Linda was getting on in years and had just finished updating her estate plan. She now wondered what to do with that big, old house she was living in all by herself. The home had served their family well for many decades. The kids had long ago left the nest and started expanding families of their own. Linda knew it was time for a bit of senior downsizing, but didn’t know where to start.
Downsizing has challenges
Regardless of your age, downsizing has both material and emotional implications. It’s not just about the stuff and what to do with it. A long-time residence feels comfortable, like an old shoe. The neighborhood and other surroundings are familiar, offering a sense of security. Disposing of a large volume of possessions can be overwhelming, both because of the logistics and because of sentimental attachments.
Downsizing can be easier than it seems
With a few good ideas and some great local resources, downsizing your home can be easier than it first appears. As with solving other problems, it becomes less intimidating when you break it down into steps. Decide what goes, what stays, and how your stuff will fit in your new lifestyle.
Decide and document
Make a list of everything you value, whether for monetary or sentimental reasons. If you have certain items that you want to pass on to certain family members, friends or donated to charity, those should be designated on the list and reflected in your will. For those items with monetary value, make note of them and keep whatever receipts you have.
Don’t misunderestimate the value of your stuff
It’s not uncommon for the value of personal possessions to be overestimated. Sometimes the opposite is true.
Grandmother’s collection of figurines, as gifts from her husband, is near and dear to her heart. She was disappointed to find out that they have no real monetary value. Grandpa, on the other hand, has a handful of fountain pens. The family tends to think of them as useless. But their combined value is over $2,500.
The lesson here is simple. Be careful not to assume.
What’s important to you might not be valuable to others
This might be hard to swallow. Do you have artwork or a collection of items that have great monetary or sentimental value to you? As wonderful as they are to you, your children might not want them. These can be difficult conversations, but you’ll have to have them if you’re going to downsize.
What to do with your kids’ stuff
Some of my clients complain that they have boxes of stuff belonging to kids who left home long ago. It makes downsizing that much harder. One client decided to have a family party. The family gathered for a holiday celebration, got the boxes out and related favorite childhood memories. The kids then decided what to keep and what to throw away.
Another client took a different approach. Tom told his sons that any of their stuff left in the basement after a certain date would be thrown away. Two of his three sons came for their boxes right away. The third son’s stuff ended up in the trash, without any guilt on Tom’s part.
Getting rid of the rest
You’ve listed the items you’re going to pass on to relatives, friends and charity. What do you do with the rest? Depending on the type and volume of items you have, consider antique shops, consignment shops, an estate sale or even an auction. Sometimes the best solution is a combination of those options. It depends, in part, on the amount of time and effort you want to put into it.
Bonus tip: Senior Move Managers make the hard stuff easy
Whether moving to a smaller home or a retirement community, there are some great local resources to make the process a lot easier. Here in St. Louis we have a senior move management company called Home Sweet Home. They specialize in helping people organize their relocation efforts.
A senior move manager will help you prepare and execute a door-to door plan, taking into account your current location, your possessions, how they’ll fit in your new location and any mobility issues you might have. They’re a great go-to resource to de-clutter, pack, move, unpack and decorate.
Will your dining table fit in your new place? Will your new closet accommodate your clothes? What about your book collection? Will they fit? These are some of the questions a specialist will help you answer. Most importantly, they know how to work with seniors, their heath and memory issues and the struggle their families face.
Take the plunge
The time to downsize isn’t always in the latest stage of life. Sometimes it’s done shortly after retirement. Maybe you want to spare your kids the trouble of managing too much stuff. Maybe you just want a simpler life with less baggage. If you feel like the time is right, go for it! With these simple tips and resources, it’s easier than it seems.