In the two years that I have been a professional organizer, I have worked with many seniors. It is a pleasure to work with people with so much life experience. You go with them through their long lifetime and learn a lot. I remember finding the senior yearbook of an 85 years old. He couldn’t hide his excitement.
While seniors are so experienced, they also have to face tough decisions. They are aware that there’s a big chance that they will undergo a sharp turn in their health and a huge change in their everyday life. A client of mine felt, during one of our sessions, so bad and could not stop thinking about what she’d like to do before she dies. That moment raised in me, more than ever, the thoughts on how I can better help seniors.
Last week I was on the panel of a webinar led by a realtor for seniors. Also present were an estate attorney and a financial advisor. We discussed questions that should be raised by the children of seniors. The two main questions were “when to start” and “how to start”.
I believe that there is no right time to start – the earlier the better. I don’t believe anyone can be ever ready for those discussions, so start early.
As for the “how” portion, my attitude is slowly and gradually, with lots of compassion and patience. As it takes time to accumulate assets and one does not build a retirement plan right before he/she retires, one can not handle an abrupt move and change in everyday life. Let me explain:
First, none of us knows when a home transition will be needed, if ever. Some people live independently till the day they die. Some people have a gradual decline in their health and some have a sudden steep health change that they can’t manage their lives anymore. I have a client with dementia. In a few months she changed from an independent, socially active woman who travelled all over the world to a person who can barely pay her bills. She knows that downsizing is a necessity for her and that she wouldn’t be able to stay in her home much longer. I have to gradually but pretty quickly help her.
Secondly, downsizing is objectively a daunting task – it’s a lot of work. Nobody, especially not seniors, wants to do it with time constraints. It is so much better to do a little bit at a time, so that when the time has come, everyone is ready, happy and calm.
Thirdly, going through stuff is emotionally tough, especially with memorabilia and sentimental items. Starting early allows for a gradual reduction in those items and so makes it easier emotionally. It gives time to scan items or to decide they are not needed, after going through them a few times.
Here are some suggestions on how to organize in preparation for downsizing:
- Internalize to yourself what is the extent of the downsizing you plan on; is it from a 5 bedroom to 1 bedroom or two bedroom? Will you be at a house or an apartment? Will you live in a gated community that includes many services? Will you be living close to the family? Raise as many questions as possible, so that you are best prepared.
- Make a list of the most important items you would like to take with you. Check that it’s realistic, depending on where you intend to live. Then start decluttering other items in the house. Knowing what you’d like to keep helps dispose of other items.
- Discuss your plans with your family. After all, they will be the ones to inherit your estate and help you deal with downsizing. The more brainstorming you do with them, the better.
- Gather all photos and sentimental items into one place. This will enable you to organize valuable photos and calmly think about which memorabilia you really want to keep. If you don’t, your mind will keep being bothered by the thought of where certain items are and you will not be focused on arranging and smartly decluttering those.
- Get help in donating items that are in good condition to good causes. The thought that something you have used for years will continue to be enjoyed by someone else makes it easy to part with the item. Don’t just drop items at Goodwill or Savers. As an organizer – I put effort into this matter.
- Get help selling items with high value. With social media and the organizer’s help, it’s easy.
Remember that life is a process, enjoy the process. Downsizing is a process also. Think about it in a positive way. Big homes require a lot of maintenance. Moving into a small home is a privilege. It clears time to enjoy life in a different way – socialize more, travel more etc. My parents just downsized and they are very happy. They spend more time with their grandkids, go on many trips and just have the time to rest more. They decluttered a lot – some items have been kept for 40 years. My parents did not have lots of stuff, compared to most people. Therefore my best advice to you is to constantly declutter and at a certain age, above 50 I’d say, start thinking and acting towards your next stage in life, in a very positive way. I’m 52 and that’s what I do:)
I’m always here for you,
Rediscover Your Home