Your Guide to Downsizing

Professional organizers offer their tips on downsizing your aging loved ones home including when to do it and how to get rid of the extra clutter.

What’s the right direction to take when our parents’ beloved family home just becomes slightly less loveable and veers on the path of overbearing? Condo, apartment, assisted living, senior living, or moving in with us? What about all their “stuff”?

Beth Spiroff, owner of Northville-based Pro Organizing, says that reasons for downsizing from a bigger home to a smaller location range from not being able to handle the upkeep to health issues.

“Or they’re getting sick of climbing the stairs, they need smaller distances,” she says. “I have had a couple of clients that have moved south for an easier winter. I moved one couple into a senior living center and they were a little bit frustrated with the process. They had a hard time wrapping themselves around the idea that they only had this two- bedroom apartment with a kitchen and a laundry room.”

Janelle Azar’s seen it all, too, from the cluttered piles, the jam-packed spaces filled to the brim with books, baubles and decades worth of keepsakes galore. From couples downsizing from two homes to one home, and others just moving into spaces that are more accommodating, Azar says preparation is key.

“You have to be able to acknowledge the fear and look forward to your future goals,” says Azar, the owner/organizer behind A Meaningful Space in Shelby Township.

Here are the deets on downsizing — and organizing — along the way.

Create a vision for the downsize

“Think about the things in your home that you truly love and that have meaning,” Azar says. “I like to suggest picking your five favorite things in your home. Those are the items that you want to hold on to forever and compare the rest of your items to.”

Another consideration, are you holding onto items for others?

“Many times, parents hold on to items that belonged to their children or even items they plan on giving to future generations,” she says. “Whatever belongs to others or you’re giving away, box up and send out or give a deadline for it to be picked up.”

For someone looking at cutting their living space drastically, say by 50%, then they must reduce what they take with them by the same amount or more, Azar says.

Sketch out a plan for the new space or use online space planning tools to help determine things like how many cabinets are needed for kitchen items or where furniture can be placed, she says.

Downsizers should give themselves grace, she says. It took years to accumulate all of that stuff.

“Allow yourself to appreciate your items as you go through them,” she says.

Time to move on

Spiroff says that sometimes her clients’ minds are already made up on where they want to live next, or they are working on where to go with their kids, and sometimes she gives suggestions if they ask.

“They may call me to help declutter and kind of talking about where they are going to go next in the next two to five years,” she says, adding that the top places her clients move to next are condominiums, apartments, assisted living facilities and smaller homes.

“One family downsized from ranch to a two-bedroom apartment,” she says. “It takes the pressure off (where they downsize to) based on needs, personality and health.”

Other experts say that downsizing remains practical and not go for the lavish option; smaller houses (if you go that route) with a small kitchen are ideal.

If you are going the assisted living route, consider what features are right for you. What modifications might be needed in the new location, such as a walk-in tub or shower.

The health factor

Spiroff believes in taking health into consideration when moving.

“Health reasons are one of the reasons that people do downsize,” she says. “Sometimes a couple might move closer to their adult children because, as you know, when you get older things can happen.”

She adds that some people also downsize for monetary reasons.

“They’ve got this big house and they really don’t need it any longer now that the children are gone. They are retired and they’re looking for a low- or no-mortgage payment,” she says. “A great way to help yourself in this process is to sell and donate and purge anything you can in your existing house.”

Spiroff says if a person is downsizing from a 5,000-square-foot home to a 2,000-square-foot home, they need to get rid of a lot of things to make it work. She recommends going through every room with a family member and a professional organizer to help decide what’s worth staying and what should go.

“Sorting later is difficult, because then you don’t have room to move around and I’ve gone into homes where they have moved and there are just boxes everywhere and there’s not a lot of simple ways to sort it,” she says. “I have had people call me a year or two before they decide to move to help get the process going so it’s not so rushed and crazy. They can take their time to think ‘OK, what do I really need and what can I let go?’”

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