Over the decades, it’s easy to accumulate possessions, but eventually there comes a time to downsize. For many seniors, that time is when the children are grown and they want to enjoy their golden years free from worries about home maintenance or living alone. Perhaps they want to move to a senior living community to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
This often leaves empty nesters with a need to simplify and move into a smaller space.
There’s an art to decluttering. Experts such as the writers at Lifehack.org recommend starting with an easy area to get momentum because the process can feel overwhelming when viewed as a whole – remember that it may have taken years to acquire these things, so you probably can’t expect to achieve a clean slate in a day, especially if you have mobility issues.
Some tips for seniors and their families from Lifehack and other sources:
Downsizing is best when spread out over several weeks or months as opposed to crammed into a short time. Regular annual spring cleaning can periodically get rid of clutter around the home so it remains manageable. Beware of procrastination, even if it seems as if there will be plenty of time to act. The transition to Assisted Living may be unplanned, coming as an action taken following some sort of eye-opening accident revealing that an aging parent can no longer perform the daily tasks of life without help from a caregiver.
While you may fantasize about using a bulldozer to simply push everything to the curb, the first step should be sorting into different boxes those items that can be donated, kept or discarded. Obviously, things that are obsolete should be the first to go – unless the senior still has a way of listening to those 8-track tapes from the seventies. Also at the top of the list: Clothes that no longer fit, books that haven’t been read in ages, furniture that is rarely ever used, etc. Lifehack suggests discarding anything that does not “spark joy”.
Be Sensitive but Make Hard Choices
We naturally feel a sentimental attachment to things that evoke memories of happy times. Throwing away things that are no longer necessary but nevertheless valuable to us can be extremely difficult. Remember that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Also, the senior can feel as if family are eager to get hands on their things if people start fighting over furniture or family heirlooms that would normally be part of an estate sale. Rather than piling everything the senior owns in a dumpster, a storage unit rental can accommodate their need to hang on to some things that are heartbreaking to part with. Some portion of time later, it’s far easier to discard possessions once they’ve been out of sight and out of mind.
When possible, preserve things that may take up far less space with a more efficient method of storage, such as putting loose photos into scrapbooks or preserving as digital photos stored on the cloud. Collections of music and movies can now fit onto digital devices or be streamed over online services like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Apple Music. For more tangible possessions, it may become preferable to rent as needed rather than owning something that’s rarely touched. Reduce paper clutter by paying bills online, unsubscribing from catalogs or magazines that aren’t needed and discarding junk mail.
Merge Possessions with New Accommodations
At Rosewood, residents are able to decorate their own apartments with their things, which makes for an easier transition from a home to an Assisted Living community. Whether it is decorative knick-knacks or daily essentials, surrounding ourselves with our “stuff” goes a long way toward a new place beginning to feel like home. At our Memory Care facility, residents are allowed to keep important items in a memory box for storing their “special things.”
Recycle When Possible
The local library may appreciate boxes full of donated books. A yard sale or putting items on eBay can not only reduce clutter but also raise extra money and give a new life to old possessions. Items purchased in bulk from wholesalers can no doubt find a new home spread among family members and friends.
Be Aware of Hoarding Behavior
A senior whose living space has become unsanitary or hazardous may be exhibiting symptoms of dementia. There’s a difference between being something of a pack rat saving things for a rainy day versus saving and collecting things that are used, broken, dirty or of no value. Caregivers may find piles of garbage or junk spread throughout the house, which creates a dangerous hazard for tripping. Another symptom of dementia is forgetting to take medications or letting bills go unpaid. If the aging parent with dementia transitions to Memory Care, the grown children left to sort through their belongings may discover hiding places where possessions are stashed. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s may feel paranoid or persecuted already, so take care in the manner in which things are discarded or inherited.
The minimalist lifestyle can represent the freedom to pick up and go without the stress of worrying about so many possessions to clean after and safeguard. It’s important to start decluttering early so the transition to Assisted Living can be a seamless and pleasant process in which valuables transition to the new living situation while other possessions are sold or disposed of.