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Downsizing a Home for Retirement

Picture of person going through drawer

Now that you’ve made the decision to move to a retirement home, it’s time to prepare the current home in preparation for the next adventure.

It can seem daunting. After all, it’s more than just a bit of decluttering – it can be an emotional journey, complete with both laughter and tears.

It pays to take your time and enjoy the process without rushing. There are questions of logistics: what comes along, and what will be given away or sold, or passed on to family or friends? What about a favourite chair,  books – they’re coming, too, right? Making a move means finding a way to honour the past, by keeping what matters most or by finding ways to preserve memories – and creating a new place to live that is exciting to set up.

Here are some ideas to help navigate this process to enjoy the benefits of downsizing in retirement.

1. Make a plan

Try to plan with the future state in mind – what a new retirement home suite can accommodate, and how you want the space to function. Get the measurements of the new space, including closets and additional storage; this will help determine what can fit, and what will need to be donated or sold. Think about recreating the floor plan at home by mapping out the new bedroom or living area. Using tape, block out the size of things to see what fits. That way, it’s easier to envision the flow and see what works and what doesn’t quite fit.

For example, there might not be room for that wooden desk and old computer. But would a laptop solve this problem? Is there a favourite chair that simply must make the move? Does it fit into the new space? If so, plan the suite around it.

2. Start small

Start the paring-down process well before the scheduled move date  – today, even. Investing a mere 15 minutes each day on this will make a big difference when it comes to thinning out belongings.

3. Take your time

Preparing for a major move takes time. Trying to squeeze the process into a single day or week is way too much, emotionally and physically. Start the process early and allow some opportunity to reminisce; sometimes things trigger strong memories. Each item – whether it’s wedding dishes, the pictures on your walls, the antique desk that’s a family heirloom - will require thought and consideration, so it’s OK to go slow. Be kind.

4. Let it go

As a starting point, create a list that includes things that will be kept and items that are no longer wanted. Begin with obvious things, such as appliances or tools that won’t come along.

The goal is to take what is really needed, what brings happiness, and what fits in the new space in the retirement community. As you begin to go through belongings, make separate piles for items to be donated, sold or gifted; things to be thrown out; treasures to take along; and a “maybe” pile. Choose a limit when dealing with collections (maybe there’s too many shoes) or multiples (how many mugs should be packed?). For example, if there are some cherished dishes, such as wedding china, is the whole set needed, or are four place settings sufficient? 

Have something that is not going to make the cut but holds special memories? Take a photo of it for future viewing – the memory is always more valuable than the physical item.

5. Share, sell, donate

As the move comes closer, it’s the perfect opportunity to share items with friends and family. Remember not everyone will want something like a piece of furniture – style changes constantly and everyone has their own taste. Take it in stride.

Thinking of selling some items? There are a number of online options, such as Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji, where just about anything can be sold. Keep in mind that household items and furniture depreciate over time, so they may not hold value. Do a little research first to find a fair price.

There is always a need for charitable donations. The Furniture Bank in the Greater Toronto Area is one example, but there are places in virtually every town that accept furniture and household items, such as the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store, which accept everything from doors and windows to sinks and hinges.

Once the decisions are made, stick to them. It is very easy (and expected) to have second thoughts about small items. The best way to make sure is for the resident to lead all the decisions – drop off donations, post an ad for that big armoire, give the family a platter someone has always loved seeing. The time is now.

6. Bring in the professionals

It may take a team to downsize for retirement living, not just to help but also to share memories. After all, there are stories to tell. This should be fun.

Think extra support is needed? There are professionals to help downsize for living before the move to a retirement home. Unlike family or friends, these pros don’t share memories; to them, it’s quite literally stuff, and their focus is on finding the best way to make the new space functional. By letting someone else take charge of the move-out, it’s a way to save energy and focus for the new retirement residence.

Downsizing to move into a retirement home is a big job that takes time. Once the process is completed, a weight comes off and there’s time to focus on the next chapter. 

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