Tips for Decluttering and Downsizing for Seniors

Downsizing is the act of moving from a large home into a smaller home, and it’s something that millions of elderly Americans go through every year. It’s an important process, one that can greatly improve their quality of life, finances, and even their health, but it’s also very stressful and can be particularly hard on seniors suffering from mobility issues. 

Do You Need to Downsize?

A few years ago, it was announced that more young adults were living with parents than partners. Adult children are more reliant on their parents than ever before and many of them don’t leave the family home until they are in their mid-twenties. This means that seniors are holding onto those homes longer than they used to and are downsizing at a later age.

Some seniors are refusing to downsize at all, choosing to age in place rather than buy a new home that meets their needs or move into an assisted living facility. 

If your kids are still at home or you only have one left, and you have no need for a new space and the conveniences it can provide, do you even need to downsize? And if so, how do you know when it’s time to make a move?

Potential Reasons to Consider Downsizing

Your Housing Expenses are High

How much money are you spending on basic living costs, including rent/mortgage payments, utility bills, maintenance, and everything else you need to keep your house in order?

Ideally, these costs should not exceed 30% of your income. Anything less and you’re considered relatively secure, but anything more and you’re financially burdened. If you have a lot of debt, your debt-to-income ratio should also be considered, as this can have a massive impact on your quality of life.

For instance, let’s assume that you have an income of $3,000 a month. You spend $1,000 on your mortgage payment, $500 on bills, $500 on debt payments, $250 on transportation, and a further $250 on food and drink. This means that your housing expenses account for 50% of your income and your debt to income ratio is languishing at a pretty abysmal 83%.

You have a few hundred left every month, but you still have to think about clothing, entertainment, treats, gifts, and unexpected expenses. For instance, what happens when a friend has a birthday, or your washing machine breaks down?

In such instances, and assuming you’ve generated sizeable equity, you can sell your home and buy a smaller home outright. You’ll save on mortgage payments and maintenance and, because it’s smaller, you should have fewer bills to worry about. If you choose a home closer to your family and friends, you can even rethink your transportation. 

You might feel like you’re hanging in there, but life is so much easier when you have fewer expenses and less debt to worry about, and this is one of the benefits of downsizing.

You’re Struggling to Maintain Your Home

The average American house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It also has a garage and additional living space, as well as a front and back yard. All of this adds up to a lot of maintenance, and if you’re living alone and are not as fit as you once were, it’s easy to fall behind.

The house becomes dirty and dusty. Faucets perpetually leak, drafts make certain rooms unbearably cold in the winter, and you’re forever stressing about damp, mold, and leaks. All that’s before you consider just how much clutter the average home has. All those knick-knacks need dusting and those ornaments need polishing.

It’s a lot of work and, if you’re falling behind, it could be time to downsize.

Your Home Doesn’t Suit Your Needs or Your Lifestyle

As difficult as it can be to let go of family homes and the memories they contain, it begins to make sense when those homes no longer provide the support and accessibility that you need.

The steep staircase that was once home to the constant pitter-patter of children’s and animal’s feet, is now a mountain that you have to scale every time you want to use the bathroom or go to bed. The bath that you bathed your babies in is now a hazard.

As your mobility decreases, you need a home that works around you, one that has easy access, a single floor, and accessible bathrooms and kitchens. Of course, you can renovate your home to make it livable, but it’s often cheaper and easier to downsize.

You’re Far from Your Family

Once the kids fly the nest, you’re on your own and could find yourself miles from support. Many seniors choose to downsize so they can live closer to family members and friends, either because they need the support of a loved one or because they want to watch their grandchildren grow.

Downsizing Tips

The downsizing process is long and arduous, more so than any other move. Whether you’re moving to a retirement community or have simply found a smaller apartment or house, you have to endure the stress of uplifting your life and possessions and also have to think about decluttering to adapt to your smaller home.

Here are some tips to help you out.

Get Help

Your family and friends can help you through the move, dealing with both the physical and psychological aspects of it. They’ll be there to help you move boxes, donate to Goodwill, arrange yard sales, and deal with real estate agents, but they will also be there to provide moral support when the stress becomes too much.

Take it Room by Room

Each room should be packed and prepared in turn, preventing you from feeling overwhelmed. It will allow you to make an early start, as you can pack everything in spare rooms and other unused rooms before moving onto your bedroom and living room.

Focus on important documents, family photographs, jewelry, and other important items, and make sure these are all secured in advance. You can take them with you as opposed to putting them on the moving truck. 

Get a Storage Unit

If you’re struggling to let go of certain items, rent a storage unit and keep them there. Once you’ve settled into your newer and smaller house, you’ll realize you don’t have space for those items and when you settle in your new home, you’ll be more inclined to donate or sell them. 

It can be hard to let go of things you’ve owned for years, but when you leave those old memories behind and move into a smaller space, it’s easier to disconnect.

Start Decluttering

One of the biggest problems with downsizing is that people tend to accumulate a lifetime’s worth of junk. They have keepsakes from when their children were young and even when they were young. Examples include memorabilia from every concert or sports match they’ve attended, and heirlooms and mementos they can’t bear to lose.

It’s not easy to let this stuff go, but you need to make some sacrifices to avoid filling your new home with just as much junk as you had in your old home! Here are tips to help with the decluttering process:

  • If You Haven’t Used it in 2+ Years, Let Go: We all have clothes that we haven’t worn in a while and items that we haven’t used, but just can’t get rid of. We convince ourselves that we’ll use them eventually, and so we keep them. At the same time, if it has no real or sentimental value and it hasn’t been used in a couple of years, it needs to go.
  • Sell Up: It’s easier letting go if you’re selling your items and not simply giving them away. So, take the items of value that you don’t need and have a garage sale or yard sale. You can also sell on eBay and Craigslist. Stop thinking about the memories you’re losing and start thinking about the money you’re making and the space you’re saving.
  • Give to Loved Ones: Got some sentimental items that mean a lot to you and your family? Give them to your family members. You’ll save yourself some space and won’t have to say goodbye to something that means a lot to you.
  • Donate: Old pet toys, unwanted furniture, unworn clothes; everything that you don’t want and can’t sell can be donated. There will be someone out there who needs it and it may expedite the decluttering process if you know you’re helping someone.

Don’t Expect to Save a Lot of Money

Unless you’re moving to a sought-after location, downsizing should save you some money, but it probably won’t save as much as you think.

Older adults looking for smaller homes compete with first-time homebuyers taking their first steps in the housing market. They also compete with all the other seniors looking to downsize and save.

In 2018, the average downsizing senior sold their home for $270,000 and bought a smaller one for $250,000, saving just $20,000 in the process. 

These facts are pre-Coronavirus, and once the pandemic is over, it’s fair to assume that there will be fewer downsizers and fewer first-time buyers. That should make it a buyer’s market, which is a good thing. At the same time, however, you still have to sell your home, and the money you lose taking a hit on the asking price will offset any profits you make when you buy.