Cost of living. Cutting housing costs is a quick way to save money and increase retirement savings. The smaller the space, the less you’ll have to spend on expenses like heating and electricity.
- Health Issues. For those with reduced physical abilities, vision or hearing impairments and other medical needs, senior living offers the services and amenities that the elderly population needs.
2. Create a system for letting go of belongings.
As you begin the downsizing process, you might be wondering: How can I ask Mom and Dad to give up belongings that they cherish so profoundly?
By creating a system, you can simplify the space, organize their possessions, and reduce the emotional attachment involved. When in doubt, go slowly and don’t try to tackle too much in a day.
Here are some systems you can start to implement once you know you will be downsizing:
- Declutter. More often than not, your first step will be to declutter the space. Get rid of anything you’re not using that doesn’t have an emotional attachment. This process will get the mind in the mode of letting go and will help when you start getting into items that have more sentiment attached to them.
- Donate. Suggest donating certain items to family members or a non-profit instead of discarding them. Donating is a great way to let the senior know that their item is valued and someone else will also be able to value it. Reassure the senior that their items will be going to a good home. Local Goodwill locations and grandchildren may be more than willing to put your belongings to good use.
- Document. The fear of change can be paralyzing. Taking notes and pictures of items will allow you to recreate a similar setup in the new space – not to mention help you keep track of important documents and treasured items. Be as detailed as you can, from furniture arrangements to the placement of family photos on the walls.
2. Consider the senior’s new space.
Whether the new location is a small apartment, assisted living or with another family member, plan where the items will go in advance according to your available space.
Make sure you consider the following details of your senior’s home:
- Amenities. What specific requests does your loved one have? Will they have physical needs or security measures? Plan the new space around these accommodations.
- Size. If the senior is going from a four bedroom home to a studio apartment, a lot of downsizing is going to be required. Hone in on the most important aspects of their lifestyle. Do they like writing letters every day? Then make sure you don’t get rid of the desk in the process no matter the size of the new space. Figure out how to make room for the things that directly influence lifestyle. The less their lifestyle and habits change, the happier they will be in the long run.
- Inventory. Is there realistic space for everything the senior wishes to keep? Personal documents, oversized items or other belongings that may not be suitable for the smaller space may be more suited for a storage unit.
3. Consider getting downsizing help and using moving professionals.
One of the common reasons that keep seniors from moving is the fear that they won’t have a home for all of their belongings. But what if they did?
During the downsizing process – even after decluttering and donating – you may need a place to store larger or personal items. Storage facilities and moving professionals can be a big help.
Ideas of what you might want to store in your storage unit when downsizing for a senior:
- Memorabilia. A smaller space may not allow seniors to keep everything, but they should be allowed to hold onto sentimental items. A small storage unit can provide a safe place to store these for the time being, without forcing seniors to part with them. Remember, some items may require climate controlled storage.
- Oversized Items. Save space in the new living area by storing large electronics, outdoor equipment, and unused vehicles. Storage unit rentals are available on a monthly basis, so temporary storage will be an option.
- Packing and Transition. Working with professionals can ease the packing and moving process along tremendously. Sometimes emotional drainage can be avoided by hiring outside help to handle the heavy lifting. Storage unit facilities offer moving trucks to assist in transporting and relocating belongings. Many facilities may offer discounted prices for senior citizens, too.
Downsizing can be particularly wrenching for senior citizens, but it doesn’t have to be. With appropriate planning and organization, you and your loved one will have a hassle-free transition (and a much lighter load) in no time.
Do you have any best practices for downsizing senior citizens’ home? Tweet us your thoughts @LifeStorage.