Moving is at the top of every list of “major life stressors.” When most people move they take their stuff with them. But, when seniors begin downsizing possessions they must often confront a daunting task. They must sort through—and get rid of—a lifetime’s worth of memories. This is why downsizing for seniors can be an emotional minefield.

Are you an adult child, family member, or caregiver for an older adult who hasn’t yet decided to downsize? We’ve got some suggestions for how to broach that challenging conversation

If the seniors have already decided to undergo the downsizing process, keep reading. We have 5 downsizing tips for seniors you can employ in advance to make it easier for them—and for you.


1. Plan Ahead 

If the seniors have initiated the downsizing process, it’s likely that they are still healthy enough to make most of the decisions. So, it’s important to start the conversation around downsizing possessions early

Talk to them about where they will be living and their budget for moving. Then compare costs in light of how far away the new space is, and what size. For example, your parents are moving across the country to be closer to you. In this case, it may be cheaper for them to buy larger furniture at the new location rather than packing and moving their old items.

2. Clean Out the Clutter

While you’re still considering options, start going through the house. Your mission should be to cut down as much “clutter” as possible. 

You don’t need to talk about who gets Grandma’s good china yet. Instead, offer to help go through cupboards, closets, and drawers to pull out anything that will be downsized. This can include everything from old bank statements to the case of canning jars in the basement. If the seniors are reluctant to let go of usable items, consider donating them.

3. Get a Floorplan 

Once you choose a new living space, get a floorplan of the unit, or buy some graph paper and create one yourself. Make it as close to scale as possible. Then have a conversation about what possessions to downsize and how to arrange furniture. 

The focus should be on the practical use of the space based on physical needs and abilities. We’ve seen too many cases in which seniors tried to cram their old stuff into their new space. This made it seem like a smaller space preventing the use of walkers and other medical equipment.

4. Distribute Family Keepsakes 

Find out if there are any specific possessions the senior was planning to leave to someone. If so, then suggest they make the gift now. Another option is to ask everyone with a stake in the process to write down one or two items that they would like to have. 

If you can reach a general consensus on the distribution of some keepsake possessions, have people come and get those right away. Moving items right away instead of “later” is a big step toward downsizing effectively.

5. Start Sorting

For everything that’s left, go through each room and use sticky notes or masking tape labels. Sort the items into four categories: save, maybe save, donate, and discard. Jump on those last two as quickly as possible and remove those items from the house. When  they’re gone it’s a good bet that there’s not going to be room in the new place for everything tagged “save” and “maybe.”  

That’s when you pull out the floor plan. You still have to make hard decisions. But placing parameters around what’s actually needed in the new space can help diffuse some of the emotion.

Hire WayForth to Help with Senior Downsizing

Finally, if possible, move to the new space before emptying the rest of the house. Don’t forget to bring some favorite pictures and knick-knacks. The goal is to make the new place feel like home quickly. This can help put the focus on the positives of the move instead of the loss of their old life. It is especially important if the seniors are moving into a nursing home or assisted living facility but are hesitant.

Click the button below to learn more about how our the WayForth team can help your family with a Senior Move.