Your Next Home: A Senior’s Guide to Decluttering and Downsizing

by Janet Campbell, Founder of ElderSpark

April is Occupational Therapy (OT) Month. Occupational therapists are a valuable resource for caring for patients at home. Keeping patients safe at home can be a challenge related to bathing, excessive clutter, unsafe pathways, etc. Leverage your OTs to assist working with patients and families to develop a safety plan to reduce hazards. An HHQI Underserved Population webinar, Compulsive Hoarding for Care Managers, can provide insight with the clinical team addressing barriers, including therapists. Today’s blog provides great insights for you as the reader or to share with patients/families or friends.

movingbox_iconLet’s face it. No move is easy. Whether you’re heading off to college, moving in with a significant other, or upsizing to accommodate your growing family, every move has its own unique set of challenges.

One of the most difficult moves of all, however, is your last. While there are many benefits to downsizing as you age — like lower energy bills, less maintenance, and proximity to your loved ones — the physical and emotional strain of packing up and leaving your family home can be overwhelming. In addition to the memories you will be leaving behind, you’ll likely need to significantly pare down your belongings as well.

While the process of going through a lifetime of possessions will almost always be a painful one, there are things you can do to ease the transition. First, give yourself plenty of time. It took nearly a lifetime to accumulate all those things and, more than likely, it will take longer than you think to go through it.

The earlier you begin preparing for your move, the less stressed you will be. Take it one room at a time, and start in an area where you don’t have a lot of emotional attachment, like the laundry room or linen closet. Spend at least a few seconds on each item before you make your decision. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, feel free to move to another room or take a break until you feel better. You may even want to try meditating to ease your mind, calm your breathing, and remind yourself of your goals.

Next, establish some ground rules regarding what you will keep and what you will toss, donate, or give away. If you can, do this before you begin packing and purging, and let it be your guide as you wade through each drawer, closet, and shelf. One easy-to-implement way of doing this is to ask yourself these four, simple questions about your belongings:

  • Do I need it or want it?
  • Does it have sentimental value?
  • Do I use it often?
  • Do I have another item that performs the same function?

Of course, these rules aren’t hard and fast. It will be up to you to interpret the difference between “want” and “need,” for example. And, as difficult as it may be, lose the guilt. If you don’t need it, want it, or use it, and it has no sentimental value, don’t feel obligated to keep the item. No matter who gifted it to you, how old it is, or whether it has monetary value.

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Image via

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends and family members who are less emotionally invested in your belongings than you can be invaluable helping hands (and hearts) as you declutter. From doing the heavy lifting to sharing memories about your favorite items, they can lighten both the physical and emotional load.

Moreover, having your children and grandchildren involved in the process can help you gain clarity when it comes to legacy gifts. It may be easier to let go of those hand-sewn quilts if you know they will find a loving home in one of your children. Likewise, you may feel relieved to put  that grandfather clock up for sale after you find out none of your heirs want it for their own.

If you don’t have any family nearby or need even more help, there are also companies that specialize in helping seniors simplify prior to a move. For a fee, these professionals can help with every part of the process.

Above all, remember to be kind to yourself. A season of your life is coming to a close and, as is always the case, it takes time to make the transition.


Janet Campbell founded ElderSpark to fulfill her mission to encourage people to live their healthiest and happiest lives ever. She strives hard to provide information on senior wellness and safety as well as ideas for how to make the most of this beautiful chapter of our lives.

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