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Senior Downsizing Tips

By Sandra Roussy October 30, 2020 Aging

Do you or a loved one need to downsize? There are several reasons why there comes a time in our lives where we need to let go of some of our possessions. Are you moving to an assisted living facility? Are you switching from a 4 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment? Has your home become cluttered? These are but a few reasons why most of us will face that time in our lives when it’s necessary to rid ourselves of some of the things that we have accumulated over the years. 

This is no easy task and needs a lot of preparation. You can’t decide one day that you will easily get rid of a lifetime’s worth of possessions over a single weekend. 

I personally downsized drastically a few years ago when I sold my house and decided to set out traveling. I managed to fit a 3 bedroom house into a small storage unit along with a few suitcases to travel with. Of course, it wasn’t easy and it took about a month to complete. I was amazed at how much I had accumulated over the years and how many things I had kept that no longer served us. Why did I still have the baby monitors when my daughter was now 18 years old? This is but one example of so many in regards to all the stuff that I had in that house and that I was not using. 

Lost in Clutter?

Clutter can easily creep up on you.

Some seniors accumulate and never discard and this adds up over the years. It may be time to consider downsizing if your home has become unsafe because there are too many objects that make it hazardous to walk around freely.  

Hoarding in the elderly is more common than we think and downsizing can be particularly difficult for someone who has a tendency to hoard items. Oftentimes, professional help is needed in order to downsize. This can be through therapy and cleaning crews. 

Are you helping a Loved One Downsize?

Is an older relative or friend moving to a smaller space? They will need help downsizing their home and a few lending hands. 

You will need patience and understanding if you are helping a senior loved one downsize and pack up for their new home. Remember, they probably have a lifetime of memories stacked in the objects that they have accumulated over the years. This is an emotional time for them and their boundaries and feelings must be respected. 

Assist them by offering a concrete plan and some helpful advice so that they don’t feel overwhelmed and that they get the sense that you are there to help and not rush them to get rid of their things.

Tips for Efficient Downsizing

Here are a few helpful tips that you can benefit from when downsizing as a senior or when helping someone who is downsizing. 

Allow Yourself Time

This is crucial if you don’t want to wear yourself out or come out of the downsizing experience feeling like you made some bad decisions because you rushed through the process. 

Depending on the number of rooms that you have to go through, allow yourself several weeks and up to several months if you have to.

Yes, No, Donate, and Sell Piles

Make a plan. 

One easy way to go through your possessions and decide what to keep or not is to put things into piles. They don’t have to be literal piles, a list will do for the larger items. 

Create a pile of things that you definitely need and want to keep. Another one for things that you want to discard. 

From the discard pile, you will then sift through and decide what you want to give to friends and family, what you want to donate, and what you want to sell.

From the sell pile, you can then decide to have a garage sale, an estate sale, or post your items online. 

Helpful tip: DON’T make a “maybe” pile. This pile can get huge quickly and then you’re back to square one sorting and deciding. 

I remember driving up to the donation center with several boxes of items to give. As I pulled out a toy stroller with a doll in it, a young girl walked by with her dad. Her eyes lit up at the sight of the shiny pink toy and I just had to give it to her on the spot (with permission from her dad). Made my day! Giving and knowing that your items will be used and appreciated by someone else feels amazing. Yes, my daughter was 18, and yes, I still had a shiny pink toy stroller in my basement that she hadn’t touched in years.

Start with the Small Rooms

Some rooms contain more memorable objects and they will be more emotional for you to go through. The children’s rooms or the attic may have a lot of things that will make you think and drift off into fond memories. 

Start with rooms like the laundry room or the bathroom for example. As you get a momentum going and your system in place, it will be easier for you when you get to the more important rooms. 

Eliminate Duplicates

We all have too much stuff! Who needs 6 spatulas, 4 can openers,  and 22 blankets? Eliminate whatever you have in duplicates and keep only what you need. Keep the articles that you use the most. 

A good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used something in over a year, chances are you will not use it in the coming years either. Get rid of it.

Moving unnecessary things that you haven’t used or rarely use will also undoubtedly only weigh you down during your move.

Organize Collectibles Creatively

Now, what to do with your collections? Your new space may not be suitable to fit a cabinet filled with all of the mugs acquired from your travels over the years. Without a doubt, these mean a lot to you and remind you of good times. But do you really need 45 coffee mugs?

You don’t need to get rid of all of them. Keep the most memorable ones and take photos of the rest. You can then print out the photos and create photo albums that you can easily browse through whenever you want. A photo album is much less space-consuming than a cabinet full of coffee mugs!

Some online businesses like Shutterfly will design, print, and ship beautiful memory albums for you.

Take Time to Reminisce 

It’s important not to disregard your feelings and emotions while you are sifting through your possessions. You are downsizing things, but your memories remain.

You will have a variety of emotions while you are downsizing. Some feelings will be sadness and other happiness. Don’t hesitate to stop and take the time to live through the moment before moving on. This is one of the reasons why tip #1 is so important. 

Gift Cherishables Wisely 

Leaving a legacy of your most beloved items to your family and friends is probably something that you have in mind. Why not gift these prized possessions while you are still alive instead of waiting to put them in your will? 

Another good idea is to have family and friends come over and tell you what they would like to have. Maybe your granddaughter loves the tea set and never told you? This is an excellent time to find out who to give what to.

I did all of these steps when I downsized and I’m glad I did. I gave myself enough time to organize and reminisce and I am happy with my decisions. I also asked for help when needed which made the process easier. Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends and family or hire people to help you downsize. 

Have you downsized or will you be downsizing soon? Do you have other tips for downsizing? Share your ideas with the community. 

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The Author

Sandra is the middle-aged woman you hear about who sheds everything she owns and sets out into the world to rediscover and redefine herself. After more than twenty years spent in the fashion industry designing collections for brands such as La Senza, Victoria’s Secret, and JACOB Lingerie, she shifted her path and pursued her longtime passion for writing, traveling, and photography. Sandra was published in the NY Times best selling book Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It. A deeply personal essay hand-picked by Elizabeth Gilbert about loss, facing fears, and going after dreams. Visit her website:

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