The golden years are the perfect time to downsize and move to a home that is smaller, simpler to care for, and easier overall to manage.
Raising a family requires a larger home and lots of items, but as children grow up and leave the home, older adults are left with many items they simply do not need any more. Whether you're managing your own late-in-life relocation or are helping your parents or grandparents move, moving older adults from one household to another involves much more than just gather quotes from moving companies—on top of the decades of clutter, you may also be dealing with family heirlooms and antiques, unexpected sentimental attachments to seemingly innocuous items, and possibly even health complications.
Many important decisions have to be made before moving day arrives, including what items to pack and what items to get rid of. This simple guide will help you successfully make this important transition.
1. Develop a timeline and schedule
Give yourself as much time as possible to coordinate and execute this important move. Many different tasks have to be completed before the move can even begin, so create a timeline to help organize these different phases. Your timeline might include items such as:
- Contact a dumpster rental service and arrange for delivery and pickup.
- Contact a local charity that can pick up donations of furniture and other large items.
- Hold a moving sale to reduce the number of unwanted items.
- Contact a freight shipping company to arrange for carton pickup and delivery
- Acquire cartons and other packing material to prepare items for moving and shipping.
- Arrange for different family members to help out with packing, moving, cleaning, and more.
In addition to developing a timeline that accommodates the many tasks that must be taken care of before the move can take place, you may also wish to consider creating a schedule. This will break the overwhelming task of moving down into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be tackled one at a time. It can be much easier to get other family members—including the seniors you are helping to move—to commit to helping out for a few hours on a weekend than agreeing to assist with the entire move.
2. Learn what you can about the new property
Knowing the square footage, room measurements, and general floor plan of the new residence will help you determine what items can be kept and what needs to be gotten rid of. Furniture in particular may need to be downsized, such as:
- Long couches
- Large bookshelves,
- Old televisions
- Generous sideboards
- Oversized work desks
These pieces may not fit comfortably into a smaller home, and it will be easier to sell or give away them away than to arrange for their shipping and transport only to discover that they are too large for the available space.
Learning about the small features that distinguish the property can also be very helpful. For instance:
- If the new home has a built in set of coat pegs, you won't need to pack your coat rack.
- A pantry with existing shelving will not immediately require additional storage solutions.
Consider the various features and limitations of the new property as well—this will help you make wise decisions about what items should be downsized and which to pack or ship.
3. Develop an organizational system
Sorting through a lifetime of belongings is an enormous job, and it is likely to take several weeks—or even months—to accomplish. Determining a sorting and packing strategy early on can help you throughout the moving process. Not only will this decision help you stay on target towards your packing and moving goals, but you will be able to better manage the time you have available. This can include:
- Creating a color-coded system for organizing belongings
- Sorting through large items first
- Starting with lesser-used spaces
4. Color code your belongings
While you pack, items can be organized according to their final destination and then color-coded to prevent confusion. Colored sticky-notes or different permanent markers can be used to designate which cartons contain items destined for donation, what's being given away to various family members, what needs to be packed for shipping or moving, or what youa re hoping to sell at a yard sale. If you are undecided about whether an object should be kept, donated, given away to family, or sold, place it in a different pile and revisit this category at a later time.
If necessary, create a poster with a key or legend that explains the color-based code you are using. Clearly write out what color is assigned to the different categories to prevent confusion among the various people who will be assisting with the moving and packing process.
5. If possible, sort large items first
Even though any given household contains many more small items than large ones, large items are the hardest to organize when ahead of a move. Clear out dressers, cedar chests, storage trunks, sideboards, and desks, then remove the item of furniture from the room. Arrange for pickup with a charity organization or a family member or friend who wishes to keep the item.
Clearing out large items such as kitchen appliances, pieces of furniture, large cooking items, lamps, and storage items will give family members more room to sort and organize the remaining possessions. Packing will also be much smoother as a result of having more available floor space.
6. Consider starting in lesser-used rooms
If large items cannot be downsized immediately, consider starting with rooms that are not used very frequently. These rooms tend to have items that can be given away to charity groups instead of packed. Sorting through and clearing out a single room will free up a lot of space for additional sorting and packing.
Some people like to pack cartons as they go rather than waiting until the possessions going to the new property are all that remain inside the home. There are definitely advantages to packing as you go—full cartons can be set aside (just be sure to use a marker to note the contents on the side of the boxes), but on the other hand, you may decide later on that items you initially wanted to keep should actually be downsized. Unpacking full boxes in this scenario can be a real hassle.
7. Work with experts
Don't be afraid to ask for help if you're feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of downsizing and relocating in your golden years, or if you are unable to assist your older loved ones through their move. Moving companies who specialize in senior moves can help you navigate the process from start to finish. They have experience with the unique challenges and considerations moving older adults poses, both for the seniors who are moving and their families, and they have the skills necessary to pack all kinds of items, including antiques, artwork, and other fragile items.