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Downsizing for Seniors: 4 Tips for Decluttering

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A stack of old clothes to discard (declutter) or keep. Recycle clothes.

Moving into a new home or senior living community comes with a few to-do lists, including organizing everything you’ll take with you—or leave behind. Some people find joy in shaking off old items for spring cleaning, while others struggle to toss even tiny knick-knacks or used items. Decluttering can be uniquely challenging when you have a lifetime of memorabilia, furniture, and household items.

Additional challenges come when you’re decluttering a smaller space or trying to fit your favorites into a home with shared spaces, like assisted living. Having a strategy and a few tips can make the experience manageable.

When older adults are decluttering to downsize, the job can be easier when you strategize and categorize.

Tip 1: Ask for Help

Sometimes it takes 2 (or a few) to complete a challenging project. Decluttering is work, and it can be exhausting when you have a limit on how much you can keep. Even decluttering a small space or collection can be overwhelming, especially when there’s an emotional attachment.

Whether it’s your stuff you’re sorting (or helping a loved one), ask for a helping hand from family or friends. It can make the work go faster and offer a shoulder to lean on when sentimental items are on the chopping block. 

Decluttering together can also make the project into bonding time. Suppose you’re decluttering a box of old photo albums, childhood memorabilia, or trophies. You can relive moments or share stories. Or make the event a game with goals or prizes. Say the first one to add 5 items to the toss pile gets a slice of pie or a coffee break!

A closeup of a senior couple labeling the boxes according to the use.

Tip 2: Categorize

Decluttering a space or collection is more than taking away. It’s also about making a space organized, safer, or more comfortable. By categorizing your clutter, you can prioritize items you need and get a clearer picture of what you don’t.

An effective category system is toss, donate, and keep. When you’re short on time, it can be crucial to have simple categories. Toss is for any damaged, expired, or unwanted items. Donate is for items still in good condition but could benefit others more. Finally, keep is for top priority items, the most cherished or valuable.

Keep can often start as the largest pile. You may need an unbiased party to talk it out with if you’re keeping more than decluttering.

When you have more time, try the Marie Kondo method of “sparking joy.” Ask yourself if the item makes you happy or if you’re keeping it simply because. For example, the item may have completed a collection, but you prefer other parts of the set. You used to wear it all the time, but it doesn’t fit or is too worn now. But the photo you keep tucked at the back of a drawer may fill you with joy.

Sorting into categories works best when you’re firm. When you put an item into giveaway or toss, make it a final decision. Some things may be difficult to sort, so it’s okay to take a break and choose later. Feeling overwhelmed by decluttering can lead to decision fatigue. Do the task at your pace and start fresh with the “maybe” or “I don’t know” pile another day.

Tip 3: Space it Out

It can be tempting to tackle a complex problem all at once. You might have a deadline or be determined to get it done. Some people can feel satisfied when they complete a task from start to finish. But it can also be taxing, mentally and physically. 

Space it out when you’re decluttering an entire house or several spaces. Pick a room or section and complete only that from start to finish. Say your goal is to declutter your bedroom. You might focus on the closet first. Or, focus on all clothing items, closets and drawers. Then, you move on to jewelry or keepsakes the next day (or the next planned day).

Alternatively, if you feel energized or have enough time, you might do an entire room. But, again, balance what makes you feel accomplished with what’s best for your health. 

Planning a timeline when spacing out a decluttering project is crucial, particularly if you’re downsizing for a moving day. When decluttering for personal reasons, creating a plan can still help keep you on track. But allow for flexibility. Give yourself time to take a break when needed.

Tip 4: Make a Plan

Setting a schedule is a crucial part of a decluttering plan. Deciding on a goal can help you focus—or make it easier when you must let go of treasured but unnecessary items.

Start with why you’re decluttering. The goal can be to make a space safer, tidy an overwhelmed area, or downsize for a move. When you’re helping a loved one declutter, it can help to give them a clear goal you can explain.

Assess the items you’re decluttering. You may only know how much time or effort is needed once you look at the collection. So give yourself time to assess first before diving into the project. Then, you have a better idea of what’s required of you—or if you need to ask for a helping hand.

Make a schedule. Some people love breaking down their projects by the hour or minute, while others work well with assigning a day of the week. Know your style and make a schedule. Allow flexibility and extra time in case the process needs more time or you encounter unexpected challenges. 

Get to Know Your New Space

Knowing the space you’re downsizing can help determine how much you need to declutter. Or what items will make you feel most at home. Moving into a residence designed for your lifestyle can make downsizing feel like an upgrade.Madison Crossing offers residents a community built around connections. Schedule a visit to see our beautiful residences, sprawling gardens, elegant dining areas, and expansive theater. Or contact us to learn about our lifestyle options!

Morgan Berardi

Written by Morgan Berardi

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