Seven Tips for Safely (and Smoothly) Downsizing Seniors

Downsizing a house for a senior? Take it in steps and make your life easier. Getty Images

Who knew the Christmas break from college, when I cleared out my grandparents' beautiful home, would leave such a lasting impact on me and shape my future business? It came as no surprise to family and friends, however, when I opened my professional organizing firm, Ashe Organizing Solutions, Ltd., and declared my niche to be assisting seniors and their families with the task of downsizing a loved one to a smaller, more comfortable home.

If you are tasked with assisting a loved one with this job, take note, with some up-front planning, the task may not be as daunting as you might think. Perhaps getting started was on your list of New Year's resolutions. No fear! Here are my top tips for making the right-sized move less stressful.

#1. Make a plan

As simple as it may sound, don’t skip this step. Take the time to write down exactly what it is you are trying to accomplish. Once you have an overall plan, you can begin to break down the steps, and perhaps delegate tasks, so it’s not so overwhelming. A great way to start is to begin answering the following questions:

  • Who will move? Mom? Dad? Aunt Betty?
  • Where will they go? Assisted living? Move-in with a loved one? A senior cottage?
  • When will they move? Immediately? In six months? A year from now?
  • And then identify the very first step the family could take to get started.

#2. Organize vital documents (wills, living wills, health care proxy, ​power of attorney, etc.)

Let’s face it; knowing where key documents are when they are needed is so important.

Take time to locate all the documents before a major move or unexpected emergency arises. Be sure all who need to know are informed where the papers are safely located.

#3. Discuss the options

Planning ahead and being able to weigh different options is far less stressful than reacting to a life-changing event.

I encourage families to proactively discuss what will happen when a parent, or loved one, can no longer live safely and comfortably where they are today. Just having the conversation can get everyone thinking about next steps.

#4. Focus on what your parent, or loved one, will need in their new home, as well as what brings them joy

The biggest mistake families make is diving into attics, basements, and garages and worrying about what they’ll do with all the stuff that has accumulated in a home over the past 30, 40 or 50+ years. Instead, I encourage families to focus on what your parent, or loved ones, will need in a new space, including items that bring them joy. The rest can be dealt with through family pick-ups, donations, recycling, selling, and/or disposing.

#5. Reduce the volume

Before the move, try to reduce the volume of everyday items that will likely overwhelm the new space. How many sets of sheets, towels, dishes, cookware, glasses, sweaters, shoes, etc. will your loved one likely need, use and enjoy in the new, smaller space? Over the years, it’s easy to amass lots and lots of items, but when we think about moving to a smaller footprint, it helps to reduce the volume. Why pack and move 10 pairs of high-heeled shoes when Mom no longer wears them?

Less clutter also makes for a safer environment -- a key goal in right-sizing.

#6. Disperse family heirlooms, photo ​albums, and jewelry as part of the move

Now may be the perfect time to pass down family albums, sentimental jewelry and other family treasures to the next generation. Many seniors get great joy in sharing their family memories and gifting items to special people as they prepare to move.

#7. Listen to the experts

Whether you’re trying to sell grandma’s “valuable” antiques (coin collections, china sets for twelve, cut glass vases, Hummel's) or you’re looking to sell her house, seek out and listen carefully to what the experts in your area have to say.

The input from two to three professionals, based on the condition/quality of an item, along with current market value, can be priceless!

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