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8 Downsizing Tips for Moving to a Retirement Community

The average American thinks moving is about as fun as a root canal. Studies show that moving is one of life's most stressful events. In fact, one survey found one in 10 people would rather spend a week in jail than move. One in five Americans think moving is more stressful than planning a wedding, and 27% feel it's more anxiety-provoking than a job interview.

Downsizing your life into a smaller space like an independent living community can turn up the volume on moving stress even more. Understandably, emotional ties to your home and belongings make transitioning into a space that means parting with some items very difficult.

How to Make Downsizing as Painless as Possible

While no one can promise a stress-free move, there are ways to make the transition smoother and kinder. Kimberley Bilotich, founder and president of Dignity Transitions, a downsizing service for seniors, says the first step in making a move to an independent living community is getting in the right mindset. "One of the hardest parts of downsizing is parting with years of extra belongings, and the emotional attachment that comes with those belongings," she says. Once you're in a good space emotionally, start tackling the practical aspects of moving.

Bilotich offers these tips to ease difficult emotions and stress that can accompany downsizing:

#1 Adjust Your Thinking About Belongings

Before you even think about pulling out that packing tape, take time to honor your feelings about the move. It's perfectly normal and okay to feel mixed emotions. Try not to get stuck there though. Bilotich says reframing your thoughts around objects can help. "Objects, people, and memories are not the same," she says. Tell yourself, "I can get rid of stuff, and still keep relationships and memories."

You can also think of parting with excess belongings as an act of love for others. Bilotich names a few ways letting go of items can feel more like love than loss:

  • Releasing the burden of sorting items for the next generation

  • Helping a spouse feel less stressed and weighed down

  • Helping people in need through donated items

  • Freeing yourself to be more mobile and flexible

"Clip these thoughts, and put them somewhere obvious to remind yourself," says Bilotich. "Add your own thoughts and perspective."

#2 Start Small

Thinking about sorting and packing up an entire house can feel overwhelming to anyone, especially if you've been living in the same space for decades. Bilotich recommends making a list of all the rooms in your house and focusing on one room at a time. "Do not think about the entire house," she says. "Start with an easy space or room, and work your way up." Chipping away at smaller pieces of the project instead of the whole kit and caboodle keeps anxiety in check, and can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and immobilized.

#3 Ask Yourself 3 Questions

When going through belongings, it's easy to get stuck in thoughts like: "One day, there could be an occasion to wear that dress that hasn't seen the light of day for 15 years," or "I haven't used that bread maker since the 90s but, you never know?"

If you're hesitant to part with an item, Bilotich recommends asking yourself three questions:

  1. Do I love it?

  2. Do I use it?

  3. Do I need it?

If you answer yes to these three questions, put the item in the "keep" pile. If not, it's time to say sayonara.

#4 Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Before you move onto the next room, categorize your discard pile. Sort it into four parts:

Offer to family and friends

Depending on the timeframe between taking inventory of your home and moving, you could have a yard sale or use online services like Craigslist or eBay for items you wish to sell. Make it a positive experience by putting money from sales into a few items to spruce up your new space.

If you have sentimental items that you're on the fence about, consider sharing them with friends and family. For instance, maybe someone is in the market for a new armchair or a piece of artwork. When you go to visit these loved ones, you'll see your items being enjoyed by people close to you.

#5 Evaluate Items You Keep

Keeping a few pieces of furniture and décor is a nice way to ease the transition from one home to the next. You'll want to make sure these items fit into the new home's floor plan. If you're moving into a Holiday Retirement community, reach out to them and request a copy of the floor plan to get an idea of your new space. Each community web page also has a "plan your apartment" option that allows you to "virtually" arrange your new home online.

#6 Celebrate Little Wins

Little wins add up to the big ones. After you finish sorting a room, check it off your list and pat yourself on the back before you move onto the next one. Do something nice for yourself. Go on a walk. Treat yourself to a favorite snack. Call a friend. A little self-care will motivate you more to keep the momentum going. "Make sure to congratulate yourself after each room," says Bilotech. Each finished room is significant progress toward your final goal!

#7 Make Your New Home Feel Like Home

With a few mementos, you can seamlessly make your new home in an independent senior living community feel warm and welcoming. Sort through family heirlooms and childhood photo albums to find items that truly make a house feel like home. They should be the first ones brought to your new home.

Use your big move as an excuse to update outdated décor or play the role of decorator. Retailers like IKEA, Walmart, and Target specialize in inexpensive décor that works nicely in smaller settings such as independent senior living apartments.

#8 Focus on the Positive

Your house may have been where your son brought home his blue ribbon from the 3rd grade field day and where your daughter had her first sleepover with her best friends, but it very well could have had some quirks that will be nice to avoid. Knocking the ice out of the gutters every winter or mowing the lawn and tending to a large garden every summer can become cumbersome as we age.

Letting go of unnecessary items can be extremely therapeutic. Physical decluttering can make your mind feel less cluttered as well. Making the move to a smaller home in a senior living community can alleviate a lot of the headaches of a large home while still allowing for the freedom of having your own space.

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