Updated Oct 12, 2022
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the average individual will move 11.7 times throughout their lifetime. Some of these moves are often due to downsizing after becoming an empty nester, moving to an assisted living facility, or wanting a simpler lifestyle.
If you’re planning on downsizing, it can be easy to get overwhelmed with the many tasks and steps you’ll need to complete to have a successful move. This process can be even more challenging if you’re leaving a beloved, old home.
Because of this, we’re sharing our complete guide to downsizing for seniors so that you can make your move as easy as possible, whether you’re moving to a retirement community, new residence, or assisted living community.
Start by creating a moving checklist. Choose a large notebook or create a digital notes document to record everything you’ll need to do before your move.
Break down your notes into different sections, such as a category for tasks related to your belongings, the garage sale you’re hosting, and admin tasks, like setting up your new utilities in your new home and canceling your current utilities. If you’re working on selling your current home, consider adding a category for tasks that your real estate agent or realtor gives you.
If a category seems overwhelming, break it down into smaller sections with bite-sized goals. Remember, you want to start small and give yourself as much time as possible to work through these to keep the process less overwhelming. Moving projects almost always take more time than we expect, so start the downsizing process immediately to give yourself more time.
Within your notebook or document, create a list of your downsizing goals. Are you looking to complete a small declutter, or are you downsizing dramatically and going from a three-bedroom home to a one-bedroom condo? These goals will help you prioritize what tasks need to be done and how aggressive you’ll need to be with your decluttering.
Going through your belongings will likely be one of the most extensive tasks throughout your downsizing.
Start by making a plan to go through one room and one area of your home at a time. Factor in your endurance and personality when you create this plan. Are you someone who works through tasks better in long stints of time, or do you prefer short bursts of activity?
Don’t forget that you may become sentimental going through certain items or heirlooms. Be gentle with yourself and plan plenty of time for sorting through more sentimental items.
Start with the areas of your home that are most cluttered, such as your living room, family room, or kitchen. Create six piles to sort your belongings into — keep, gift, trash, recycle, sell, and donate.
Make sure that you eliminate duplicates. If you’re downsizing, it’s unlikely that you’ll need multiple sets of plates, 10 T-shirts, or four leashes for your dog. Pick your favorites and donate unwanted items to Goodwill or another nonprofit, or sell them.
Don’t create a “maybe” pile. Placing items into a “maybe” pile will only prolong the sorting process and doesn’t actually help you make progress. Force yourself to decide the item’s fate when you pick it up and don’t put it down until you’ve placed it into a definitive category. Remember that moving is not cheap. You don’t want to have to pay more to move items that you don’t actually want.
If any items you pick up give you a negative feeling or bring up a bad memory, don’t think twice about giving them away. You only want things that bring you joy in this next step of your life.
After you sort through one part of your home, stop and label the items. For example, if you plan on selling items in different ways, such as on eBay, Craigslist, at a garage sale or estate sale, or to your local thrift store, label your belongings to differentiate them.
Carefully consider your “gift” items. While you may love your grandfather clock, your children may not have the sentimental attachment to it that you do. Ask your children what sentimental items they would most like to have to remember you and your family by. You’ll want to consider if your children have the space for certain items. Sit down and have a heart-to-heart with your children about the things you’d like to gift them. After all, you don’t want to leave them with a bunch of items that don’t have sentimental value and just take up space in their homes.
Place belongings that you’re keeping in clearly labeled boxes so that you and your movers know where to place the boxes in your new place. Once you’ve packed all the boxes for one room, label them with a number and total box count so that you can quickly identify if a box is missing. For example, label your living room boxes as follows: “Living Room – Books and magazines. Box 1 of 15.” Number your boxes as the last step in any room so you don’t have to relabel them if you add another box later.
In addition to speaking with your loved ones about what items they actually want to keep, take a hard look at the sentimental items you’re saving.
Do you really need your lifetime collection of figurines, snow globes, baseballs, or teapots? You may love having 50 snow globes, but these are costly and delicate items to transport if you’re downsizing. Narrow down your collection to a few favorites and gift, donate, or sell the rest. If you’re struggling to part with your collection, take photos of your beautifully arranged collection and hang the picture in a frame in your new home.
Go through your belongings with a critical eye and consider what items will be unnecessary in your new home. If you’re moving to an apartment, you might not have an office space, garage, or backyard. In this case, you won’t need to keep yard care items, outdoor furniture, or your office desk.
You’ll also want to consider your stage of life and what items you may not need as a result. For example, you may no longer need giant pots, pans, or cookware if it’s just you and your spouse.
Here are some other common areas that you can eliminate:
Measure your furniture and large belongings you’d like to keep, then visit your new space and measure the space you have available.
It’s easy to think that a couch or dining room table will fit into your new place, but measurements won’t lie. Draw a room diagram, noting how much space is available, and then plan where you’ll place your furniture and belongings. Does everything fit nicely? If not, you’ll need to declutter additional furniture.
If you have a plethora of photos and albums, pick out your favorites to keep and pass them on to friends and family. Consider scanning or taking high-resolution photos of the pictures, then organizing your photos into a photo book to keep in your living room. You’ll be able to enjoy the photos more without the clutter.
Remember, it’s okay to take time to cry, say goodbye, and reminisce over sentimental items, such as mementos, old drawings, and collectibles. If you need to, move on to another room or area to give yourself a break, then return when your emotions have settled. Grief and sadness are common emotions when downsizing, even if you’re excited about the new opportunity. Be kind to yourself, reach out to others for help, and take your time during this process, especially when going through sentimental items.
If you have an extensive collection of DVDs, records, or CDs, consider going digital with these items to save space. You may even be surprised to find that streaming movies or playing music digitally may provide you with an improvement in the quality of sound and video.
If possible, ask for help from loved ones during this time. You may have friends, adult children, or family who would be happy to help you declutter, pack, and label your belongings.
If you don’t have anyone in your life that can help you, consider hiring a senior move management company. Senior move management companies are great for both regular and crisis moves. Typically, a team and manager will arrive at your family home to help you pack and organize your belongings for a smaller space. Then, they will help with other tasks, such as dropping off donations, selling items on Craigslist, hosting a yard sale, and even completing tasks you need to finish before selling your home, such as contacting a roof repair company.
Senior move management companies usually don’t make the actual move. However, they can help you with all other aspects of the move, even arranging furniture and unpacking your belongings in your new place. A professional organizer is another great option to help you organize and pack your belongings and unpack and organize them in your new residence. Hiring a moving company to pack and unpack your belongings on your big move day can be a great help too.
Downsizing can be a freeing experience that can save you time and help you let go of stress when considering upkeep for your new space. Try to keep a positive attitude about the experience and create exciting plans for yourself after the move. Consider signing up for a club, class, or social engagement that starts shortly after your move to help you focus on the people around you and happier parts of the move.
The downsizing process can feel overwhelming, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from loved ones during the moving process. Hiring help is another great step that can reduce your stress levels and make the transition easier. Plan out your downsize and start as quickly as possible to reduce anxiety and bring as much joy as you can into the process.
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