How to Downsize and Prepare for a Move to Senior Living

Moving is always an emotional undertaking. There’s the excitement of new possibilities and the fear of the unknown. The number of decisions you face, big and small, can feel daunting. Since preparing for a move to senior living entails a lifestyle change in addition to a physical move, it’s all the more valuable to take a considered approach to downsizing.

Each resident we’ve welcomed into our Branchlands community has navigated the process, so we have insights into what’s worked for them. Try these tips to reduce stress and make the most of your efforts.

1. Start downsizing early

The earlier you start downsizing, the easier it becomes. Once you know your move is on the horizon, you can begin. For instance, you might start labeling your possessions, just a few each day, sorting them into the categories keep, donate, sell, or throw away. When you start early, you can take your time and feel more comfortable with each decision.

2. Picture your senior living space

In all, a senior living community expands your space. At Branchlands, you gain access to many amenity-rich areas: activity rooms, lounges, reading nooks, a movie room, and the elegant dining rooms, to name a few. You gain outdoor spaces as well, like the gardens, walking trails, rooftop terraces, and courtyards. But since you won’t need to furnish any of these areas, the amount of private space you’ll be filling with your own possessions will likely be much smaller than your current home. In short, you’ll need to be discerning in how you assign that keep label.

Before you start downsizing, get a good sense of the space you’ll be moving into. The community should be able to provide you with the floor plans for your new home, like these from Manor House Independent Living at Branchlands. Knowing the square footage and being able to picture the layout will help you decide what to keep.

Of course, some communities might provide furnishings for your private rooms as well. The modern and light-filled residences at Linden House Assisted Living at Branchlands, for example, come pre-furnished, meaning there’s even less need to hold onto old furnishings.

3. Choose and streamline your essentials

Your main task in downsizing comes down to deciding what’s essential. Be honest with yourself in your assessments. If you haven’t used an item in the past year, the odds are you don’t really need it.

You should also explore your options for minimizing the space your essentials will take up. For instance, photos and documents can occupy a fair bit of space, which you can free up if you digitize them. Digitizing allows you to preserve precious memories without taking up physical space. You can do this on your own, scanning them onto your computer and saving them on a cloud-based service like Google Drive or Dropbox. Or you can use a photo digitizing service to take up the work on your behalf.

4. Really picture your new life

You might need to redefine essential along the way. At a community like Branchlands, one of the biggest benefits you receive is freedom. Freedom from daily chores and upkeep. Freedom to spend your day doing what you love.

So, for example, all your kitchen essentials might not be so essential when you have access to the dining room and the chef-prepared meals, which are included in your monthly payment. Likewise, with cleaning supplies now that you’ll have daily cleaning performed for you by staff.

Meanwhile, some items which might seem less central to your life today might actually be worth reclassifying as essential. These might include possessions that give you special comfort—perhaps a bit of décor or a memento from an important time of your life.

5. Use a downsizing system

When decluttering, you will probably find a sorting system useful. If you’ve been labeling items into those four categories—keep, donate, sell, and throw away—that’s a perfect start. In making those determinations, you can also use a systematic approach. For instance, use a series of simple questions as a checklist to streamline your decision-making:

  • Have you used the item in the past year?
  • Does it make sense in your new space?
  • Will you need it, given the amenities included in your senior living community?
  • If you don’t, is it valuable enough to make selling it worthwhile?

You can explore other systems, too, such as the method made popular by Marie Kondo: group items together by category (like clothes, books, decor) and see which of them you actually use and enjoy. For additional decluttering after the move, some people recommend leaving your items boxed up until you need them. Anything still in a box after three months? You can probably dispose of it.

6. Donate, sell, or store

Once you’ve identified your non-essentials, consider donating them. Giving things away to people you know often feels the most meaningful, so that’s a good first step. Relatives, friends, neighbors—get in touch to see if they might be interested. After the folks you know are so laden with donations that they can’t possibly take any more, you can direct donations to organizations such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity. Donating your items can make you feel good about giving back to your community.

Selling items online can also be a great way to downsize and might provide extra money. There are many online marketplaces, such as eBay and Facebook Marketplace, where you can sell your items. Just be sure to take good photos and write accurate descriptions to ensure a successful sale.

Have treasured possessions that you simply cannot bring yourself to sell or give away–and which also won’t fit in your new home? All is not lost. Rent a storage unit near your senior living apartment and keep the items there.

7. Use help for downsizing as well as moving

You need to be the one who decides what’s important to you and what you want to bring with you into your new living situation. You do not need to physically take care of each item. If you have friends and family who can help with boxing, sorting, donating, and selling, that’s wonderful. If not, look into the downsizing services available in your area. You need to offer directions. Let someone else take on the rest.

8. Focus on the benefits

Since downsizing is often an emotional process, it helps to stay positive. Focus on the benefits, like simplifying your life and reducing clutter. When you get stressed, it’s okay to take breaks and come back to it later.

The biggest benefit can be the end goal: moving into your new community! It’s one of our greatest pleasures to see new residents settle into a rich and rewarding life at Branchlands. With housekeeping, meals, and transportation all provided for, along with caring support, our community members have the chance to live the lives they want. That’s a goal well worth the work you put into downsizing!