Tag: Storage

Downsizing Offers a Fresh Start for Older Adults

Kaye Appleman and her husband at the home they have owned for more than 30 years in Bethesda, Md. They are moving to a condominium nearby. The New York Times

By Harriet Edleson

For Dianne Welsh, 63, downsizing from her 3,400-square-foot home to a nearby two-bedroom bungalow did not happen instantly. It was at least 30 months from start to finish.

“I’m a very organized person,” said Ms. Welsh, a long-divorced government contractor who still works part time in health communications.

She started going through closets and drawers, getting rid of “quite a bit,” she said. But there was more. “Where did all this come from? It was way more than I thought.”

Like others at or near traditional retirement age — either retired or thinking about it — Ms. Welsh wanted to simplify her life. An estimated 4.2 million retirees moved to a new home in 2014, according to a Merrill Lynch and Age Wave report, “Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices.” Over all, 64 percent of retirees expect to move at least once during retirement.

But after living in the same house for 35 years — the home where she had raised three sons — downsizing, she said, was “definitely a big stress.”

Deciding what to do with a lifetime of possessions poses a multitude of questions and typically triggers a range of emotions.

“It’s disruptive,” said Steven A. Sass, a research economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. It can mean moving away from “your life, your neighborhood,” he said.

“The earlier you do it the better, physically, socially and financially,” Mr. Sass said. “It’s giving up something today for something you want or need.” The payoff is often a fresh start, lower living expenses, less house-related work, a different lifestyle with more amenities and more freedom to travel.

One of the first things to think about, experts say, is how you would like to live the next part of your life. It’s an opportunity to reflect on where you have been and where you are going.

Downsizing is more than a physical change. For some people, it’s an opportunity to create a new life in a new space. “Getting rid of stuff was so liberating,” Ms. Welsh said.

The actual process usually takes longer than expected. Possessions can be difficult to throw away, donate or sell. The best strategy is to plan well ahead. Even before you put your home on the market, “inventory your existing furniture, art and accessories and determine their use in the redesigned space,” said Dana Tydings, owner of Tydings Design in Laytonsville, Md.

Consider having your possessions appraised to determine their value. Be prepared for appraisals that may be far less than you expected. This is especially important for antique furniture, silver and accessories. Many prized items of an earlier era are almost worthless these days.

Parting with possessions is easier for some than others. “It’s the memories and the life that we lived there,” Ms. Tydings said. “I tell them, ‘You will create new wonderful memories in your new space,’ and that seems to make them happy.”

Kaye Appleman and Edward Mopsik are moving from their home of almost 33 years in Bethesda, Md., to a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium just two miles away. They are trading a house with a yard for “communal living,” no longer worrying about things like stairs and mowing the lawn in exchange for a place with lots of amenities, including indoor and outdoor pools.

Though a number of their friends have moved to the golf haven of Pinehurst, N.C., the couple said they didn’t want to uproot themselves. “I didn’t want to move to a new location,” Ms. Appleman said. “There’s a familiarity.”

How do you pare down your possessions? “You do it step by step by step,” said Ms. Appleman, a clinical social worker in her 60s who retired about 10 years ago. For her husband, 72, an oral surgeon who retired in August, parting with most medical books was practical since he can read much of what he needs online.

Many things they found in the attic, like high school yearbooks, also had to go. “We didn’t know they were there; we didn’t want to keep them,” Dr. Mopsik said. “They were gone out of our life close to 30 years.”

But they decided not to part with some antiques inherited from Ms. Appleman’s mother. They are also keeping several clocks for their new home.

“You’re empowering yourself because you’re enabling yourself to make the decision about things,” said Gary W. Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and president of the American Society for Geriatric Psychiatry. “It frees us up when we discard things.”

But don’t discount the pain involved. The difficulty in discarding things can be rooted in mortality and the realization that no one lives forever. At a certain point in life, there is more past than future, and that, in itself, can be daunting.

“We’re all mortal,” Dr. Small said. “The issue is balance.”

Older people want to keep in touch with the past, yet “you can’t hold onto all things,” he said. “One of the upsides to downsizing is it allows us to live more in the present.”

Going through a lifetime of possessions may require professional assistance. Not everyone is comfortable, for example, with selling items on eBay. Figure out which pieces family members might want and which to sell, donate or keep. Consider archiving children’s drawings and photographs digitally. Some opt for an “estate” sale, garage sale or yard sale, depending on what they have.

“It brings up all kinds of emotional issues,” said Susan Levin, who’s move management company that helps older adults and others with relocation and downsizing. “It’s not just moving things but the emotional letting go.”

Older people want to keep in touch with the past, yet “you can’t hold onto all things,” he said. “One of the upsides to downsizing is it allows us to live more in the present.”

Going through a lifetime of possessions may require professional assistance. Not everyone is comfortable, for example, with selling items on eBay. Figure out which pieces family members might want and which to sell, donate or keep. Consider archiving children’s drawings and photographs digitally. Some opt for an “estate” sale, garage sale or yard sale, depending on what they have.

Many people hang on to more possessions than they ultimately desire. “People think they want the stuff initially but later on they don’t care,” said Deborah Heiser, an applied development psychologist in Great Neck, N.Y., and co-editor of the book “Spiritual Assessment and Intervention with Older Adults: Current Directions and Applications.” They might store things for three months, she said, then decide they don’t want them. Once they have found a “new life,” she said, they usually want to dispose of them one way or another.

And for many people, the move is ultimately liberating. “It’s a new adventure,” Dr. Mopsik said. “This is far more positive than negative.”

Getting Organized

Did you know that an estimated 4.2 million retirees move to a new home each year? Merrill Lynch and Age Wave reports that fact in “Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices.” Over all, 64 percent of retirees expect to move at least once during retirement.

As such, getting organized for downsizing for a new home is crucial. Having lived in our current residence 30, 40 or more years, we’ve accumulated vast quantities of furnishings, keepsakes and treasured belongings. Most of which have emotional attachments. Deciding how and to whom to distribute them is, in all likelihood, a logistical nightmare for the entire family.

In “Getting Organized,” Barb Gustafson says downsizing is the perfect opportunity to shed ourselves of much of the clutter we’ve amassed over decades.

The proven step-by-step process starts by having a purpose in mind that fits your needs for each room in your new home. This should help you decide what you truly don’t need and what to bring forward. Take measurements or have the square footage of each room to create floor plans and furniture arrangements. Carry a copy for handy reference, if you’re out shopping, especially when selecting larger pieces.

Start sorting and downsizing today. Begin by going through each room one at a time, one item at a time. Create and categorize sorting bins and label as Keep, Donate, Sell, Recycle or Garbage. Ask yourself, “Do I love it, use it or need it?” Qualified items to keep are either practical, beautiful or inspirational. Stop saving the good stuff for special occasions. Treat yourself to the best every day. Items with sentimental attachment worth creating a space for are worth saving.

You may have twice as many duplicate items as you need. Release and pass them on to someone who does. An outlet that accepts donations or a consignment store are two options. Consider replacement versus repair costs of broken items you haven’t used in over six months. Purge what doesn’t belong in your vision, and value what’s left. Remind yourself they’re just objects. In the end, you won’t miss them.

When sorting clothes, let go of anything that doesn’t fit or that you haven’t worn in the past two years that may not best complement you. Chances are they probably never will.

Paper is the number one source of clutter. Gather up all your documents, files and bills and sort into six piles, subsequently creating folders for each. Bills, bank statements, pay stubs / investments / tax returns & supporting docs / insurance policies, home & car ownerships / warranties, user manuals / will, birth & marriage certificates. Store folders in an easily accessible, portable, waterproof folder box. Shred anything that’s trash.

Simplifying our lives gives us time and energy to do the things that really matter to us.

If you feel overwhelmed or don’t have the time to declutter on your own, request help. Get the family involved or hire a professional organizer.

Whether your move is imminent or in the future, it’s never too early to get organized. With less clutter in your home – and your life – you’ll feel lighter, freer and better equipped to begin new adventures.

Barb Gustafson is a Professional Organizer and Interior Decorator based in Victoria, BC.