The Hard Task of Downsizing

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Debra Kostiw: “It’s very overwhelming to go from a full house to maybe a one-or two-room apartment living situation.”

If you’ve decided to downsize into a smaller home, the task can seem overwhelming, especially if you have lived in your current home for many years.

“It’s really tough when you have to start saying ‘goodbye’ to the surroundings you’ve had for decades,” said Debra Kostiw, certified master dementia strategist and Alzheimer’s and dementia educator based in Henrietta. “You really should have someone help you with the floor plan to make sure what you’re taking will fit. You want to maximize your storage space.”

Kostiw is the author of “Forget Me Not: The #1 Alzheimer’s and Dementia Guide for Professional and Family Caregivers.”

Start by sorting out things that should be shredded, recycled or thrown out — such as old receipts, phone books and tax records no longer needed. Get rid of broken or soiled items that hold no sentimental value and you can’t fix or clean to make them usable again. Clearing spaces by eliminating these things will give you more room to sort the good stuff.

Be selective about what you plan to take with you when you move; choosing your most precious heirlooms and mementos and favorite stuff that works well and brings you joy. Let go of less favorite pieces. If you’re keeping items to remember someone by, choose the most meaningful item. Keep in mind that family and friends may want some of the pieces you let go.

The rest you can either liquidate through a yard sale or estate sale or donate.

“It’s very overwhelming to go from a full house to maybe a one-or two-room apartment living situation,” Kostiw said. “There’s the garage, basement and shed. Some men have been collecting tools for years.”

She recommends enlisting the help of a professional senior mover, which can help with sorting, packing and moving. Kostiw also advises the adult children to help, but to not “bulldoze them and take over. Instead, have conversations and reassure them you’ll take one step at a time.”

Of course, it’s easier to begin the process well in advance so you have time to sort and make decisions you feel good about.

When you look at your perfectly good stuff, think about if you’ll use it at your new place. If you’re moving from a house with a workshop to a patio home with a single-car garage, you likely won’t need an extensive set of automotive tools — especially if you haven’t done any major car repair in years. If you don’t anticipate entertaining big groups, you could probably let go of the big platter and dinnerware for 24.

Lauren Goetz: “Get rid of unwanted cookbooks — or any unwanted books. Books are a big thing.”

“Baking items people seem to hold onto,” said Lauren Goetz, owner of Everyday Hands, an errand and personal services provider in Rochester.

Just keep the basic set and pass along the fancy stuff you don’t use a lot.

“Get rid of unwanted cookbooks — or any unwanted books,” Goetz added. “Books are a big thing.”

Passing these along to a grandchild just starting out can be easier and more ecological than tossing them. If you have a set of fine china, consider giving a piece or two to each daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter to remember grandma by. Don’t assume one person will want an entire set of hand-wash only, non-microwavable dishes. Unless they explicitly ask for them, no one wants them. The same goes for large hutches and display cases. Most young people don’t want them because they move often and most middle-aged adults already have them and don’t want another one. If your granddaughter does want the hutch, she may decide to give it a facelift with paint or repurpose it for another use, so give with no strings attached.

Old electronics are likely not something other people want. Look on eBay to see if your item model is selling (not just listed). If it’s old enough, you may have a market for it. Some designer clothing labels sell well on eBay and Facebook Marketplace, as do high-end tools, but only if they’re in good condition.

Triciajean Jones: “Bring your family in to talk about [discarding personal items].”

Collectibles are tough to part with. For these, Triciajean Jones, director of Ontario County Office for the Aging, suggested saving one or two of best pieces in the collection to display and enjoy at the new place and donating the rest. You could find a collector’s group online if you don’t know anyone else who wants them.

“We’ve also had people take pictures of items and store them in memory books, which can help later down the line in life if someone needs memory care,” Jones said. “It could be a book of all the beautiful quilts or paintings you made. Having it digitally stored is a good way to pass it down to the generations.”

For Jones, receiving her grandmother’s collection of souvenir spoons held great meaning.

“Bring your family in to talk about it,” she said. “A lot of times, we have emotions tied to our items. Figure out if something you have has meaning to you or if it has meaning to a family member or friend.”’

Donate Unwanted Items to Charity

Unsure of where to donate your stuff that’s in good condition? Consider the following types of organizations, but ask before you drop off items and ask your tax adviser if you can deduct these on your taxes:

Goodwill, Salvation Army, homeless shelters, church “help” closet ministries and women’s shelters: linens, clothing, handbags, shoes, accessories, luggage, small household items.

Pet shelters: linens, pet beds, leashes and carriers.

Teachers/schools: craft and hobby supplies, office supplies

Nursing homes and day facilities: craft and hobby supplies, old magazines, books (especially in large font), lap quilts/small blankets, pillows

Freecycle.org: Register and then list any items you’d like picked up from your curb. This can help you shed larger items like furniture and exercise equipment.