If you or your parents are at the stage of life to consider downsizing, you’ve got a lot of company.  Nearly 40 million people in the United States, or 13 percent of the total population, were 65 or older in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As individuals live longer and families are often geographically dispersed, more elderly adults are faced with the trauma of relocating, often from a place they’ve called home for decades.  Every nook and cranny holds special memories.  The thought of leaving them behind can be overwhelming.

The good news is that you don’t have to leave your memories behind.  But you will need to make choices about what physically goes with you and what mentally stays with you.

It is much easier to start the downsizing process while you are still able to make your own decisions.  Downsizing doesn’t get better, or easier, with age.  Consider beginning now rather than during a crisis when others will have to make choices for you.

Benefits of proactively downsizing

  • You make decisions about where to relocate and the type of housing that suits you best.
  • Your family won’t have to act on your behalf in a crisis mode.
  • There’s time for thoughtful decisions about what to hand down to family members and what to keep.
  • Instead of uncertainty, you will have peace of mind knowing that you’re settled in a place of your own choosing.
  • Even if you delay a move to smaller quarters, you can get a head start on the touch task of deciding what goes and what stays.

It’s not too early to start the process

Communicate with the family.  Let your family know that you’re ready to start the process.  Consult with them and create a plan for family involvement.

Sorting.  Identify special “treasures” you want to take with you and those you’re willing to pass along to family members, give to friends, recycle or donate.  Some questions to ask:

  • Does it make sense to store or move the item?  What is the cost?
  • What is the worst thing that will happen if I let go of this?
  • Does anyone else care about this item?
  • Can I find this information elsewhere if and when I need it?
  • Did I even know that I had this item?  (This can help determine its importance)
  • Can I take a photo of this item instead of keeping it?
  • Is there someone else who could use this more than I?  (Perhaps a family member or a favorite charity)

Keep in mind that you needn’t have a new home picked out to begin the process of paring down household treasures.  The greatest legacy you can leave your family is to have your house in order.

Supplies to help get the job done:

  • Colored dots.  Use red dots to identify large items you want to keep; use different colors to identify items that go to each family member; and tag items you wish to sell or donate.
  • Boxes and containers.  Use these to sort your memorabilia, recyclables, charitable giving, storage, estate sale items, etc.  It is a good idea to “stage” these boxes and containers in one or more rooms.
  • Markers, plastic bags, garbage bags and tape.


Downsizing can seem daunting.  It helps to break the process into manageable tasks.  For example:

  1. Select a room (master bedroom)
  2. Select an item (bureau)
  3. Select part of the item (one or two drawers at a time)

Remove everything from the bureau drawer.  Ask yourself the questions above about sorting, then take appropriate action.  Organize all items you’re keeping and put them back in the drawer.  Create a realistic schedule.  Remember that this will get done slowly, but surely.

Continue the process until the master bedroom has been “redefined”.  Pat yourself  on the back and move on to the next room.

Experts can make downsizing easier

Consider contacting resources such as:

  • Relocation and transition specialists certified by the National Association of Senior Move Managers
  • Certified professional organizers
  • Estate sale agents
  • Book buyers
  • Photo archivers
  • Internet auction web sites
  • Charities
  • Hazardous waste facilities

The National Association of Senior Move Managers certifies relocation and transition specialists.  A 2008 survey of its members reported that the most popular services are:

  1. Unpacking and setting up the new home
  2. Move planning and move oversight
  3. Sorting services
  4. Disposal / distribution of remaining items
  5. Packing services
  6. Customized floor plans

In that survey, 96 percent of respondents reports that their clients were downsizing, and that their average job takes 17 to 24 hours to complete.  The majority of their clients’ moves are to assisted living communities and independent living communities, followed by active adult communities, continuing care communities and other types of residences.

Remember that whether or not you call on professionals to help you downsize, the job will be easier if done before a crisis.  You’ll be able to keep the things that really matter when settling into your new surroundings – and know that some of your treasures are cherished by others.  You might even think about the process as rightsizing.


Sally Allen
A Place for Everything, LLC
Golden, Colorado

Tips to Make Downsizing Easier was last modified: November 26th, 2022 by Phil Sanders