Tips for Downsizing for Seniors

downsizing seniorsThere are plenty of challenges that accompany the aging process, and downsizing is certainly part of that list. Whether older couples are downsizing together or whether adult children are helping parents downsize, it’s stressful.

Downsizing by its very nature involves letting go and getting rid of articles that seniors have very likely spent their lives collecting… items that are tangible reminders of a lifetime of memories. The challenge to let go is coupled with a new living arrangement, and for many seniors, that new living arrangement comes after decades in a family home. Or it may signal a loss of independence if moving into a nursing facility.


First and foremost, a good dose of patience is needed when helping parents downsize. It’s important to try to understand what they’re facing and to be empathetic. Unless you are facing a crisis regarding the move, take your time. Don’t try to tackle the entire house in a few days or weeks. You’re probably not up to that task and your parents certainly won’t be. A good rule of thumb is to plan to spend no longer than two hours at a stretch sorting through what can be kept and what needs to go.


An easy place to start is with paperwork. It’s very objective, and it’s important to know where documents are located. Shred outdated bank statements, utility bills, etc. Gather important paperwork (deeds, wills, Power of Attorney documentation, birth certificates, military documents, passports, etc.) and store in a safe place such as a firebox or safe-deposit box.

Pragmatic Choices

Having tackled paperwork, a good next step is to sort through items that have no emotional attachment. For example, downsizing seniors can make easier decisions about pots and pans or kitchenware. They know what they use – and more importantly what they don’t use – on a daily or weekly basis. Pose questions as yes or no rather than open ended ones to facilitate a decision. That will help seniors feel a sense of control and success in the decision-making process.

Prized Possessions

Having started by reducing the objective and pragmatic items, now it’s time to tackle the prized possessions. The toughest choices are the ones that typically involve items that are more cherished than they are useful. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all have those items, and letting go is often very difficult. If there’s a collection, ask what the favorite pieces are. Suggest the balance might be given to others as a keepsake. Photos can be digitized to take up far less space. Consider including multiple wall photos into a single digital frame. You can also take photos of sentimental items rather than keeping the item.

If there are “prized possessions” that belong to adult children that are still stored in the family home, now is the time for them to take those and make their own choices regarding keeping or eliminating.


Be cautious of over-valuing an item. Trying to sell items yourself via Craigslist or eBay may take far more time and energy than the item is worth. If you suspect an item has real value, consider getting an appraisal, or if there are several items, consider an auction or consignment service. Like you, they’ll have a vested interest in getting the best price, not the lowest price.

Professional Help

Finally, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a professional organizer or move manager, especially if you don’t have the luxury of time. These professionals can often offer valuable advice, help point you in the right direction, and understand the challenges of seniors facing transitions. Additionally, by working with a professional, you can eliminate any emotional baggage that may exist.

Please feel free to contact me to help you or your loved through the downsizing transition.

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