Difficult and often agonizing, it’s the crossroad every senior dreads, the time when it’s necessary to consider abandoning the comfort of the familiar for a more practical, age-appropriate living scenario.
This transition is often referred to as “downsizing,” but we prefer to call it “Right-Sizing.” For most, it is a difficult process encompassing emotional and logistical issues, but also involving a fundamental revision of your financial arrangements.
Making the Move
Moving from one environment to another can result in relocation stress syndrome, defined as a state of physiological and/or psychological malaise. “Each time an older person finds it is no longer reasonable to live in his or her home or community, it is a crisis on an individual and family level,” says John Rother, AARP’s Director of Policy and Strategy.
Seniors who prepared for the move using a specialized transfer team, and maintaining the same staff before and after the move, experienced little or no subsequent increase in mortality. According to Dr. Sherri Melrose in her article “Reducing Relocation Stress Syndrome in Long Term Care Facilities,” which appeared in the Journal of Practical Nursing in 2004, a successful transition hinges on a number of key factors, including developing a sense of personal control over the environment, having adequate time to prepare, minimizing differences between the old and new environment, and being able to rely on a specialized transfer team.
A Process Makes it Easier
First things first – when is it time to pack up the house? Obviously, the variables that go into making this decision differ for every family, but bear in mind that the moving process doesn’t get easier with age. Sooner is generally better than later and – as the saying goes – there’s no time like the present.
In undertaking this challenging life change, careful planning and organization can make all the difference:
1. The first step is to take stock of your current situation by defining where you are, where you might be going and what, if anything, is holding you back. Create a plan of action. Schedule it on your calendar. Give yourself a realistic time frame and initiate the process.
2. Arrange to have all the basic moving supplies you’ll need:
– Boxes with useful labels such as Donate, Recycle and Family. Place them in strategic places for easy access
– Trash cans and garbage bags
– Markers, Post-its and other labels, rubber bands and lots of tape (and a tape gun)
3. Break the project down into manageably small pieces. Identify the priority – where do you want to start, what room or material should you tackle first? The basement, art and decorations, books, linens, clothes, small furnishings, etc. Schedule one or two hours a day (or more if you are so inclined) to work on a specific area. Besides making progress, the key consideration is to get things done in a manner you’re comfortable with.
4. Have your transfer team help you begin the difficult process of sorting and “editing” (We like “editing” better than “purging”) as well as collecting like items together. Keep the treasures; let go of the “maybes.” Sure, it’s tough but the bottom line is not to burden yourself and your family with stuff that you want but don’t need. Saying “Give it a hug and let it go”, is a nice way of letting the senior know that you know they want to keep the item but, that they don’t need that item any more. It’s easy to find a charitable organization that would be happy to accept your donations. In the end, everybody wins.
5. Maintain your focus and discipline until the job is done … then celebrate!
The Support Team
Next, assemble the team that can see you through the process safely, efficiently and – not least – with understanding and sensitivity.
When you are looking for ways to manage a lifetime’s possessions, it’s important to consider where and from whom you might find the right kind of support. As you consider the next stage of your life, it’s important to begin building your resource bank of contacts. These may include not only friends and family but also relocation specialists, various trades people, estate agents, etc.
The transition is a journey — look for help along the way and make the most of your resources. If you feel it too overwhelming you can hire help. There are experienced professional organizers who specialize in relocating seniors throughout the country. You can visit the web-site of The National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net to obtain referrals to a professional organizer who can meet your needs.
The Financial Plan
It goes without saying that another important component of the “rightsizing” process is the financial one. Conversations about wealth take place on two interconnected levels: the practical and the emotional. The practical side revolves around basic considerations about how the money will be transferred. Equally important from an emotional standpoint are the “whys” of your decisions.
The first financial decision is to create a budget that reflects your new household realities. In most cases, “rightsizing” may free up additional funds for everyday living since, in your new setting, you’re unlikely to be burdened by any significant mortgage and home upkeep considerations. Utility costs, for instance, are apt to be reduced or included in the monthly maintenance. These are just a few of the reduced home expenses that may provide you with additional free cash flow. A budget worksheet is available on www.rwroge.com, under the “Planning Tools” Tab.
As with any financial plan, the key is to “pay yourself first.” A portion of the additional discretionary income generated by your new and more economical lifestyle should be put towards savings. We recommend that at least 3 to 6 months worth of expenses be kept in a checking or savings account to avoid possibly incurring debt in the event of an emergency.
Once you are settled, the time may be right to visit with a financial professional to review your investments so that you are properly positioned for the future. It may also be time to visit with an attorney to insure that you have all the proper documentation – including a will, durable power of attorney and a health proxy and/or living will – to address any contingency.
Many seniors fear change, but change can bring opportunity and a fresh outlook. It may seem overwhelming at first, but proactively adapting – or “rightsizing” – your lifestyle to better accommodate evolving circumstances will pay valuable dividends down the line by more efficiently focusing your financial resources and promoting peace of mind. So consult with family, friends and trusted professionals and then start planning for a new and better future … today.
Sally Allen is CEO of A Place for Everything, LLC, a nationwide professional organizing business that specializes in relocating seniors. She can be reached (303) 526-5357 or
Via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit her web-site atwww.SallyAllenOrganizer.com.
Rosanne Grande is the Managing Director of R. W. Rogé & Company, Inc. She is a Registered Financial Gerontologist, Certified Senior Advisor, and Certified Financial Planner®
Right-Sizing® is a registered service mark of Sally Allen Organizer, LLC, All rights reserved.