Over the last 11+ years as a Senior Downsizing Specialist and Transitions Life Coach, I’ve helped thousands of senior clients, and their families, successfully navigate the challenges of downsizing to a smaller home or retirement community.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, a downsizing move is unlike any other move a person might have experienced before in their lifetime.
Typically, a person either moved laterally (same sized home) or moved up in home size as they grew their family, relocated for a better job opportunity or just needed more space for their hobbies, entertaining or the newest trend, combining multi-generational households under one roof to save on expenses and help with childcare.
But, a downsizing move can have very different implications depending on the timing and approach you take.
If seniors act proactively by downsizing at the right time, and on their own terms, they soon recognize they have the power to experience more freedom, meet new friends and create new adventures when they aren’t tied to a home that’s more work than enjoyment.
Even though any move can be physically taxing, a downsizing move can be an extremely positive and rewarding experience. Clients have shared they experience more time for the fun things in life, like spending more time with friends and family.
They also report saving a ton of money, a significant reduction in stress and it’s all attributed to the fact that they aren’t managing extraneous items that were no longer positively contributing to their quality of life.
On the other hand, if seniors wait too long, it can be a devastating experience. Sudden health changes, a fall or a loss of a spouse are all very real factors that can significantly change a senior’s ability to continue to stay safely in their beloved family home.
These are strong signs that it may be time to downsize.
In some cases, if long-term rehabilitation is required after an illness or injury, a person might be deemed incapable of returning to their home because of safety concerns.
In a Centers for Disease Control article, falls are listed as the number one cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older adults. 85% of those fractures occur at home and two-thirds of those that fall will fall again in as little as 6 months.
If the parent isn’t allowed to return to their home, family members end up being the ones having to deal with the avalanche of decisions that comes with assessing, distributing and disposing of a lifetime of accumulation. The parent or parents are simply not able to deal with it emotionally or physically.
Because of these types of situations, a downsizing move has gotten a bad rap as a negative experience; associated with loss of personal independence and physical possessions.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
For those of you who think I’m only saying that because I’ve been on the service side of the process, I have both experienced downsizing directly with my own parents, as well as personally downsized twice in the past 10 years.
Yes, it can be uncomfortable to say goodbye to things that you’ve treasured over time, but without a doubt, I find I do not miss the items, my quality of life is better and I’m much happier for it!
What about you?
I’m betting you’ve spent a lifetime lovingly accruing memories and the stuff that comes with it, right? Those “memories” are probably now clogging your closets, drawers, kitchen cabinets, garages, walls, attics, under your bed, storage units and pretty much every nook and cranny of your home.
At some point, though, the joy of the home you’ve been lovingly filling for years will start to feel like more of a burden than a blessing.
Cleaning, yard work, never ending repairs or maintenance might start to feel like it’s taking over every free minute, keeping you from doing the things you’d REALLY rather be doing. In my own Mom’s case, it was cooking 3 meals, and the shopping that required, that sent her over the edge into a downsizing move.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s the first sign that your home and your stuff are running you, not the other way around.
So, how do you know when that time of decision has come?
Well, here are 7 signs it might be time for you to downsize to a smaller, more manageable home that better represents your current interests and lifestyle season.
1. You might need to downsize if you have a disproportionate number of clothes to the number of humans living in your home, but can count on two hands the clothing you actually wear on a daily basis.
2. You might need to downsize if you have more books and saved magazines in your home than are registered at your local library. The magazines may date back to 2010 and, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ve NEVER gotten around to reading all those books you insisted on saving to read again like you swore you would.
3. You might need to downsize if you feel that climbing your home’s stairs with your laundry basket rivals the experience of a Mt. Everest expedition, but without any Sherpa’s helping you with your gear.
4. You might need to downsize if you have more sets of china and formal glassware than the Queen of England and you haven’t formally entertained since 1998.
5. You might need to downsize if your garage hasn’t had room for your cars in decades and you finally admit to yourself that you have NO idea as to what’s in those “mystery boxes”…seriously…no idea.
6. You might need to downsize if you still have products in your bathroom or kitchen cabinet (like those spices) that have an expiration pre-dating Nixon as President.
7. You might need to downsize if the number of measuring cup sets and bakeware in your kitchen cabinets could be mistaken for a commercial restaurant, but you haven’t baked more than a sheet pan of cookies or muffins in at least 15 years.
I think you get the idea.
Just because an item, or set of items, were useful to us at some point in our life doesn’t mean they are still useful or beneficial in the life you live today. Too often we hold onto items that no longer serve us because we’re resistant to acknowledging that our interests, energy and priorities have changed.
Might it be time to move those items on to others who can appreciate and admire them more actively?
Many of my clients have shared over the years that they started thinking about downsizing many years before they ended up doing it. They always thought they had plenty of time, when in fact, they waited too long. Inevitably and unexpectedly, the choice was forced upon them for the reasons I shared earlier.
By the time they had to move, they were usually in much poorer health and lacked the stamina, focus and state of mind that a large scale organizational and planning project that a downsizing move requires.
Even worse, they felt rushed and pressured in their decisions on what to keep and what to let go, which made them feel overwhelmed, angry and depressed. They felt their sense of independence was being compromised and many just checked out emotionally and mentally.
But, this doesn’t have to be your story or your parents story.
Being proactive and positive about determining what contributes to your best life, here and now, will make all the difference in your downsizing experience.
The earlier you start to this process and determine what truly supports and enhances your lifestyle, the easier it will be.
In my next blog, I’ll share some tips on how to start to prepare for a downsizing move so it’s easier and less overwhelming. Until then, stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!