5 Tips for Downsizing With Seniors

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The whole family pitched in to help.

For some people, one of the most challenging times of life is when either they or their senior parents move away from the family home and into a smaller dwelling. Three years ago my family helped my grandparents transition from their farm, where they had lived for 53 years, to a two-bedroom apartment in a retirement community.

It took a lot of planning, a lot of physical labor, a lot of patience, and a heck of a great auctioneer to pull it all off. I learned a lot from that experience, as well as from the seniors I’ve worked with over the last several years, so today I’d like to share with you five tips for working with the senior population as they prepare to move to a smaller home.

1. Plan as far ahead as you can.

This may not be practical for everyone. Sometimes physical or mental challenges push forward the need for moving into a different home faster than you had hoped. As soon as you realize the need to downsize, it’s time to start planning.

2. Have patience.

Many times seniors have lived in their homes for a very long time – take my grandparents for example – 53 years is a long time to live in the same place. There are lots of emotional ties that can get stirred up when preparing to move. Seniors may need space to shed a few tears or say goodbye to their homes or their belongings in a way that feels right to them. Sometimes the harder you push to move forward, the more resistance you will feel from them. If you’ve planned far enough ahead and allowed yourself and them plenty of time, this step becomes a whole lot easier.

The blazing Missouri summer sun made taking breaks essential.

3. Work in short sessions.

Although the younger generation may feel gung-ho about hauling items to the donation shop or to the dump, this may not be healthy for older adults, especially if the situation is compounded by health issues. In these situations it can serve everyone better to work on decluttering and purging old items for an hour a couple times per week instead of 3-4 hours on the weekend. Keep tuning into the person you’re helping downsize and take note of his or her energy level. If she looks exhausted, it’s time to stop for the day.

4. Set up a sorting station.

Instead of the senior having to climb stairs to the basement or attic, set up a sorting area in a location that’s easily accessible. Set up a chair that is comfortable for your senior to sit in and have a table that’s a good height for sorting. Card tables can work well and can be taken down between sessions if need be. The helper can bring items to be sorted to the sorting station while the senior remains comfortable, which can make it possible for him or her to work longer without physical discomfort.

5. Hire a pro.

Although our whole family pitched in to help with moving my grandparents, we still needed help from an auctioneer. His team coordinated many of the details of getting rid of stuff easily because the staff had the local resources we didn’t. The times I’ve worked with seniors has often been when family lived too far away to help with the sorting and purging process even if they were coming down for the move itself. If you find yourself in this situation, hiring a professional organizer is invaluable.

Hiring a pro can be invaluable.
The amazing auctioneer.

Are you working with a senior parents or are you a senior yourself downsizing and moving? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!

About the author:

  • One thing I’ve noticed is how difficult it is for seniors to realize that their stuff isn’t worth nearly as much to others as it is to them. With collectibles like Royal Doulton figurines, it’s hard to find buyers, and items that have sentimental value aren’t necessarily going to be cherished by the children and grandchildren.

  • TracyKPierce

    Janet, this is a common thing I deal with as well, especially with the generation that lived through the Depression. And I definitely agree that items that may have traditionally been passed down in previous times aren’t valued as much by the current generations that are inheriting them. I’ve come across a lot of people who simply have these “heirloom” items stored in garages or storage units and quickly go into disrepair.

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  • MIchael Bower

    This day is coming for my wife and I. I don’t feel that I’m going to have a problem downsizing. In fact I look forward to it. The problem will be my wife. I would like my kids to have the family heirlooms before I die so that would be settled. My wife doesn’t want to part with anything, even the simplest things. I have 15 rooms of stuff and would hate to dump that on my kids. I just went through this with my mother and the majority of it went in the landfill. stuff she enjoyed but, nothing anyone would want.

  • TracyKPierce

    Michael, that can certainly be a tricky situation. I might suggest that you could give the heirlooms that do belong to you to your kids and at least ask them about the other heirlooms that either you jointly own with your wife or that belong solely to your wife. At least that way you could have it in writing and settled who gets what before you and she pass, which could help with avoiding squabbles over who gets what later.

    I have noticed too sometimes that when one person in a couple starts working on getting their own stuff in the order, the other one will soon follow suit – this isn’t always the case, and it might be that your wife is more afraid to think about the inevitability of her own death, but it is a possibility. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  • Bobby

    Omg, I’m terrified of the moment I’ll have to help my mother with downsizing… Jesus, we are barely holding it together during holiday visits… I don’t mean something bad, I love her but we are so different :/ I will be so relieved when the moving company comes to take her stuff and all the stress with the packing process is already behind us…

  • TracyKPierce

    Yes, it definitely can seem overwhelming. Is this something that’s going to be happening soon or do you not know yet?