6 Reasons Why a Downsizing Senior Struggles with Decisions

There are a number of reasons why a senior has difficulty making decisions during a downsizing move

Whether you’re a seasoned downsizing pro, Realtor, home organizer, just started in the senior service field, or even an adult child helping a parent during a downsizing move, chances are one of the first challenges you’ll have to overcome is working with a client or family member who struggles with making decisions.

Downsizing, in general, is stressful and not just because they have to make hard decisions about which lifelong item to take or let go of.

Most of the anxiety tends to center around managing the substantial number of details that downsizing typically requires. Add emotion to that caldron of anxiety and things can quickly go downhill.

Factors That Contribute

There are many factors that can contribute to having difficulty making decisions. Some people react more severely by completely shutting down emotionally and psychologically during the downsizing process.

To help understand this challenge, it’s best to know what triggers it. Here are 6 of them:

Relocation Stress Syndrome is more common than you think

What is Relocation Stress Syndrome?

Relocation Stress Syndrome (RSS) is a medical or nursing term that describes behavioral or psychological changes in an older adult during a stressful transition.  RSS is relatively unknown, but extremely common. It happens when sudden or dramatic life changes occur, like a sudden health event, the loss of a spouse, or other highly emotional experiences.

RSS symptoms can include brain fog, issues with sleep, lack of appetite, unusual confusion, sudden dependency, and other changes in behavior. Even the simplest decisions can overwhelm them, making them retreat from the world.

Too Many Choices

Research has shown that the more choices we’re given, the harder it is to decide. Statistics show that anything over three choices can put people into a tailspin, doubling the time it takes to make a decision.

When you add that factor to a client who is already emotional, overwhelmed, and having difficulty maintaining or processing information, your project can quickly come to a halt.

Resistance to change is one reason seniors struggle with decisions

Resistance to Change

If a client resists any aspect of the downsizing process, it may be because they strongly resist change. We often experience this with clients who feel they are “forced” to make a move instead of coming to that decision on their own. In these cases, it’s usually because of safety concerns by family or a physician.

Denial is also a common by-product and most fear that a change in routine will ultimately lead to a loss of independence. Clearly, this is not an easy situation for anyone to deal with. But adding to the misery, many people lack the coping mechanism skill set that could help them navigate the experience in a more positive way.

Family Pressure

Some clients I’ve worked with in the past really struggle to stand their ground to ask for what they need. They feel pressure from family members who are pushing them to make a different choice. Their kids are well-meaning, of course, and have a genuine concern for their parents. The disconnect comes from a lack of understanding of their parent’s needs, which is to feel they are part of the decision process.

The parent(s) usually react in two ways. 1) They refuse to participate out of defiance as a last-ditch effort to retain their independence or 2) they capitulate their decision-making authority to their family because they don’t have the energy or will to fight on their own behalf.  In some instances, they end up not trusting their own decision abilities. This further erodes their self-identity when it needs the support the most.

Early dementia is one of the 6 factors that create confusion over decision making

Early Dementia

Some clients may be experiencing confusion and loss of memory due to the early stages of dementia. Any amount of detail management can quickly overwhelm them making them incapable of effectively processing information.

Often sudden changes in the environment can trigger anxiety, making it nearly impossible for them to focus or understand their options in a decision.

Undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

Today ADD is considered a very common psychological disorder experienced by people of all ages. But for some older adults, it may have never been diagnosed.

Faced with the many decisions and details that a downsizing or major transition requires, even those who have learned to live with ADD, may experience even higher levels of anxiety and confusion than those without the disorder. This can create an especially frustrating experience for both the client and the professional or family member who is attempting to facilitate a time-sensitive and rigid transition plan.

You can help as an industry expert

What You Can Do to Help

If your clients are experiencing any of these factors, odds are they are struggling to stick to a schedule or to-do list. So, what can you do, as the professional or family member expediting the plan, to help reduce their stress, and anxiety and help keep things on track?

Because many of these factors are exacerbated by stress and anxiety, it’s usually best to start by identifying the primary sources of that stress. It may be something unrelated to the transition and it won’t always be the same for every individual, which makes finding ways to reduce it somewhat challenging.

Some suggestions include:

Active Listening

It seems simple, but not everyone is comfortable asking their clients (or parents) to share personal feelings. At the very least, using “Active” listening skills is key.  Active listeners look for messaging “between the lines”. A client may be appearing to say one thing but mean something completely different. Some may not even understand what the issue is until they are asked to talk about it.

Careful listening and patience can help give you clues to the real stress point. Continue to ask gently probing questions that clarify along the way to make sure you have a clear understanding.

Communication is key to finding the source of stress


Don’t be afraid to take time and stop the downsizing process, if necessary, if you feel your client is stuck or upset. Simply opening a dialog and allowing them to talk about what they are feeling is a great way to start.

How do they feel about the progress of the project? Where are they feeling the stress in their body? What is making them feel uncomfortable? If you are sensing strong signs of resistance or efforts to procrastinate, don’t ignore it. Both are strong reflex indicators that they aren’t comfortable with the process.

Create a Flexible Plan

Once you understand the factor(s) that are contributing to your client’s struggle with decisions, create a plan that will help relieve those stressors with a focus on empowering your client. 

Be flexible by tailoring the tasks to your client’s stress tolerance.  Starting with smaller tasks that are quick and easy can create confidence and encourage them to continue the process.

If the initial tasks are still too overwhelming, break them down into even smaller tasks until they feel comfortable. Encourage them to ask for help from friends or family if necessary so they feel supported.

Ask for Feedback & Provide Encouragement

Continue to check in with them as each task is completed to provide encouragement and positive reinforcement while providing support along the way.  

When a client feels overwhelmed, they tend to question themselves. “Am I up to this challenge? Can I survive this?”. As specialists, we can help by showing them that we believe in them when they aren’t able to believe in themselves.

When I see a client who has been struggling finally realize that they are not only capable but rising to the challenge, it’s a priceless gift to experience. Not only for them, but we benefit from its brilliance too.

Need more help understanding the psychology behind downsizing and ways to communicate more effectively with a client or family member? Check out “The Psychology Behind Downsizing: How to Move Your Parents from Resistance to Relief” in the Downsizing Made Simpler Series.


Interested in starting your own senior downsizing service business? Have questions? Book a free 20-Minute Consult with me by clicking here.