Less is more: Making the move to a smaller home
By Katie Richard/Active Senior’s Digest
Often times, as the old adage goes, less is more.
This may be true for the seniors whose four-bedroom home that was once filled with the pitter patter of little feet before it became the “hang-out spot” for neighbourhood kids is now a place of peace.
It’s true for the older adults whose two-car garage that used to house the ski equipment, buckets of sidewalk chalk , bubbles and rows of bicycles has become empty.
Downsizing is part of the circle of life, but it isn’t always one that comes easy.
You can still remember the excitement of purchasing the home. Perhaps it was the one your children took their first steps in. The one they completed their homework in all those years and the one they left to head off to college.
Over the 30 or 40 years, and through children and life, you’ve accumulated a good amount of treasures – and perhaps some that have turned to trash too.
But the three flights of stairs that once were a breeze to climb have taken their toll on your knees. It’s just you and your partner, alone in a home built for five.
So the difficult decision to move is made. But what about all that stuff?
“We’re finding more and more baby boomers are downsizing from homes into a condo or even a rental,” says Vicky Riley Keyes, president and founder, Red Coats Moving Solutions. “More and more people are renting instead of purchasing a condo to perhaps save their money for things like travelling.”
Riley Keyes says the majority of their clients are 65 and older. Since it’s inception in 2004, the Toronto-based organization has helped more than 1,000 clients ‘declutter’ and downsize.
“I was working in a retirement community at the time and realized there were a lot of people who were overwhelmed at the idea of downsizing,” she says of the start of Red Coats.
The task can be daunting, but with a little preparation, it can go a lot smoother, the expert explains.
“Usually the process starts when they’ve already decided to move and they’re overwhelmed at what they’ve accumulated,” she says. “As much as we’d encourage people to think about this sooner, (in most cases) they really don’t start until it’s really absolutely necessary.”
After deciding what best suits you and your situation – albeit a retirement home, condo, apartment or smaller home – you can then begin to figure out what stays and what goes, Riley Keyes says.
“We always start at the end in mind. We look at where they’re going,” she says, adding this helps the senior decide on how much they can take and then eventually what exactly they can take with them. “Typically people are moving into a one bedroom and den or two bedrooms and den.”
It’s not always that simple though.
Often times a senior’s new place to call home won’t be able to accommodate the often large and bulky furniture they have.
“Sometimes it means they can take their possessions and sometimes it means they have to buy new,” she says.
Riley Keyes suggests going through the house, one room at time, tagging items based on whether it can go with you, can be sold, donated, recycled or thrown out.
For those who are still leery about downsizing, or perhaps aren’t quite ready to do so yet, she suggests spending 15 minutes a day or per week tackling one room at a time.
“If you break it down into small tasks, it’s much more manageable,” she says. “You’ll accomplish a lot more. Stay focused on one room (at a time).”
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects to saying farewell to your family home and possessions is the sentimental value it holds, she explains.
“The emotional attachment to things is really the biggest hurdle people have to overcome when downsizing,” she says, adding she was once helping an older man who had remarried after his wife died so the two had accumulated a lot.
In the basement was an old chair that the man said had sentimental value because it was his grandmother’s.
“He said he could still see her sitting in it,” she says.
But Riley Keyes asked him if he used it as it was clear it had been stored downstairs and looked to be too low for him to sit it. He told her he hadn’t used it in years.
She had him sit in the chair and took a photo so that he could keep the memory alive without bringing the chair with him.
“It’s about trying to find innovative ways to preserve memories,” she says. “We find dining suites are the hardest things to get rid of (for people).”
While they mean well by it, Riley Keyes says often times parents or grandparents hold on to things thinking their children or grandchildren will want them, but it’s not typically the case.
“People are holding on to things for their children or grandchildren thinking they want it,” she says. “It’s not very often they will. They’re not interested in your things. They want to start fresh.”
Another thing Red Coats sees often is children storing things at their parent’s homes for years.
One lady was still storing her daughter’s books from university 30 years later, unbeknownst to the daughter, Riley Keyes says. Parents should reach out to children to claim their items.
No matter the reason, downsizing has become a reality, and will become reality, for thousands of seniors each year.
With proper planning, and the helps of others, it doesn’t have to be difficult.
There are ways to make it easier, Riley Keyes says, and ways to do it that keep the memories alive.