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Senior Citizen's Guide to Connecticut

Downsizing Your Possessions Without Moving
Strategic Planning for Your Future

Ideally, many of my clients would like to stay in their beloved homes forever. But that isn't always possible.

For the past six years, I have helped people through the process of moving and dispersing their unneeded personal possessions. It has made me aware of the growing phenomenon of seniors moving into condos, active adult communities and assisted living facilities, or moving to be near or with family members. Such moves from the family residence which everyone called home for decades seems to have increased dramatically over the past few years. Reducing the number of possessions you have acquired over the years, or downsizing while still living in your current home, represents an important new direction your life can take in order to best prepare for the future.

The experience of downsizing a family home and having to move at the same time can be overwhelming, stressful and wrought with emotional turmoil. So many decisions have to be made. However, taking your time can result in good decisions about what to keep, donate, give away or discard. It is much easier to sort through your house before you put it on the market, rather than rushing through the process when the house sells much quicker than expected. I have heard many of my clients tell me, "We never expected the house to sell in a day!"

Start with a Plan

How does one sort through and let go of possessions collected over a lifetime? It isn't easy, but the key is to develop a plan, start the sorting process early and enjoy the journey. It takes time to make decisions and find "homes" for items that others can use and that you no longer need. Imagine that you are going to move, and have a look around you. All the many things you can see in your living, dining and family rooms, bedrooms, kitchen, pantry, hallways, bathrooms, and garage are still not the sum of your possessions. Much of the rest of our "stuff" is hidden from view. Now think about all the other areas, including the attic, basement, storage spaces and closets, which also must be emptied. I have crawled into such places wearing a flashlight mounted on a headband to drag into the daylight boxes of items not seen in decades!

Thoughtful advance planning will give you sufficient time to make good choices about your possessions. Gifts to family members can be very rewarding, and you can benefit by seeing them used and enjoyed. These decisions can be empowering, especially when you have the energy to sort through and weed out a lifetime of accumulation. By keeping only your favorite and most valuable items, you will be better prepared when you want to or have to move.

The Work

Many of my clients who have gone through the downsizing experience are often surprised by the amount of emotional and physical work that is involved. It is tiring and emotionally draining, but it is an important and often rewarding process. Do it at your own pace. It is even better when this can be done with loved ones, family members, or good friends at your side. The rich stories that are triggered by the memories of holding objects not seen in a long time can be relived and shared.

If you don't have family help, Professional Organizers and Senior Move Managers can assist you. Why not begin by downsizing in place, reduce your possessions before you need to move? When the time is right for you, moving will be easier and will hopefully bring new adventures into your live. You will be ready!

The Rewards

Taking stock of all that you have collected over your lifetime and dispersing of some of your items can give you a good feeling of being in control. Working at your own pace is less stressful. Preparing for a move, even though you may stay in your home for as long as you wish, makes letting go and moving on easier — for you and your family. Most importantly, having your adult children, other family members or friends help can bring you closer together.

My in-laws are currently preparing to move from their home of 50 years in West Hartford. Over the past four months, their daughter Janis, who lives in Chicago, has flown "home" three times to help her. Janis has stayed up late at night reading letters she wrote to her parents while she was away at camp. She and her mom were able to laugh together about how she would countdown the days until she could come home. (She never liked being away from home.) There were also letters from boyfriends, and of course the elementary school art.

My mother-in-law is a saver, and stashed nearly everything her children (now adults) produced. So when her oldest son Paul was given back a dozen special monster models he patiently painted and glued together as a child, he decided to keep one. He gave a few of his favorites to his 12-year-old nephew. The rest were sold to a collector.

Reading letters and hearing stories, and discovering such mementos, can certainly and instantly bring you back in time and strengthen your ties to each other with new appreciation of the family home you shared.

Ten Downsizing Tips:

  1. Start with personal papers and photographs. These often take the most time to read through and decide whether to keep, save for your adult children to review or shred.
  1. Make sure you are comfortable and have enough light. Bring over an extra lamp, and you will see much better, and the task will be much easier.
  1. Use a long portable folding table to spread out your items. If you are removing things from the closet, the table can be a handy place on which to put your found items. Working at waist height, rather than bending to the floor and back up will save you energy.
  1. For garbage, I like to use the 3-millimeter thick contractor bags because they are sturdy. Hang them off the back of a chair for tossing items away. If you are in the kitchen, you can secure the bag to the dishwasher or stove front and close the door to hold them in place.
  1. I recommend using shallow flat top boxes, which are sturdy and stackable, and found in the produce section of your local supermarket. You can place items in them quickly and see what you have at a glance. They are easy to pick up and move out of the way later.
  1. It takes a lot of time to sort through your clothing and accessories. If you haven't worn something for two or three years, give it to people who need and will appreciate it. Local churches, synagogues and charities will accept clean, gently worn items.
  1. Ask family members for help. Those who live distances away can help you during holiday time, special celebrations or visits.
  1. It is a good idea to consider the weather when you go to work in attics or garages. During the summer, morning time is the coolest time to go up into the attic. In winter, a sunny afternoon time is best.
  1. Do not have your adult children order a dumpster and just start tossing items away. An expert appraiser can determine the worth of your antiques, collectibles and ephemera (papers of historical significance).
  1. Most importantly, enjoy reminiscing while you read, touch and feel items you haven't seen in years. You can capture the rich history of your life story in creative ways.
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