How to Downsize Your Home Without Losing Peace of Mind

Why Should I Downsize?

You’ve lived in your home for decades. It’s full of the scent of holidays and time in front of the fireplace, of fresh-baked cookies and summer nights. How could you ever leave it?

But the truth is, it’s getting harder to go up the stairs or keep the grass cut. You wish it wasn’t so difficult to get laundry out of the downstairs dryer or step over the tub to get into the shower.

You’re also thinking about your health. You’re still in good shape, but your neighbor recently fell and moved to an assisted living community. You aren’t sure that’s where you need to be yet, but what if something similar happened to you?

If you’re experiencing any of these thoughts, you’re not alone. As we age, our bodies change and we need different living accommodations to make life a little easier. Downsizing to a smaller, more manageable home — especially one with only one floor and features designed specifically for seniors — is the answer for many people at this stage.

If you’re looking for help getting started with the downsizing process, or have questions about how it works, this guide can help walk you through some of the basics to consider.

seniors decluttering their home

Step 1: Overcoming Emotional Barriers to Downsizing

Even though you may logically realize that moving to a smaller and simpler home would be beneficial, the thought of leaving your current home might seem overwhelming. Or maybe moving to a new home would mean admitting that you’ve reached a certain age.

Neither of these thoughts is comfortable — but again, they’re completely normal. Change is difficult for anyone, especially a big change. However, there are substantial benefits to downsizing.

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Benefits of downsizing your home

  • You’ll reduce clutter, get rid of things that weigh you down, find items to donate that you rarely use, and save yourself or your family members the task of going through your possessions down the road.
  • You’ll find it easier to get around and do what you need to when you live in a smaller home. Features like just one story, no steps, zero-entry showers, and more make life more comfortable and safer.
  • You’ll have more time to spend doing the things you enjoy if you move to a community where yard work and some chores are done for you. No more spending your Saturdays blowing leaves or mowing — that time would be yours.
  • You’ll make a move on your time. Moving when you’re still younger and healthier means you’re making the decision on your own, instead of being forced to move to a new home — like the neighbor in the example above — when you aren’t ready or don’t want to.

No big decision is made overnight, so spend some time reflecting on these benefits. It might help to write down some of your thoughts and perceptions about this process. If you and a spouse will be making this decision together, make sure you’re both on the same page and agree on the decision.

Many people take a while to make this decision. Just remember – it’s best to think about downsizing when you want to versus being forced to do it when you have to.

senior couple talking to family about downsizing

Step 2: Telling Friends and Family You Want to Downsize

Once you’ve decided that you want to downsize your home, you’ll need to explain your choice to family members and friends. Depending on their mindset, the conversation may go one of two ways:

  1. They’ll be excited about your next stage of life and interested in helping you declutter, pick out a new home, and move. They may even be relieved that you brought this idea up on your own.
  2. They’ll be confused about why you’re making this choice, or even be resistant — after all, you’re still in good health.

If your friends react in the first way, congratulations! You already have allies on your side. If they react in the second way, or their feelings are mixed, that’s perfectly normal. Just as you grappled with feelings about aging, old memories, abilities, and your health, they will too.

Plan for a conversation with them where you can explain why you’ve made this decision. Tell them about the benefits of downsizing your home, and that you’ll be able to get more out of life in a smaller, simpler house. And explain that you’d rather make the move now (when you want to) versus later (when you might have to).

Don’t be surprised if they don’t agree with you or want to change your mind. Listen to them, but also give them time to think about it, just as you did.

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Step 3: Choosing Your Next Home

After you’ve decided to move and have some or all of your family members on board, the fun part — choosing a new home — can begin. There are a variety of options with their own benefits and drawbacks. Use the chart below to compare your options and determine which is right for you.

 ProsCons
Regular smaller home, condo, or apartment (1 floor)Easier to manage; less yardworkStill need to arrange for any yardwork or housework; still need to pay for monthly bills and expenses; no future care is provided if needed
Retirement communitySmaller size; layout and features specifically for older adults; few or no chores; fewer individual expensesNo future care is provided if needed; amenities may not be included in cost
Continuing care retirement communityHomes and apartments built for older adults; access to future care if needed; on-campus amenities; all or nearly all expenses includedNot yet widely available in all areas

You’re probably familiar with the first two living options in the chart, but perhaps not with a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Learn more about what a CCRC can offer you.

As with buying any other type of house, you’ll need to do your research on the type of arrangement that’s right for you. Word of mouth and recommendations are great places to start. Once you have a few ideas in mind, visit them to get a first-hand look at what they’re like. Again, this process may take a while, so don’t feel rushed into making a decision.

seniors decluttering and downsizing their home

Step 4: Getting Started with Downsizing – Tips for Decluttering

Once you’ve decided on your next home, it’s time to tackle the decluttering and moving stage. Depending on how much stuff you’ve accumulated, this may seem daunting. But it might be helpful to ask yourself, why should something sit unused in my basement or garage when it could be a blessing to someone in need?

Tips for decluttering and downsizing

The no-more-stuff rule

Stop bringing things into the house. You’ll just be adding more stuff that needs to be cleaned up later. You can’t dry up the flood if you don’t turn off the faucet!

Donate unneeded items

Pat yourself on the back for being generous as you give away what you don’t need to family and friends — or donate it to charity. You can find a donation drop-off location online, or schedule a pickup, making it that much easier to give.

Check your closets

If you haven’t worn a piece of clothing in the past year, you’ve proven you don’t need it. If parting with your clothes proves too difficult to bear, start small with cheap, easy-to-replace clothing like socks.

The one-year-and-gone rule

If you haven’t put something to use during the past year — a kitchen appliance, a craft project, sets of linens — that item is subject to extra scrutiny. Chances are, you don’t really need it.

Enlist friends and family to help

Call on a trusted friend or relative to help you sort. He or she won’t have the same emotional attachment you have to those spoons in the back of your silverware drawer and can render an unbiased opinion about whether you should keep or toss them.

Take it one room at a time

When you focus on one room and finish it completely, you’ll get that marvelous feeling of success, which is a terrific motivator for moving on to declutter the next room. Turn on your favorite music and have fun while decluttering!

Getting organized may take a while, but you’ll likely find that you feel a sense of calm and peace when you’re finished — and when you’re surrounded only by the things you truly want.

Next, if you’ve chosen a traditional retirement community or a CCRC, check with them to see if they offer moving services. Some may even come to your home, box up items, and move them right to your new home. If you don’t have access to this service, get help from family or a professional service.

Next Steps: About Otterbein SeniorLife Communities

You’ve got the facts, know about your living options, and are ready to look for a community that’s right for you. Otterbein’s six SeniorLife Community locations offer a wealth of amenities, including:

  • Home options ranging from apartments to cottages to townhomes to fit your lifestyle and budget.
  • The peace of mind of an available full continuum of care.
  • Maintenance-free living — get your time back!
  • Convenient on-campus amenities like dining, classes, events, a fitness center, recreational and cultural opportunities, and more.