New Silver Spotlight Interview: Downsizing without Drama

The Silver Spotlight Interview Series continues with insights from Catherine Arendt, At Your Service Manager for Era Living. Arendt offers tips for avoiding drama and making a smooth transition while downsizing and moving an aging loved one, based on more than a decade of experience helping dozens of families do just that.

The emotional side of downsizing

Downsizing is, for many families, a very emotional experience. Whether a couple is moving to a retirement community and giving up the family home where they raised their children, or a widowed spouse is moving to independent or assisted living because the family home is too much to maintain alone, it’s inevitable that digging through years of old possessions will drudge up a host of emotions. Prepare to shed a few tears and reminisce. This experience can be tremendously healing for some, but for others it’s a very stressful time.

Sorting through old possessions brings back memories

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“It is very normal to associate emotion with transition,” Arendt says.  “It is okay to allow yourself to feel those feelings for as long as you need to.  Downsizing is a lot like exercise, if we are not consistently editing our belongings, we might need to start slow, and over time, gain strength.”

Arendt offers a few tips for seniors and loved ones tackling a daunting downsizing task. First, it’s likely you’ll encounter at least one item that evokes a powerful memory and can distract you from the task at hand. When you come across these items, put them to the side and allow yourself some time later to deal with and process those emotions. But don’t allow it to distract you from the task at hand at that moment. Placing it to the side knowing you’ll give yourself time to think through your emotions later will help you keep moving.

Arendt also suggests starting small. Downsizing a family home you’ve lived in for decades is a monumental task. Take just 15 minutes and sort through something small, like a drawer you don’t use very frequently. Often, you’ll get through it so quickly and easily that you’ll be motivated to do two drawers, or maybe a whole closet.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Moving aging loved ones

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When it comes to dealing with delicate emotions and loved ones, there can never be too much communication. Arendt says communicating is the first place to start: Talk about when, why and how downsizing will take place and how each family member or friend can play a part. It’s also important to discuss possessions each person finds most valuable. Finally, “Work together to make rules and then devise a system.  Acknowledge it is hard for everyone, and remember that throughout the process, it helps everyone be more compassionate toward each other.”

Avoiding disagreements

Families are bound to encounter a dispute over a valued item more than one person would like to keep. When you come across these items, set them aside to discuss later and focus on the items everyone can agree on. Arendt advises, “Understand and communicate that there is nothing in the house, no “stuff,” that is more important than your relationships with each other.”

The nitty-gritty of downsizing duties

There’s no doubt about it: Downsizing a family home is a lot of work. It takes both a physical and emotional tool on everyone involved. Here are a few tricks of the trade from downsizing expert Catherine Arendt:

  • First, figure out what you want to keep, then, decide what to do with everything else.
  • Group collections together, and then choose a couple of items that you love the most, like vases. You probably have a bunch of vases that came with bouquets that are of little value.  Keep only the ones you love most.
  • Concentrate on one room at a time.  Get through it; do as much as you possibly can before moving on to the next room.
  • Use color codes. I like dot stickers from the drug store. Dot stickers come in four colors; I use them to code with following titles: Keep, For Family and Friends, Donate, and Garbage. When organizing, I walk though a room and put on the colored stickers.  When someone comes to physically help me do the work they know just which section each of the items goes in.
  • For packed boxes, label them Donate, Family and Friends, and Keep.
  • If you are using big plastic bags, like garbage bags, buy two boxes of bags in different colors.  Use one color for trash and the other color for donations.

Visit our Silver Spotlight page to read more expert advice from Catherine! Have you had an experience downsizing your own home or helping a loved one with the process? Share your stories and tips with us in the comments.

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