By Kristen Castillo

January 12, 2018 4 min read

After a lifetime of collecting things, many seniors decide to streamline their lifestyles and downsize their homes. Luggage sets, holiday dishes and decorations, piles of photo albums and even gardening equipment can all stack up in a large home. So when moving to a smaller place, what should you do with all your extra stuff?


"Changing space isn't a bad thing," says Claudia McLaughlin founder of CMF Transitional Organization LLC, a company that specializes in helping seniors transition between homes.

Instead of using the term downsizing, she calls it "rightsizing."

"When rightsizing seniors, we create a floor plan for the new home using existing furniture," she says, suggesting offering family members the furniture and accessories the senior no longer wants or needs. "The remainder of furniture and accessories can then be evaluated for value -- should they be sold, auctioned or donated."

*Decisions, Decisions

Once you've chosen to downsize, the biggest challenge is making decisions on what to keep. Professional organizer Ellia Harris of The Potential Center says downsizing decision-making is tough for two reasons:

"The items we have the most difficulty making decisions about are the ones to which we have the most emotional attachment," she says.

The second reason: "We make hundreds of decisions every day but we rarely make choices about what to keep and what to discard," says Harris, concluding, "Change is difficult anyway, but when there are so many memories in our surroundings it feels like we are leaving part of our life behind when we move."

*How Much Has To Go?

Do inventory around your home to evaluate what stays and what goes. While there isn't a rule on how much to purge, it's wise to compare the size your new space with your old one. For example, if your new home's square footage is cut in half, keep about half your stuff.

*Managing Emotions

Downsizing isn't just about stuff around the home, so give yourself room to handle the emotions of the move.

"Just like losing a friend or family member, there is a grieving process to go through when we leave a long-time home," says Harris, who suggests acknowledging emotions and facing them head on with a silent thank you or blessing. You can even have an awards ceremony to bring family and friends together one last time in the home.

*Meaningful Move

When de-cluttering, only keep what makes you happy or has significant meaning. Everything else can go. For organizing important keepsakes like family photos, Harris suggests doing an online search for a photo-scanning company to turn those prints into digital files, which can be displayed in digital frames.

It can be a bit trickier managing collectibles and other keepsakes. For example, place childhood art projects into a portfolio book or scan them.

For bigger things that you won't have room for in your new home, Harris advises asking family or friends to keep the items "on loan," like museums do with art pieces.

*Tips for Easing the Transition

--Start small. Walk around your home and pulling out things you know right away you don't need or want. Decide whether the item will go in the trash, get recycled or be donated to charity. Paperwork, such as old credit card statements, can be shredded.

--Work with a pro. If needed, hire a professional organizer to help you sort through clutter and simplify your life.

--Sort room by room. Clean a closet, cabinet or drawer at first. Anything you don't want can be sorted on the spot. Doing one area at a time will keep you focused. When you finish a task -- even a small one, like a storage box -- you'll feel accomplished.

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