Many people in their golden years find themselves in the position of making new housing decisions. In fact, 40% of Americans between the ages of 50 to 64 plan to move in the next five years. Moving is never easy, though, so the process needs to be thought through carefully.
Seniors often contemplate moving to a smaller residence in this stage of their lives. This downsizing trend happens for several reasons. Children may have grown up and left a family house feeling empty. The upkeep required to maintain a larger home may begin to feel daunting. Retirement budgets may require cutting back on housing expenses. Perhaps the layout (two-story, a basement with steep stairs, etc.) becomes a physical problem.
Downsizing can be a positive move for many seniors. Some upgrade their view by moving near the ocean, lake, or mountains. Others choose to enjoy senior community amenities like golf courses and lap pools. And no matter what, most folks who have downsized cite a feeling of freedom that comes from having a smaller space to keep up with.
But a move to a smaller residence doesn’t happen overnight. There are important details that cannot be ignored. That’s why we’ve developed this ten-step, six-month timeline for seniors who may be considering a big move to a smaller space.
Six months before moving
Connect with an agent
When you’ve come to the conclusion that downsizing is in your best interest, the first thing you should do is connect with an experienced real estate agent. Jason Daniels, a top real estate agent in Colorado Springs, Colorado, says you may specifically want to choose an agent who has an SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist) designation. Your agent will be able to help you pinpoint exactly what you’re looking for in a downsized property, including:
- Location: Do you want to be near certain conveniences, family members, or views?
- Square footage: How much do you need and how much can you handle in the future?
- Accessibility: Will stairs, tubs, or doorway size be a consideration?
- Community: Would a senior community or a condo community be a good fit for you?
- Features: What’s important to maintain your quality of life?
It will likely take some time to come up with the right downsizing formula, so start early. When you’ve settled on a set of criteria for your purchase, let your agent keep an eye out for that perfect property (and list your current property, if needed) while you work on other necessary downsizing steps.
Over the years, it seems we all accumulate an excess of stuff. Going from a larger home to something significantly smaller will mean getting rid of some possessions. This process can take a while as well, so it’s best to start early.
Use the square footage range that you’ve developed with your agent as a guide. For example, if you currently live in a 3,000-square-foot home and you plan to downsize into a 1,500-square-foot condo, you know that about 50% of all your interior possessions will have to be rehomed. Also, you’ll probably need to part with between 75% and 90% of your exterior possessions, depending upon the balcony/patio/garage situation at your new place.
As with any big project, the hardest part of decluttering is getting started. In a study of seniors considering a move, 75% claim that an overabundance of possessions makes them reluctant to take that first step. To help combat this overwhelming feeling, focus on one room at a time for a sense of accomplishment and completion. As you go through the room, visualize yourself using each item in your new space. If you get stuck, set the item aside for later consideration and move on to the next thing; Don’t let indecision paralyze your progress.
- Is this item a necessity?
- Have I used this item in the past year?
- Do I have duplicates of this item? Are they all needed?
- Does this item have sentimental value?
- Do I anticipate having space for this item in my new home?
At this stage in your downsizing adventure, you don’t have to make a decision about everything, though the more you can get rid of now, the better off you will be later on. Don’t be afraid of keeping a “maybe” pile right now — but ask for help if your “maybe” pile starts to grow out of control. Daniels recommends hiring a professional organizer if decluttering starts to get too overwhelming. On average, a professional organizer will cost around $500.
As you go through the decluttering process, you’ll need to figure out what to do with the things you don’t need anymore. There are several places to consider for rehoming your possessions:
- Relatives: Ask family members if they might want any furniture or heirlooms (but don’t pressure them).
- Estate sale or yard sale: Selling some unneeded items can offset moving costs.
- Online sales: Utilize social media sites (such as Facebook Marketplace) or auction sites (like eBay) for more niche items.
- Donations: Consider taking clothing and toys to a local shelter, or call your local thrift store to pick up larger donation items.
- Trash/recycling: Anything broken or unusable should not be donated. Practice a mindful attitude, letting go of things that have served their purpose.
Two to three months before moving
Now is the time to start thinking about how you plan to store items that won’t be needed on a regular basis. Your storage areas may be limited in a smaller home, so you’ll want to prepare accordingly.
Organizing the things that you want to keep but don’t need right now will help you feel less stressed as your downsizing day approaches. If needed, you could even consider renting a storage cubicle or closet to get these things out of the way temporarily.
- Consider vacuum bags for extra linens and winter coats.
- Use zippered storage for holiday trees, ornaments, and wrapping.
- Plastic filing bins help with paperwork storage.
- Underbed storage bins are great for alternate-season clothing or shoes.
If you have a tentative date for your move, it’s a good idea to make a reservation for your moving needs. Don’t worry; Moving companies know that dates are subject to change. Just make your best guess at this point, and be sure to keep your company updated with any and all changes. As with anything, you have options when it comes to moving arrangements.
- Moving manager: A moving manager provides the most comprehensive downsizing help; They will organize estate sales, handle the move logistics, and act as a consultant for any questions. Daniels says that if it’s in your budget, hiring a moving manager is a good choice since they can help streamline the whole process.
- Moving company: A moving company will do the work of getting your things out of the old house and into the new. Some will pack the boxes for you (for an additional fee), while others expect you to be completely packed.
- Moving truck: If you or your family members are capable of personally moving your things, you’ll only need to rent a truck. Don’t forget the dolly and other supplies!
Health care changes
Think through how this upcoming move will affect your health care. For some senior adults, it will simply mean notifying your doctor about an address change at your next visit. For others who may be moving out of town, it will be more complicated.
If that’s you, now is the time to start researching local providers in your health care network. First, pull up your network website and get a list of doctors and specialists in your new ZIP code. Ask any local family members or friends for recommendations within that list, or join a social media group where you can get personalized feedback. (One example: Search “senior citizen groups” with your new town/county on Facebook.)
When you’ve got your list narrowed down, call your top picks and ask if they are taking new patients. If they are, you may need to make an initial onboarding appointment; Schedule it for a few weeks after your intended move date. Check to see if your current doctor will need to send any charts, lab work, or X-rays, and then coordinate those document transfers. Ultimately, your goal is to have every doctor, dentist, and specialist ready to go in case you need them right after your move.
One month before moving
At this point you should hopefully have a closing date for both your new home and your current home. Ideally those dates will line up seamlessly, but in some cases that’s just not possible. You’ll want to have your real estate agent coordinate what works best for you while also remaining somewhat flexible toward the other parties involved.
If you are closing on your current, larger home before your newer, downsized home, see if your agent can negotiate a short-term rental situation where you can stay in the home and pay the new owners rent until you move out. Otherwise you’ll need to find a place to stay and store your things in the interim period. If you’re closing on your new home before you’re closing on your current home, you can use the time to leisurely move your things out.
Before your move, have your agent obtain the blueprints or floor plan schematics for your new home. With those in hand, you’ll be able to lay out how your furniture will fit in the space and plan for storing your other items. This will help with packing and may also precipitate the need to get rid of some more possessions.
Even if you’ve hired a moving manager or full-service moving company, you’ll still need to be proactive regarding packing. After all, a manager or moving company works for you, so they will require your direction in the process.
Some packing tips for senior citizens who are downsizing include:
- Pack sentimental items with care. Use bubble wrap or packing paper for fragile things.
- Keep box weights low. Consider small boxes for books, cast-iron cookery, etc.
- Label each box with the name of where it will go in your new home. Make sure movers understand your labeling methods to avoid re-moving things later.
- Start with least-used rooms. For example, a formal dining room could be packed up first while you eat meals in the kitchen.
- Ask for help if you need it. A relative or friend can be a great sounding board for that “maybe” pile, and many hands make light work!
- Don’t pack any necessities. Save medications and toiletries for last.
Making and verifying appointments
Now that moving day is in sight, it’s time to nail down some of the finer points of logistics. Think through the following calls that might need to be made at this point.
- Contractor: Are you having work done on your new home? Accessibility modifications, perhaps? Schedule a contractor to begin work right after closing.
- Movers: Verify the date with your moving company.
- Walkthrough: With the help of your agent, get those closing walkthrough dates on your calendar.
- Donations: If you anticipate additional donations, be sure to schedule a pickup. Many thrift stores only do pickups on weekends, so you’ll need to plan accordingly.
One week before moving
Last-minute details and cleaning
With one week left to go, it’s time to tie up all the loose ends to make your move go smoothly.
- Eat up any food left in your freezer and refrigerator.
- Box up plates, silverware, pots, and pans. (Using paper products for the last few days makes life easier!)
- Pack up your last suitcase or box with clothes, shoes, toiletries, and medications. (Think of it as if you were packing essentials for vacation.)
- Hire a cleaning service to come in before the walkthrough on your current home.
- Have light cleaning supplies ready for your new home. (The previous owners should leave it clean, but it’s always nice to have supplies in case you need to wipe down the cabinets or shelves.)
Change utilities and addresses
Finally, you’ll want to change your address at the postal service, your bank, and anything else of importance (subscriptions, cell phone bill, credit cards, AARP, Social Security, government agencies, any others). You’ll also need to notify the utility companies at both residences of your move date so that they can stop and start services respectively. Water, gas, electricity, phone, security monitoring, garbage, and cable/internet will all need to be changed.
During and after the move
With so much preparation in place, your moving day should be a breeze! Be sure to direct movers to place furniture in the spots you’ve designated for each piece. If something doesn’t look the way you thought it might, don’t be afraid to ask the movers to shift it to a different spot while they’re there.
If possible, use an arrangement that feels familiar (at least at first). This will help make it easier to remember where you put things.
Once you’re in your new home, unpack the essentials first — plates/silverware, towels, some clothing, and the television and computer. Enlist the help of friends and family to help organize linen closets, kitchen cabinets, and patios. And don’t forget to make a run to the grocery store to restock your fridge and pantry items!
Be aware that emotions can surface during this time. As the hustle and bustle of a new move wears off, feelings of loss or remorse may be triggered by so much change. This is common for seniors who are downsizing, especially if they’ve been in their previous home for a long time. Remember to focus on all the positives that drew you to this move in the first place and allow yourself time to get emotionally adjusted.
All in all, downsizing is ironically a big undertaking. But by starting early and being intentional at every stage, moving to a smaller place can be a manageable and pleasant experience. Cheers to a future filled with new memories!
Header Image Source: (Tristan Le / Pexels)