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Most seniors know that there will come a day when they’ll have to downsize.  Whether due to health concerns with climbing stairs, wanting to be closer to grandchildren or the home just becomes a burden with too much maintenance required.

Just thinking about moving can be overwhelming.  So many questions come up, they may not know where to start.  They may wonder who can help them.  What professionals do they need to hire and how will they find them? Who can help them pack, unpack, get the home ready, etc.. What to sell, what to give away, what to dispose of and how to sell, give away and dispose of their stuff..so many questions. And that’s all before the house ever gets listed.  Once it goes on the market, more questions arise like how do showings work, what is all the paperwork about, what happens when we get offers, and more.  While some seniors make these decisions together, others are widowed and perhaps not used to making large financial decisions on their own.

Today’s tips are all about de-cluttering and getting a grip on your belongings.  I will address the other topics in follow up blogs. I hope some of these tips can help.

  • Start decluttering early.

Give yourself plenty of time for this process, because it will inevitably take longer than you expect. Take your time, and don’t try to sort through your entire house in one day or weekend. A couple of weeks to a couple of months is a more realistic timeline. Take it one room at a time, and take breaks throughout.

Go through each item one by one, and try to put it in one of three piles.It’s going with me, It’s trash or I can give this away.   If you aren’t rushed, you’ll find downsizing to be much less stressful.

  •  Start small.

You probably have years and years of things to sort through. Start the process in a small room or closet that holds very little emotion..like a laundry room or linen closet.  You can make practical decisions about how many sets of sheets and towels you will need.  Put the rest in one of the piles. If you’re moving into a two-bedroom house, four sets of sheets should be plenty. The rest can go.

  • Only touch something once.  It’s Yes or No piles — no Maybes.

When you’re going through your things, surely memories will come back as to where a particular object came from and you’ll be tempted to start a maybe pile.  Don’t do it.  Make a decision the first time you touch it—this will help you get the job done in a timely manner and feeling like you’re making progress is half the battle.

  • Ask your family and friends if they want certain items.

If there are heirlooms you plan to leave to your family in your will, consider giving those gifts now.  The kids may not want them at all and it’s better to know now than burden them later.  China was a big deal in the past but many children today have no use for it.  Find out if your intended recipients want it and if they do, consider gifting it to them now as it will help you get the items out of your way, and you’ll be able to enjoy the feeling of giving those items to your loved ones now. 

  • Allow some time to reminisce.

While you’re cleaning and sorting, there will be some days when the emotion of it all takes over and leaves you paralyzed.  It’s ok! If you need time to just look through the photo albums, kid’s old artwork and collection of Beanie babies, It’s OK to pause and let the nostalgia take over for a bit. Cry if you need to, or move on to another room and come back. This is why you started early — just don’t let it prevent you from eventually getting the job done. If you can invite a child or grandchild over to talk about your memories, that may help you get past it and they can even help you decide what to do with these items.

Remember change is hard for everyone, and the older we get, the more accustomed we are to our surroundings and our stuff. When you make a downsizing plan early and have time to go through all your belongings, it will be a lot easier than panicking at the last minute and calling the junk removal company.

Looking forward to a new environment can help ease the transition. Focus on the positives and appreciate how much simpler life will be with fewer surfaces to dust, rooms to vacuum, or towels to wash.

Stay positive and get excited about a simpler life in a new place with less clutter.