It’s complicated. Many seniors have lived in their homes for many, many years. In most cases, it is the house where they raised their family. With years comes “stuff.” When it’s time to downsize, the “stuff” can be paralyzing and will actually prevent some seniors from shedding unneeded and unwanted items, causing them to stay in their homes. And while living independently is the goal for most people, that well-loved home might not be the safest place to be. Stairs, stuff, and tripping hazards can be deadly. Simplifying and downsizing are excellent goals for older persons, but what are some tips for success?
1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Tackle one room at a time. Don’t expect to downsize in a matter of days. Try to set a goal to be done in a number of months. Work a couple of hours each day and finish a room at a time.
2. Frame the “keep” or “get rid of” questions with seniors as yes-or-no questions. Open-ended questions cause confusion and will slow you down. Here’s an example: “We will keep your everyday dishes and get rid of the fancy china that you never use. Is that ok?”
3. Use the new residence as the goal and the space reference. Work toward what will fit into the new space. This creates a finite amount of items that can go.
4. Have two piles: the Keep and the Discard pile. Do not have a Maybe pile. The items in the Maybe pile will end up getting boxed and will never be looked at again.
5. Digitize photos, videos, and movies. But don’t throw the old photos away, especially if there are points of interest, old vehicles, or other items in the photo that could have historical value. Your local historical society or college may want them. A family member or friend may want the others.
6. Items that have value should be gifted or handled by a selling professional. Take the time to do some research so that these items are not lost or discarded. Check the references of selling professionals.
7. Learn about charity organizations that take donations, online garage sales, Craigslist, and liquidators/estate sale organizers as possible methods to deal with the items that will not be kept. Check references of professionals that you bring in to help sell your items.
8. Important papers can be downsized. You must keep originals for life of the following items: birth and death certificates, social security card, pension plan documents, ID cards and passports, marriage license, business license, any insurance policy (good to keep even if they have a digital copy in case problems come up), wills, living wills, powers of attorney, vehicle titles and loan documents, house deeds, and mortgage documents.
There are some papers that you keep for a little while: tax records and receipts (keep for 7 years); pay stubs and bank statements (keep for one year); home purchase, sale, or improvement documents (keep for 6 years after you sell); medical records and bills (keep at least a year after payment in case of disputes); and warranty documents and receipts (keep as long as you own them).
Finally, keep the most current social security statement, annual insurance policy statements, and retirement plan statement. Get a shredder or take old documents somewhere that will shred them for you. Staples and Office Max have this service.❦