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Downsizing Your Whole Life

Let’s have a chat about Marie Kondo, Swedish Death Cleaning, or just hiring someone to do it for you!

In meetings with families that are looking to help their senior citizen loved ones downsize and move to a much smaller dwelling with all their worldly treasures, I often find that most people don’t even know where to begin. Sometimes people have the luxury of taking their time downsizing over a couple of months or a year. They come up with a plan and execute it, going over every item and determining if it brings them joy. (I tried the whole Marie Kondo method and it worked for about a week before all my underwear was back in a heap in the drawer again.)

I can’t even imagine being 85 years old and having a lifetime worth of belongings to go through, or worse yet, having to go through my mom’s belongings and determining what’s worth saving, what’s worth trashing and what can be donated or sold.

The baby boomer generation is advancing in age and they have a lot of the hoarding traits of their parents before them when it comes to saving everything that was ever passed down for generations. Maybe this is an offshoot of being children of those who survived the Great Depression because there seems to be an ingrained need to keep things, no matter how useful they are, just because it has some long lost sentimental value.

My mother unloaded a ton of silver and China when I first bought my house, and then did it again with both of my sisters. I thought it was a nice gesture, but I also know that in her heart, she just wants the valuables to stay in the family. Some of it was her great-grandmothers, her grand mother’s and her mother’s. That generational guilt is real. Maybe one day, when I’m 85, I’ll get rid of it since I don’t have children to pass it to and let’s be real, selling it is almost more trouble than it’s worth.

Now we’re finding that our aging loved ones have houses full of stuff they don’t use, and perhaps the house needs to be sold before they can even afford to make a down payment on a senior living community.

If you haven’t heard of Swedish death cleaning, look it up. There’s published books and television shows that tout the joys of de-cluttering your life so that you don’t leave a big mess for your family to sort through after you’ve passed away. The general rule of thumb is that you do this throughout your life but especially after 50 years of age.

Well isn’t that quaint and so Scandinavian!

Have your parents started downsizing? Mine certainly haven’t!

If you’re in crisis mode and have to make a quick decision about what to keep and what needs to go, what is in your arsenal for the task at hand? Do you have a hoard of teenage sons with a pick-up truck to do the heavy lifting? Can you pay your kids in pizza and soda to get mom settled in her one bedroom apartment from her five bedroom house? Of course you can do this and drive yourself and your family insane during the process.

My suggestion is to hire some help. There is a whole industry of downsizing professionals who can do this for you! You can always ask your realtor for suggestions or ask the sales professional that helped you find the perfect apartment for your loved one. They often have professionals that they prefer to work with. If not, you can always look online for options in your area.

I had coffee with my friend, Amanda McDermott from Right Size Relocation, based in and around Philadelphia. I picked her brain for over an hour about the ins and outs of what a senior move looks like, how she got her start in the profession, and what drove her to open her own boutique downsizing and move management company.

She really felt the drive to serve a need. Helping seniors and their families just made sense to her. If she could take the burden of the packing, organizing, figuring out what’s going to fit and only bringing the things that make sense, she was going to make someone’s life a little easier. After years of working on logistics for a moving company, she decided to branch out on her own to start her niche service. This service is obviously much needed, and while she’s not the only game in town, she’s busy and business is booming.

Bottom line, you have choices and I would firmly suggest that you spend the money and let a professional do the heavy lifting. This option can also save you money, time and energy. While paying someone to do this doesn’t seem like the most affordable way; (it’s really not, if you have kids that will do it for free) however, a move manager can make the most of your time and resources and they can usually work within a budget. Move managers will also arrange the transportation and help put everyone at ease on the big day.

Imagine that your only responsibility on move day is to take your loved one out to lunch or out shopping so the move management team can do their magic.

It does sound nice to just go out to lunch, come back and bring mom into her new apartment, all set up with the bed made and clothes in the closet!

The other services a move manager can offer is selling and/or donating items that are no longer needed, getting the residence cleaned or coordinating cleaning service after the move, coordinating movers and arranging for any additional considerations that this can require, and setting up the new residence for immediate living.

At the end of the day, just know that there are resources out there and senior move managers are gifted professionals that have the kindness and patience to make any move a little less daunting.

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