How can you possibly fit 2500 square feet of living, furniture, and memories into 800 square feet? Guess what ~ you can’t. Now many of you will go out and try anyway and we understand. After living for 40 years in your family home you have collected a lifetime of memories. Shelves full of photo albums; a garage full of prized tools collected through the years; ornaments and souvenirs, each an important life memory; clothing that you might be able to wear again someday. You can’t take it all with you; it just won’t fit.

Where and when you begin sorting through your possessions and making decisions about what will be moving on with you to the next phase of your life depends, in part, on how soon you have to move. Start sooner than later, because if you begin when it’s time to begin, it’s almost too late to start; most people truly have no clue of the enormity of the project. By starting early it means that you will have plenty of time to talk things over with your family. Perhaps this may be looming over you as a dreaded overwhelming task, but it can also be a poignant period in your life as a family ~ making meaningful connections and deepening existing bonds, with plenty of room for laughter and sharing of fond memories. This process can be daunting physically as well as emotionally though, and is not a job that anyone can do alone, and no one should try. While family and friends can be a great support, be realistic about how much help your children are able to offer. With demanding careers and family obligations of their own, hiring professional outside support, such as a Certified Relocation and Transition Specialist (CRTS) who deals exclusively with Senior Moves may just be the best money you spend. While help from others may initially feel intrusive, it’s important to remember that these individuals are professionally trained to support your transition, not to judge.

When you begin sorting through years of emotionally charged belongings, keep in mind that your focus needs to be shifted away from ordinary de-cluttering. There are three essential questions you should be asking about every piece you consider moving.

  • Will it work in my new space?
  • Is it worth the cost of moving it?
  • Will my spirits rise when I unpack and see it?

Here are some tips that will make the process less exhausting and stressful as well as more manageable.

  • We tend to think of downsizing as an event, moving from the family home into a smaller accommodation for example, however, downsizing can also be  the process of eliminating unneeded ‘stuff’ to simplify your life in the house you are currently living. If you begin this process years before we make are considering a move, time is on your side.
  • Putting ‘designation’ stickers on every visible item in a room is a great way to see if you are being reasonable about the amount that you intend to move with you. Using red stickers for trash or recycling ~ a clear ‘no go’, yellow stickers for maybe and green stickers for ‘treasures’ ~ a definite yes. Remember if you are moving from 2000 square feet to 500 to 750 square feet, you should see red stickers on close to 75 percent of your possessions and furniture.
  • Set time limits for sorting. If time allows, even fifteen minutes to a half an hour a day is useful. As well as not allowing for becoming exhausted, setting time limits also will keep you on track.
  • Begin sorting in the simplest rooms or areas of your home. Starting with the more complicated areas could find you discouraged, throwing up your hands and quitting. Starting with a simple room builds confidence to say “I can do this!”
  • Set small sorting goals. If you can’t purge an entire room, try a closet. If you can’t purge a closet, try a shelf, a drawer, or something doable. And only you can determine what is doable, both emotionally and physically. Honour yourself throughout the process.
  • If time, energy and space allows, sort everything in the space into ‘like items’. It may not seem as though you are keeping too many of one type of item, but when you are able to visually see the hundreds of how-to craft books together in one spot, letting go may become easier for you. With lost types of possessions, one is more than enough.
  • Cull collections. Choose only one or two things to honour. If you collect stamps, coins, as well as historical military memorabilia, perhaps this is the perfect time to consider selling or donating your collections, while keeping a significant ‘special’ piece to frame in a shadow box and display on the wall of your new home.
  • Take photos of large items that you can’t keep, but will miss.
  • Stop ‘warehousing’ your adult children’s stuff. Do they visit their things but not take them home? If so, put them in a box and place it by the door so your kids can take the carton with them the next time they visit. If they don’t want their textbooks and trophies, you don’t need to keep them either. If it’s an entire basement of stored boxes and furniture, give them a deadline for removal.

Article Featured in Forever Young Magazine (Fall 2009)
Written by Sandra Wright