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How to Tackle Downsizing Possessions in Retirement

Moving is difficult at any age, but it tends to be more emotionally stressful as we get older. Downsizing late in life is necessary for several reasons—to save money, ensure safety, or “right size” into housing that is easier to maintain. One of the hardest parts of downsizing is decluttering personal possessions.

Taking old clothes to Goodwill, throwing out the broken vacuum, and purging unneeded stuff is refreshing for some people but a nightmare for others. Where you see clutter and junk, your parent sees a lifetime of cherished treasures and necessities.

If your next project is to help your parents move into a smaller home, here are a few tips on how to get started.

Make a plan

Go into the task knowing how much they need to downsize. Will their new place have a spare bedroom, a garage, or large closet space? These factors can affect how much your loved one can take with them. Determine the square footage of their new place and decide what can fit comfortably and safely. That will determine how much work you need to do.

Take your time

Letting go of items represents the end of a season of life, and that can be very hard. If your loved one is only able to let go of a few items at a time, that’s okay—be sensitive. If time allows, schedule the work a few hours at a time. If they seem overwhelmed, call it a day and revisit the task when they are willing.

Start in the bathroom

Don’t do the whole house in one go—it’s physically and emotionally stressful. Try tackling one room or part of a room at a time. A good place to start might be the bathroom, linen closet, or kitchen—pick a room that your loved one is less likely to have items with personal attachment. Generally, it’s much easier to toss an old bottle of shampoo than it is to give away the dining table that’s been in your family since you were a child. Sorting through an easy room first will get everyone motivated and encourage momentum.

Ask yes/no questions

It’s helpful to narrow down choices so instead of asking “Which pots and pans do you want to keep?” try “Let’s keep your small frying pan, medium sauce pan, and rice pot. Does that sound good?” When you are going through these items, make sure you keep the items they actually use—not what you see as the newest and best.

Skip the maybe pile

Create only two sections—keep and don’t keep. With a maybe pile, you’ll have to come back to it later and that will waste time. If you’re not sure something is worth keeping, chances are it probably isn’t. Also throw out any items that are cracked or broken, hazardous, a multiple of something they already have, or seldom used.

Don’t pay for a storage unit

Storage units are often another version of a maybe pile. Very often they are forgotten—out of sight, out of mind—and you’ll have to deal with it when your parents are no longer able. That means you’ll be paying $70 a month to delay the decision to keep, sell, or toss the items.

Get rid of things efficiently

You don’t need to dump all your unusable items at the curb. Give family members first dibs on claiming any of the items and then let friends sort and pick through the pile. Another alternative is to donate any unclaimed items to a local charity. Most nonprofit organizations accept donations of furniture, household items, and clothes as long as they are in fair condition.

Downsizing possessions is one of the ways to create a safe home for your loved one. To continue this process, here are some useful tips for creating a safe home environment for your senior.

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