Helping Seniors Downsize: 7 Steps for Downsizing, Decluttering, and Paying It Forward

image of boxes on moving day

See part one of our series on downsizing: “What to Bring to a Senior Living Community.”

image of boxes on moving dayWhen you’re helping a loved one move to a senior living community, the process of downsizing can seem overwhelming. And, with good reason: downsizing is a big job.

Once you’ve identified what is most important to move to your loved one’s new community, what do you do with all the items they’re no longer using? This task often falls to family members who wonder how they’ll make those decisions in a way that is respectful, meaningful, and efficient.

Read on for practical tips about selling, donating, and “paying it forward” with the items your loved one is no longer using.

Make a Plan: 7 Steps for Downsizing a Senior’s Home

Once your loved one has moved into a new place, create a “safe passage” for the rest of their belongings.

Ask your loved one how involved they would like to be in the process. This may be part of an ongoing conversation about their wishes for their belongings. Then, take it one step at a time.

  1. Prepare. Ask your loved one (and yourself) these important questions:
    • Are there certain items your loved one would like to keep in the family, or items they have promised to a family member or friend?
    • Which items require special attention for a “safe passage?” These are items that your loved one might feel conflicted about letting go. Knowing that their items will be appreciated can go a long way toward easing the process.
    • Are any items of value like cash or jewelry stashed in hiding places around the home?
    • Who is available to help, and how much time do you have?
  2. Family (and friends) first. Distribute items that have been promised to family and friends first. Also ask family and friends whether there are other items that they would like to have.
  3. Identify resources for donating and selling. Before you start sorting, brainstorm and research opportunities for donating and selling items. Seek recommendations from friends and see our list below for ideas.
  4. Make an inventory. Go room by room and broadly inventory what is in the room and whether it will be sold or donated. For example, in a den the list might be “Books and videos: donate; furniture: sell; plants: keep for friends.”
  5. Declutter. When it’s time to start the sorting process, begin with the simple stuff. Clear out easily discarded items like old papers, unwearable clothing, broken gadgets, and anything you know for certain is trash or recycling.
  6. Organize. Create areas for “sell” and “donate.” Use sticky notes to identify the passage for large items.
  7. Follow through. Contact organizations for pickups and begin the process of selling items.

Ideas for Selling and Donating Items

One of the biggest hurdles in downsizing is figuring out where everything goes. Once you’ve identified which items are for family and friends, use the list below to help brainstorm where to donate and sell items.

  • Non-profit organizations and charities. Many non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity ReStore offer pickups for large items or a large volume of items.
  • Community organizations with specific needs. Shelters, for example, often request items such as clothing, toiletries, and small luggage.
  • Used book and record stores. Stores sometimes purchase whole collections. Also look into free book exchanges in your area.
  • Consignment stores. Furniture and home goods consignment stores vary in how many items they will take at once. Be sure to ask whether the store is currently accepting consignments.
  • Antique stores. If your loved one’s home contains antiques and you’re familiar with the value, antique stores and dealers can be helpful.
  • People just starting out. Recent grads or people starting over in a new city can bring new usefulness to your loved one’s items. They may be appreciative of basics like kitchen and household supplies and furniture.
  • Estate sale. While the preparation can be labor intensive, this is a quick way to make sure items go to people who will use and appreciate them.
  • Online sales. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and OfferUp all can be great outlets for selling items.
  • Online giveaways. A local Freecycle or BuyNothing group can help to get donated items into the hands of people who will use them.

Tips to Make the Downsizing Process Easier

Whether you’re helping a loved one downsize from an apartment or a house, there is a lot to think about. Here are some tips to make the process go more smoothly.

  • Give yourself plenty of time. Set a timeline with realistic goals.
  • Listing and coordinating sales and donations online can be quite time consuming. Enlist help from family members and friends.
  • Consider hiring a senior move manager. Even after your loved one has made the move to a senior living community, a senior move manager can facilitate the process of selling, consigning, and donating household items. They do much of the legwork of connecting to buyers and charitable organizations.
  • Downsizing requires a lot of letting go. Remember to focus on what you and your loved one are gaining in the process.
  • When making donations, remember to get receipts for tax purposes.
  • Digitize! Take photos of meaningful objects that you are passing on to others.
  • Expect the unexpected. Times have changed, and items that once were in demand, (like sets of china), may be less desirable. But, a decades old kitchen table may be just what a vintage shopper is looking for!

Helping a loved one downsize is a big task. Like any move, it can be physically and emotionally demanding. Give yourself time, get rest and stay focused on the benefits for you, your loved one, and those who benefit from your efforts to “pay it forward.”

Whether you’re just beginning the process of researching senior living or planning for moving day, our family is here with you every step of the way. Get in touch with one of our experts to learn more about making the move to senior living.

Learn More About Why Families Rely On Sunnyside Manor

When it is time to make decisions about senior living, we are here to help. Sunnyside Manor offers assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Learn more about Sunnyside Manor’s resources for caregivers. Whether you’re looking for short-term support or a longer-term plan, begin with our “Getting Started” guide. Please call us at 888-696-2052 to speak with a senior living expert.

Sunnyside Manor, located in Wall NJ, is the area’s premier senior living community. It features three distinctive neighborhoods: Independence ‘Plus’ Assisted Living, Recollections Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation.

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