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Chapter 8 - Downsizing Your Home for Retirement

Making the Move - Make a plan
Now that you’ve made your decision to move to a retirement home, it’s time to prepare your current home so you can begin your next adventure. Downsizing your home for retirement living can seem daunting. After all, it’s more than just a bit of decluttering – it can be an emotional journey, complete with both laughter and tears.
Start the process early and allow yourself some opportunity to reminisce; sometimes things trigger strong memories.

It pays to take your time and enjoy the process without rushing. There are questions of logistics: what will you take with you, and what will you give away, or sell, or pass on to family or friends? What about your favourite chair, your books – they’re coming, too, right? Making a move means finding a way to honour the past, by keeping what matters most or by finding ways to preserve memories – and creating a new place to live that you’re excited to move into and set up.

Here are some ideas to help you navigate your way through this process so you can enjoy the benefits of downsizing in retirement.

1. Make a plan
Try to plan with the future state in mind – what your new retirement home suite can accommodate, and how you want your space to function. Get the measurements of the new space, including closets and additional storage; this will help determine what can fit, and what will need to be donated or sold. Think about recreating the floor plan at home by mapping out the new bedroom or living area. Using tape, block out the size of things to see what fits. That way, you can envision the flow and see what works and what doesn’t quite fit.

For example, there might not be room for that wooden desk and old computer. But would a laptop solve this problem? Do you have a favourite chair that simply must make the move? Does it fit into the new space? If so, plan the suite around it.

2. Start small
Start the paring-down process well before you are scheduled to move – today, even. Investing a mere 15 minutes each day on this will make a big difference when it comes to thinning out your belongings.

3. Take your time
Preparing for a major move takes time. Trying to squeeze the process into a single day or week is way too much, emotionally and physically. Start the process early and allow yourself some opportunity to reminisce; sometimes things trigger strong memories. Each item – whether it’s the dishes you got for your wedding, the pictures you’ve hung on your walls, the antique desk that’s a family heirloom - will require thought and consideration, so it’s OK to go slow. Be kind to yourself.

4. Let it go
As a starting point, create a list that includes things you’re planning to keep and items you no longer want. Begin with obvious things, such as appliances or tools that won’t come with you.

The goal is to take what you really need, what brings you happiness, and what fits in your new space in the retirement community. As you begin to go through your belongings, make separate piles for items to be donated, sold or gifted; things to be thrown out; treasures you want to take with you; and a “maybe” pile. Choose a limit when dealing with collections (maybe you can have too many shoes) or multiples (how many mugs do you really need to bring?). For example, if you have some cherished dishes, such as your wedding china, do you really need the whole set, or are four place settings sufficient? Remember: you’re the one making the final decision on what stays and what goes.

Have something that is not going to make the cut but holds special memories? Take a photo of it so you can look at it any time – the memory is always more valuable than the physical item.

5. Share, sell, donate
As you get closer to the move, it’s the perfect opportunity to share items with friends and family. Try not to take it personally if you offer something like a piece of furniture and it doesn’t suit the other person – style changes constantly and everyone has their own taste. Take it in stride.

Thinking of selling some items? There are a number of online options, such as Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji, where you can sell just about anything. Keep in mind that household items and furniture depreciate over time, so they may not hold the value you are expecting. Do a little research first to find a fair price.

There is always a need for charitable donations. The Furniture Bank in the Greater Toronto Area is one example, but there are places in virtually every town that accept furniture and household items, such as the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store, which accept everything from doors and windows to sinks and hinges.

Once you make your decisions, stick to them. It is very easy (and expected) to change your mind about small items. The best way to make sure you reap the benefits of decluttering and downsizing before the move to a retirement home is to act on your decisions: drop off your donations, post your ad for that big armoire you don’t need, give your granddaughter the platter she has always loved seeing at your house. The time is now.

6. Bring in the professionals
You might prefer to have a friend or family member with you as you downsize for retirement living, not just to help but also to share memories. After all, this is your stuff we’re talking about. And we know you’ve got stories to tell. So don’t hesitate to talk it through. This should be fun, too.

Think you need extra support? There are professionals to help you downsize for living before the move to a retirement home. Unlike family or friends, these pros don’t share your memories; to them, it’s quite literally stuff, and their focus is on finding the best way to make the new space functional. By letting someone else take charge of the move-out, you can save your energy and focus for your new retirement residence.

Downsizing to move into a retirement home is a big job that takes time. Once you get through the process, you’ll feel a weight off your shoulders and will be free to focus on your next chapter. Your new retirement residence, and its many lifestyle and social benefits, is waiting!