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Downsizing isn't just for seniors. A low maintenance lifestyle is often appealing to people of all ages. So although this page is geared primarily to seniors, a lot of it can apply to the younger crowd as well.

Seniors present a myriad of issues including relocation stress, transition trauma, hoarding, dementia, family dynamics and the overwhelming task of sorting through a lifetime of possessions. Moving is the #3 stress-inducing event for seniors (#1 is death of spouse and #2 is divorce).

I've helped many people of all ages in their downsizing endeavors. Following are some guidelines for those of you who are considering downsizing.

How to Get Started

  • Start with the rooms you use the least: This could be the guest bedroom, basement or formal living room. Start the sorting process in these rooms and avoid cluttering the areas of the home used on a regular basis.

  • Start with large items: This will make you feel you're making progress. For example, figure out what you'll do with the furniture before you start on the knick-knacks.

  • Have a sorting system: Sort items by using stickers, making piles, or making detailed lists of what to keep, to give away (and to whom!), and what's still undecided. And remember to purge as you go.

  • Write down family history: Write down special memories of any family history that's connected to special items. This will be cherished by your loved ones for years to come.

  • Work in scheduled blocks of time: Sort items for no more than 2 hours at a time. This can be a very emotionally difficult process, and you'll feel less overwhelmed and make better decisions if you take your time.

  • Start early and don't rush yourself: Work at a pace that's comfortable for you and your situation. Take time to laugh at old pictures, read old letters, and grieve for losses.

What to do With All This Stuff

  • Keep the items you treasure the most: The more items you discard before the move, the less your moving bill will be.

  • Consider bequeathing items now: You may get more enjoyment out of seeing your granddaughter enjoy your china at the next family event than knowing she will have it after you're gone.

  • Get rid of things you no longer need: Be realistic about the things you use regularly and the things you're just used to having around.

  • Have a garage sale or home auction: And whatever doesn't sell, see the next bullet point!

  • Donate to charity: There are so many people who have so little. I always tell my clients to “share the wealth.” And your donation is tax deductible.

  • Have the kids remove their “stuff”: If your grownup children are still using your home as their own personal storage area, tell ‘em to come and get their stuff!
Leaving a family home can be a bittersweet event. During the process of downsizing we may be surprised at how attached we've become to our possessions and how difficult it might seem to part with them.

Remember that it's the relationships in our lives that give us the most pleasure. A life filled with possessions is no competition to a life filled with family, friends, and meaningful connections. Taking it one step at a time with some assistance can make the downsizing process a little easier.

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