Downsizing: Tips for Dealing With Your Stuff

According to a survey by the US News and World Report, 93% of respondents want to “age in place,” or live independently in their current home as long as safely possible. After living in their homes for several decades, or perhaps raising children into adulthood, the homes of older adults may be full of artifacts of a life well lived. However, not all of these things serve them well into old age. They may be hanging on to snow skis collecting dust, their adult childrens’ belongings, and boxes of old clothing and souvenirs in the attic. Sometimes, aging in place will mean that older adults will need to take stock of their belongings and decide if the home they currently live in will fit their needs for the decades ahead. This may involve some downsizing.

Whether they are getting rid of clutter to make better use of their current space or preparing to move to a smaller home or senior living facility, downsizing can be an emotional and overwhelming task. It’s normal to feel sentimental about getting rid of your possessions. And it can even be considered a type of grief — grief for the type of lifestyle or community the person is leaving behind.

There are many professional services available to help older adults downsize. As the baby boomer generation becomes the largest population of older adults, this profession has grown alongside it. In the past 20 years, thousands of professional organizers have begun to market their services specifically to older adults. Hiring professional help offers families a neutral third party to help make these often-fraught decisions about personal belongings.

While professional help is available, some people may choose to do it on their own or with the help of family and friends. Here are some steps to help make the process more manageable:

Start early: Begin the downsizing process as early as possible. It’s easier to tackle small portions of the task over time rather than rushing through it all at once.

Set realistic goals: Define your downsizing goals and break them down into smaller, achievable tasks. Create a timeline to help you stay organized and motivated.

Declutter systematically: Take a systematic approach to decluttering your belongings. Start with one area or room at a time, and within each area, break it down further into manageable sections. For example, begin with a single drawer, closet, or shelf. Experts say it’s best to start in a room or section of the house that carries little emotional baggage, such as the bathroom.

Sort items into categories: Create categories for your belongings, such as “keep,” “donate/sell,” “give to family/friends,” and “discard.” This helps streamline decision-making and keeps things organized.

Use a sorting system: To make decisions easier, consider using a sorting system like the “Four-Box Method.” Label four boxes or containers as “Store” “Keep” “Give,” and “Trash.” Place items into the appropriate box as you evaluate them.

Ask key questions: When deciding what to keep or let go of, ask yourself questions such as: “Do I use this regularly?” “Does it hold sentimental value?” “Will it fit in my new space?” These questions can help you make more informed choices.

Consider sentimental items: Sentimental items can be the most challenging to let go of. Take photographs or create digital memories of sentimental items that you can’t keep physically. Choose a few treasured items that hold the most meaning to keep and pass down to future generations.

Remember, downsizing is a process that takes time and emotional energy. Be patient with yourself and celebrate each step forward. Focus on the positive aspects of downsizing, such as the opportunity to simplify your life, create a more organized space, and potentially pass cherished items on to loved ones or those in need.