Clearing the Clutter: Tips On Downsizing for Seniors

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Wed Jun 02 2021.

Clearing the Clutter: Tips On Downsizing for Seniors

Many older Americans choose to downsize and live in a smaller space. Sometimes it’s for medical reasons; other times it’s to cut down on expenses or live closer to loved ones.

Regardless of the reason, downsizing for seniors presents unique challenges. 

After six or more decades of amassing stuff, it can be difficult to whittle down your belongings without feeling like you’re throwing away the memories associated with them. Though the process can be daunting, with a little bit of planning and some strategic thinking, it’s possible to get the job done. 

To assist you in the process, we’ve compiled a list of 7 tips. Let’s jump in!

1) Give yourself plenty of time.

Downsizing isn’t something you complete in a few hours or over the weekend. It’s a time-consuming process that’s physically and emotionally exhausting. If you’re helping a senior loved one or parent with the moving process, start at least three months in advance. That way, you won’t feel under the gun or forced to make split-second decisions. 

Instead of tackling the whole house at once, go one room at a time. When you do, get an idea of your loved one’s attachment to certain objects. Some people find it easy to get rid of things they don’t regularly use. Others have strong emotional connections and struggle to let go. Once you have a better understanding of your senior’s feelings, you can come up with a plan of attack.

2) Clear out old or unused items first.

If your senior is moving into a condo or studio apartment, they probably won’t have a garage or space for a craft room or office. That means you can clear out these areas in their current residence, without having to worry too much.

Go ahead and toss outdated or damaged items. If there’s stuff in good condition, like gardening tools, machinery, a nice desk, or an office chair consider donating it to an organization like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. If you have the time and energy, you might also want to consider hosting a garage sale once you’ve worked through every room in the house.

3) Get rid of any duplicates.

Over the years, many people collect duplicate items. For example, if your senior enjoys cooking or baking, they might have dozens of kitchen utensils like baking sheets, cookie cutters, ladles, and silverware.

If your loved one has dementia or another health problem that prevents them from cooking, you can donate, sell, or toss most of these things. If they’re still relatively mobile and enjoy spending time in the kitchen, pare the collection down.

In a small living space, one large pot, a baking sheet, and a few basic items like a whisk, a spatula, and serving spoons, should suffice. Let your senior have a say in what stays and what goes. They know which items they can and can’t live without.

4) Go digital.

Mementos like framed pictures and photo albums are more than just physical objects. For many seniors, they capture moments from youth and memories of happier times. Unfortunately, they’re also bulky and take up lots of wall and shelf space. Instead of having your loved one decide what stays and what goes, consider converting these items to a digital format.

Companies like EverPresent, Legacybox, and ScanCafe make the process both easy and affordable. Each has a slightly different but similar process. Send in your framed photos or photo albums and they’ll take care of the rest. Once everything’s converted, plug the memory card into a digital picture frame, and voila –– all of your loved one’s photos in a single, easy-to-access location.

5) Pare down the wardrobe.

Did you know the average American woman has 103 outfits in her wardrobe? That’s a lot of clothing! Over the years, many of us amass everything from t-shirts and sweaters to shorts, sweatpants, and more formal attire. Downsizing from a walk-in closet can be intimidating but it isn’t impossible. Most nursing homes and senior living facilities allow residents to have between three and five changes of clothing. Some of these outfits should be casual and others more dressy. Get rid of anything that’s out of fashion, stinky, or full of holes.

When determining which clothes to keep or toss, consider your senior’s living environment, the weather, and if they tend to run hot or cold. Layering is especially beneficial for individuals who are older. For example, putting a fleece vest over a light flannel or cotton shirt helps protect sensitive skin while regulating body temperature.

6) Gift heirlooms now.

Does your loved one have valuable items like fine china, an antique marble top table, or a jewelry collection they plan to leave as part of their estate? Instead of placing these items in storage for a later date, consider gifting them now. Not only will this help clear up some space, but it can also prevent any confusion over who gets what. What’s more, your loved one can explain the meaning behind these items and see the joy they bring to others.

7)  Reduce the size of collections.

Collectible items like Precious Moments figurines, coins, or vintage baseball cards can bring a lot of joy to their owners. But they aren’t easy to pack up, transport, or store, especially if you’re trying to downsize.

Talk with your loved one and see if they’re open to the idea of donating or selling parts of their collection. If there are any particular items they’re really attached to, keep and display them prominently once they’re moved into their new residence.

Downsizing for seniors is a time-consuming process, but it’s absolutely worth the investment. By getting rid of unnecessary items, you can help your elderly loved one live more comfortably while relieving some of the stress associated with transitioning to a new residence.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.