The Ultimate Downsizing Home Checklist: Helping Older Adults Downsize

As you look around your own home or your parents’ home, you may begin to realize that sometimes we simply have too much “stuff” and often too much space to handle, especially as we grow older. You don’t need to keep on fretting over a home that’s too big to clean and maintain or has rooms that go unused for months on end. You can turn this problem into a great revenue opportunity by downsizing or rightsizing as many are now calling it.

Downsizing and moving to a smaller home can be stressful, but with the right help, it can become an experience you’ll wish you would’ve done sooner. When moving to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), there are many things that will be provided for you or your loved one, to make life easier and more enjoyable.

We hope this downsizing home moving checklist will remove some of the anxiety that often comes along with this less than desirable task. Downsizing to a retirement community is just the next step on your journey. It can give you more financial and personal freedom to make the journey exactly what you want it to be.

Check out the following steps to downsize with little stress: 

Downsizing Your Home: The Mental Checklist

Whether you’re retiring and want to turn equity into an opportunity to travel, need to move for better access to care or anything in between, there are a few things to consider before you actually start the process of packing, sorting, selling and so on.

This is also a good place to start if you’re helping a loved one downsize.

Determine Your Goals

What is your optimal plan? Are you looking to simply declutter your current home or are you considering moving or downsizing out of the home altogether? If the plan is to move to a CCRC -what will the new space look like, and how big is it relative to your existing home? Do you have fewer rooms to place your furniture in? Are you downsizing the number of bathrooms, which would make many items unnecessary duplicates? Are you losing outside space? Another goal is to have a safe and comfortable move that’s as easy as possible. When considering how to downsize your home, it’s best to start with any items that obviously can’t come with you. It allows you to get the process rolling on a good note and can make future decisions easier.

If downsizing to a smaller home raises questions about your furniture — like “Will this couch fit?” —you might consider seeking assistance from a local downsizing company that can make recommendations and understands common senior living home measurements. In many cases the retirement community might also be able to provide floor plans with room dimensions or allow you to walk through a staged cottage with furniture properly sized to each space giving you something to compare to your existing furniture.

Give Yourself Time by Getting Started Today

cleaning out

The earlier you can start the downsizing process, the better. There are likely closets you haven’t opened, boxes packed from years ago and junk drawers that can be cleaned out regardless of the size of your next home. Downsizing takes a long time because you have a lifetime worth of treasures to sift through. Start reviewing your possessions as you go, and you’ll make the process easier on yourself.

Another top reason to start early is that your timetable can change when you find the right place. Downsizing a home may need to happen much more quickly if your home sells more quickly than expected or if you find a place that’s perfect and need to make the purchase to take it off the market.

Think About What You Love

The hardest thing to downsize is your collection of personal treasures. Scrapbooks, jewelry, photos, papers, books, collections and other valuables have distinct memories and joys. Cleaning out these items is often the most difficult part of downsizing homes.

Create a mental or physical list of the things you love and find a place to set them aside. Protect them as you downsize your home and return to them at the end of the process. By saving them for last, you’ll have a better understanding of what you can take with you, and you’ll be primed for making the hard choices. Transferring photos or taking pictures of oversized valuables can then be stored digitally for you and loved ones to look at later on and can protect them for much longer periods.

What Would You Replace If Lost?

replacing belongings

The last question to answer to get the mental ball rolling for this downsizing home moving checklist is: What items in your home would you pay to replace if they were lost in a fire, flood or other disaster?

This helps you ensure that you’ve got everything you love set aside. Sometimes there are elements we don’t think about, like paintings or photos on the shelf, a pair of comfy slippers or the hall clock that reminds you of a great vacation.

Not only does this list help you protect what’s most valuable, but it also shows you the large amount of other goods and items you’re willing to live without or replace with a right-sized version when you downsize your home.

Get Your Paperwork Together

Paperwork is a big burden for downsizing your home, but it is something many people overlook. The exact set of documents you’ll need will vary based on your situation. So we’ve put together just a few things to fill out and collect to get you started thinking about all of the information you’ll need for the big move.

talk to utility providers

Some documentation needs you’ll want to address include:

•      Making copies of your driver’s licenses and other state IDs. You’ll need to update these soon, but copies are a great idea just in case something is misplaced and hard to find during the move.

•      Updating your address with Medicare and Social Security, plus your voter registration.

•      Giving your new address to the companies who hold your investment accounts and retirement accounts.

•      Talking with your utility providers to turn your service off at the old home and on at the newer home. Don’t forget your phone, Internet and/or TV providers.

•      Copying all insurance policies and related documents. That may include your life insurance information and your auto policy as well as the car registration related to that policy.

•      Going to the post office to fill out a “Change of Address” form when you have your new location. You can also change your address online with the USPS.

•      Updating book, magazine and newspaper subscription information. Gather these and contact your service providers to change the address.

•      Discuss what you’ll need from your retirement community and if they handle any of these items – such as setting up utilities – for you.

One additional thing to consider is all of your current prescriptions. Speak with your doctors so you can refill them in advance of an address change. Last but not least, give your new address to your family, friends and people who help you manage your financial life. This may include accountants, lawyers, bankers or insurance agents.

Sorting Your Home Downsizing Needs

After your documents are in order, it’s time to start the home downsizing process. This is the next part of how to downsize your home, no matter your age or where you’re headed.

Head to the simplest room in your home and sort out everything in it. You’ll be moving from room to room, creating sorted piles in each — you can combine these whenever is best for you, but make sure they’re easy to tell apart. Sort — don’t pack — right now so you can see everything in one place and understand exactly how much you have.

Continued care retirement communities have a variety of services and offerings that you’ll want to consider. Learn about cooking and food options, emergency care supplies and other rules that can guide your sorting process.

downsizing piles

When downsizing your home, start by sorting items into these piles:

•     Must-Have: These are the things you need, such as important documents and your most beloved possessions.

•     Like-to-Have: Items you enjoy but are not the most meaningful. You’ll come back to this pile as you minimize your life in order to identify what’s most important to you.

•     Useful-for-Others: These are objects you don’t need or want any more but others may enjoy. Items to include in here might be extra furniture that you can’t use but would still sell at a garage sale. Also, add items that you want to give away to friends and family or items you’d consider donating to local charities.

•     Throw-Away: Broken, old and unusable items go in this pile and are discarded. If you don’t think a donation service would take it, toss it in the trash.

Many people and downsizing services for seniors will use colored stickers and nametags for each item. This allows you to sort things quickly, and you can write notes that might be helpful. Sometimes that can include what room to unpack the object in or how much you think it’ll sell for in the future.

Don’t get too involved with notes, or it may slow down your process. Everything will have a chance to be packed soon, and that involves a lot more sorting and note-taking to make the process simple.

A Few Thoughts on Sorting

While sorting, keep the following tips in mind:

•      If you or your loved one are moving to a home or residence facility that serves meals, you should consider reducing the number of kitchen items and serving pieces that you keep.

•      Sort furniture into the same piles as the rest, but also rank pieces as you go. This will help you prioritize what to take in case the new home is too small to bring everything you like.

•      Keep most photos initially. When you unpack, you’ll have plenty of time to review each of them individually, but doing so now will greatly slow down the process and may make it harder to finish.

•      Be patient. Moving is tough, especially if you’re looking through a lifetime of memories.

•      It’s okay to keep some things. There’s no need to purge everything from people’s lives. You want to bring enough so you’re comfortable and your new location has the look and feel of a proper home.

Packing to Downsize Your Home

Packing comes next, and it starts with the items you want to keep most. Move room by room and pack up items that are related, with enough cushioning and packing materials to keep things safe.

Downsizing services for seniors and other moving services will be able to help you with this step. If not, it’s the perfect time to ask family and friends to help. This packing will take a while, but stick with it and finish each room one by one. If you move around too much, you’ll end up having a hard time knowing where your items are.

Be sure to reach out to your future continued care retirement community to learn if they have any services for you or can recommend someone for you.

Invest in thick markers for your packing and write out as much detail as you can on each box. If you have help, you can even write down a box’s contents and put this in the top of the box — that makes unpacking a lot simpler. When going with the inventory list, be sure to note which side to open up the box with your markers.

important box

Always create one “important” box that contains toiletries, your phone charger, a little cash, moving agreement, keys, medication and other necessities. This should be loaded last so it is easy to find. This is the first one to open in your new place and can help you get everything you need. The cash is great for ordering a delivered dinner that night, because moving always seems to take longer than we expect.

Some labeling and packing considerations include:

•      Sheets may make good stuffing for a box, but be sure that you have at least one set of bedsheets available to make your first night comfortable.

•      Label boxes with the room where they go so you or your movers can place everything in the right place.

•      Ask your mover about specialty boxes or packaging they can do. This might let you do things like keeping clothes on hangers or properly protecting your flat-screen TV.

•      Put jewelry and other top items in as few small boxes as possible. You’ll either want to keep these with you or put them in a safety deposit box at your bank until the move is over.

Talk with senior downsizing services to see exactly what boxes can be used with their moving service. They’ll also help you with a lot of these steps. Selecting the right moving and downsizing service can make the whole process much easier.

Getting Rid of Unneeded and Unwanted Items

While you’re packing up and setting things aside, it’s good to use a few ways to sell your unwanted items. We recommend getting rid of different items in different ways, and you may even make some cash along the way. The secret of how to downsize your home is making money where you can.

Some of your sale options include:

•      Having a garage sale that you and your family run.

•      Enlisting the help of an estate sale company and having them sell everything at once.

•      Selling collectibles through online venues and auction houses. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, don’t try it. This isn’t a time to try and learn something new, because it can add extra stress when you don’t need it.

•      Visiting antique shops to sell valuables.

•      Working with a consignment house to sell your goods over time.

Moving and Settling In

When it’s time to move, make sure you get a signed copy of the contract with your movers and keep it with you. Look at the coverage that’s offered and the time you have to make a complaint if something is damaged. Your contract will have a time for arrival at each location. Make sure you’re there for that.

You have every right to watch the movers and not grab any boxes yourself. You’ll want to try and get to the new living facilities designed for seniors ahead of the movers so you can get your keys from the property managers.

After the moving is done, start with the “important” box. Get everything there ready and together, then start working in the bathroom and bedroom. You’ll want the toilet paper unpacked before the books are back on their shelves.

It’ll take a few days to unpack everything, and that’s okay. You’re just starting a new journey and want to take your time to make things feel like home.

If you’re assisting a loved one with the moving process, be sure to check in to make sure the move-in is going well. Also, reach out directly to the retirement community to see if they can provide a status update. It’ll help you know if things are going smoothly or if you might be able to help by stopping by and saying hi.

Remember, it can take some time to adjust to a new living situation, and the more familiar faces and voices the better. You need to be a source of stress relief for them.

We hope this home downsizing and moving checklist has been helpful. If you’d like to learn about any of the residential services we offer or simply talk to someone about the process, Mount Joy Country homes is here for you and your family.

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