Era Living At Your Service Manager, Catherine Arendt brings more than a decade of professional downsizing experience to Aljoya Mercer Island and Aljoya Thornton Place. She focuses exclusively on helping seniors and their families strategize, organize and move. Catherine understands first hand the family dynamics, timelines and emotion involved in the downsizing process.
In 2010, Catherine and her three siblings helped their 83-year-old mother move from the family’s 100-year-old home to a senior living community. Using Catherine’s “Best of the Best” strategies for smart downsizing, her family identified important items to keep and helped others by donating.
Today, Catherine’s mother is enjoying her new community and the friends she has made. The family continues to make memories by staying in touch and celebrating holidays together.
Q. Sorting through possessions can bring up a lot of memories. How do you deal with the emotional side of the downsizing process?
It is very normal to associate emotion with transition. It is okay to allow yourself to feel those feelings for as long as you need to. Almost every day I talk with people who stay in a larger home longer than they want to because they feel strong associations with items. I tell them that some of the items can become burdens. We should not let things keep us from the greatest source of our happiness, which usually has to do with our relationships.
Often people feel like they are losing something and associate downsizing with loss or loss of control. Conversely, I see downsizing as an opportunity. It is the opportunity to refine your life, to keep the items you love most and to create a "best of the best" lifestyle.
Q. What are some good ways to stay motivated and measure progress as we go through the downsizing process?
Identify goals for downsizing and make a timeline for things to happen. Write down your goals and timelines and share them with the people helping you. Work together, crossing off goals attained along the way and tracking your progress. Look at your list of goals and timelines when you need motivation.
Q. Downsizing often involves family members and close friends. How do you make sure your wishes are respected while still keeping the peace?
Start with communication. I suggest an in-person meeting if possible. If that is not possible, write a letter or have a phone call during which you make your wishes known to the people who are involved.
During the conversation, ask what your children or family members hold most important. You might just be surprised by what they share. This is a conversation that can be very powerful and empowering for many people.
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.
Q. What can people do with items that no one wants, but still function and have value?
There are often items that fall into this gray area. You may not want to haul them to a donation site, but you certainly do not want to throw them away, and none of the folks helping you want to keep them either.
This could be an opportunity to make a little money. If you think something you have is valuable, and your family does not want it, have it appraised. The information you get will help you make a smart decision about the item.
If you have several items, especially big ones, consider having an estate sale. These days, estate sale companies can be a big help. They often organize things and some even haul away unsold items for you. If you have just a few items of value, consider consigning them. It’s always fun to get a little money in the mail when you are least expecting it.
Q. What other words of advice do you have for seniors who want to downsize?
Family and friends are great, but sometimes you need more help than they can give. There are many more resources today than ever before to make moving easier and less burdensome for all parties involved.
In the past eight years, we have really seen moving companies develop a number of new and smart services for seniors. Advantages of working with these companies include:
- A team to physically do the work
- You can choose how much or how little you want to do
- A professional can help organize and figure out what to do with your things
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