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Helping Seniors Downsize to a Smaller Space

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Helping Seniors Downsize to a Smaller Space

By Linda Merrill, Hometalk

As our population ages and the Baby Boom generation starts reaching retirement age, issues related to downsizing are becoming ever more important. Since World War II, our country has seen unprecedented growth and unprecedented levels of personal accumulation. Our homes are literally stuffed from basement to attic. As older people are moving from larger homes to condos or apartments, or in with family, or to assisted living facilities, the decisions related to giving up what they’ve spent a lifetime accumulating can be overwhelming.

Luckily, there are many organizations and services out there to help seniors, and their families, work their way through both the logistics and emotional factors involved.  In the following Q&A, I asked Janet LaBerge, owner of Massachusetts based cleanout company Dirty Deeds, to offer suggestions on how to work through the downsizing process smoothly.

After a long career in social work, Janet offers her older customers a unique level of service and understanding about what they are going through. She understands that it’s not just about getting rid of “stuff” ― it’s a major life transition that requires understanding.

Q. What are the biggest fears older people have when they are downsizing their homes and are faced with having to choose what to keep and what to pass along?

A. The biggest fear is usually that they will miss something and throw out a document or picture that they wanted.  They are not usually too worried about making the wrong decision about what to keep or give away, but older people usually have a lot of documents and often will tuck important items in unusual places and then forget where they put them.

Q. How do you work with your clients to allay these fears?

A. We look through everything when we are doing a clean out.  We have found old photographs that have slipped behind drawers in bureaus, yearbooks and wedding albums that got put into bins with old Christmas decorations.  It reassures the homeowner that they don’t need to go through each bin because we can do that quickly and efficiently.

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55 comments

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5:32PM PST on Nov 12, 2011

Many seniors are have already been downsized - and not at their request - the economy and lack of care for the elderly has done this to them! And many of our seniors do NOT have enough to even downsize!!! The ones who do should share with those who do not!

-Holly

10:48PM PST on Nov 9, 2011

i could stand to downsize...

8:17PM PST on Nov 9, 2011

I'm well into the process of downsizing now. I have found that it's much easier to let go of materials if you can donate the article to someone who can make use of it. It's a long hard struggle to go through the accumulation of a lifetime & decide what to donate, what to recycle & what to keep. I take pride in the fact that I am doing it myself so that my children won't have to deal with the mess later; and that most of my stuff is being donated for re-use or re-cycled so that very little is left to be landfill trash.

2:15AM PDT on Oct 31, 2011

I know what this is like from both ends of the generation being as I took care of my parents for many years. They never wanted to part with anything and I never pushed them to do so. Knowing the hardship I had at their end here on earth, I learned that I must just start to prepare for what is to come. It is a sad thing to do. I still have things from my parents and I feel like I am throwing them away. It hurts but this year 2011 I am going to start to do this, as I do not want someone else going through this.

10:50AM PDT on Oct 16, 2011

I hear the sound of justification. I think it would be more ideal if the needs of the elderly were provided for. Why is there a need to strip the elderly of all their memories and belongings?

They are not just one more group to single out to cut expenses. They spend a life time building a life and sharing it with family. And helping you their children, it would be nice to see the elderly live it out that life in peace, And not be forced out of their homes and possessions.

12:13AM PDT on Oct 15, 2011

I live in a senior's centre and have found it very difficult to rid myself of some of my good quality possessions. These tiny caves were built long before people had computers and large TVs. Other people don't seem to keep books. Those are the items I need to give to charity. I don't feel like getting rid of everything, considering my parents passed away in their early 90's. I don't understand why seniors are provided with such tiny living spaces to live in for some 30 years. That's a long time to live with only the bare basics! I'm not sure if it is only BC that treats seniors so poorly regarding accommodation space....

7:39PM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

Good for you, Shar F.! I have been downsizing my whole life. Since I move around a lot, I have no problem in what I call "getting small." Every time I move, I give a great deal of it away, and make a fresh start somewhere else. At this point in my life, I am now trying to find a place to settle into and call home, but because I can't stand clutter, I will always have something for the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, doggie thrift stores and the homeless shelters, to either sell or use. We hold onto so many material items because they hold a memory, but like those items, some of those memories should be let go of, too. These things cannot go with us in the end, and giving them to family or donating them can maybe benefit them. I have a daughter, and I know there are very few things that I have that she wants, so I will continue to "get small" and pass on whatever I have for someone else to use. And at the same time, feel good that I've helped someone and have given myself more space and less worries later in life.

2:10PM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

We do accumulate too much stuff. While an elderly person is still able, it is advisable to start downsizing possessions- from furniture, to clothes, to collectibles, precious china and cutlery etc.
There are items the members of the clan may be interested in as heirlooms. Start giving these away while you can- jewelry can be passed on . It might be best to donate bulky items and save the familyn the burden to taking these away. It is indeed a sad and depressing when the time comes to downsize. But... nothing lasts forever, learn to let go.

2:40AM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

thanks for sharing

6:35PM PDT on Oct 13, 2011

My Mom is 87 & cannot live alone anymore. She has been downsized & moved into a siblings home, but still has way too much stuff in bins & boxes in the garages of 2 of my brothers homes. We ll struggle to help her relinquish the last of her memories. It's very sad & difficult to confront.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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