Advice and Helpful Hints on Downsizing when Helping Seniors Move in NY

by: Tehila Mörtl


Having received a number of requests on helping seniors move, I’ve spent the better part of the day enjoying what has turned out to be quite informative online research.  In obtaining information for this installment of senior moving, I was fortunate enough to come across some interesting articles on how to assist a senior with downsizing.  One of article, published in the New York Times, included advice on when retirees should begin to downsize.   

Helping Seniors Move

As we know, most of the time, one’s home is their greatest financial asset; however, starting to downsize sooner rather than later can result in modest to substantial monetary benefits be it in order to sell unneeded items to relocating to a smaller home or apartment.  As stated in the Wall Street Journal, “The financial benefits may not seem huge at first, but over time they can make a meaningful difference in extending the life of a nest egg.”  Although many of us are able to live comfortably pre-retirement, adjusting to a fixed income be it due to health issues or otherwise, can be trying at best.  For instance, property taxes alone are an increasingly weighty challenge when one goes from working a regular job to what could inevitably become a fixed income in senior years.

Helping seniors move is not simply about packing boxes and arranging for a moving company but, includes the all-important and often frustrating task of downsizing which can be further complicated by conditions which some elders suffer from.  In some cases, if an elder is displaying symptoms of withdrawal from social activities, apathy and self-neglect, he or she might be suffering from Diogenes Syndrome, a condition first recognized in 1966, also known as senile squalor syndrome, is an elderly hoarding disorder.  

An article I read which highlights one particular case can be found on

If you and your elder are fortunate enough for this not to be the case, following are some tips for tackling the job of downsizing:

·       First of all, do not attempt to tackle the entire house at once but rather go room by room and in some cases, where necessary, area by area.

·       Given open-ended choices can make the process more difficult for your elder, it is wise to pose yes or no questions.  For instance, rather than asking which china pattern and what pieces they would like to keep it one might whittle down the options beforehand.  Then perhaps, offer a statement such as, “I’ve set aside a setting for four which includes salad and dinner plates, cups, saucers and bowls so that you can entertain a few friends in your new home.  Does that meet with your approval?”  Addressing these types of decisions in a yes or no fashion not only allows your elder to feel a part of the process but affords you the ability to complete the task more quickly and with the feeling of accomplishment.

·       When downsizing it is important to establish exactly how much room is available so make sure to measure closets and cabinets in the new residence before beginning.  Doing so will not only assist in the decision making but will act as an excellent visual guide when it comes to establishing how much one can retain.

·       Consider closely how many of each item is needed.  For instance, rather than a dozen sets of sheets, one really needs no more than three.  This applies to all items including a tea kettle, coffee maker, cookware, clothing, etc.

·       When sorting, relocation experts use what is called the OHIO rule, meaning Only Handle it Once.  Keep in mind, moving items to and from a “maybe” pile takes up valuable time best spent on sorting through the remainder of belongings.

·       During the sorting process, the one exception is when it comes to piles of paperwork.  While time-consuming, it is important to review each document to establish whether or not it is needed.  Therefore, one will want to pack a box or boxes separately with all paperwork.

·       While difficult at times, concentrating on items which have been and will be most used and needed in your senior’s new home is of the greatest importance.  Keeping this in mind can aid in letting go of the unnecessary.  There will, of course, be some tough choices so it is wise to ask about the story related to whatever item is in question.  Considerations include the origin, when was last use and perhaps if some other young family might have a greater need.

·       If we of had the time and ability to sort through our own special treasures, I know full well that selecting which photos to keep along with memorabilia would have been a true challenge.  Thankfully today there are many services available which can digitalize images and papers.  In fact, if you have the time, this is something which can be done at home by scanning and either storing on a disk or printing from your personal computer.  If one chooses to tackle this project themselves, they can also resize photos to fit more on one page.  An added bonus is that this will allow every family member to receive a copy.  When going through photographs, one might also consider which can be kept to display on tables and walls without taking up too much space.

·       When it comes to collections, it is best to ask, “Which is your favorite?”  Affording your elder a sense of control when it comes to selecting their favorite pieces will lessen the blow of having to relinquish the rest.  Once selections have been made, one might want to take a photograph of the remainder of the collection to compose in an album or special book.

·       Items which your elder would like to hand down to other family members or friends are wonderful; however, to minimize the need for storage, encourage them to make a gift of that item immediately rather than waiting for the next birthday, holiday or other special occasion.  If the item is something they would like for you to have, accept it graciously.  If it is not something you want or need you can always pass it on, donate or otherwise discard it.  Remember, the primary focus is to complete the task at hand as quickly as possible.

·       Have items your elder would like to sell?  One might wish to give strong consideration to the time and effort it can take to sell items on their own.  Remembering the item is only worth what someone is willing to pay can assist in deciding if it is worth the effort.

·       High value items on the other hand, should be appraised by a professional.  An appraiser will only put forth the effort of coming to your or your elder’s home if the lot is large enough to be of interest.  Consignment shops, while another option, often charge for pick up if you do not wish to deliver yourself.  These types of vendors also tend to be selective in what they will accept and put up for sale.

·       When considering donations, it is best to familiarize yourself with how charities function.  The primary organizations accepting donations are Goodwill, Salvation Army, Purple Heart and AmVets.  Depending on where your elder lives, other alternatives can include PTA and church thrift shops, local hospitals and charities.  Quite often, one’s moving company can also provide a list of charitable organizations.  If possible, make an itemized record of what is donated and always get a receipt for tax deduction purposes.

·       Establishing which charities accept what donations can be a task in and of itself but can be well worth one’s time and effort and your elder will, at the same time, be happy to see their belongings find a new home.  During the sort process, one might wish to donate musical instruments to a school program and tools to a community maintenance program or department.

·       While public libraries do not typically accept book donations, there are organizations and businesses that will be happy for the contribution.  One important thing to remember is that donations in larger batches take far less time, effort and planning.

·       Remain realistic on what charities will want and be able to sell.  For example, chipped dinnerware along with stained clothing and storage containers without lids should simply be discarded.

·       Items like old spices, magazines, expired medications and such are not items one needs to spend time worrying about.  Just as contents of a junk drawer rarely include important items which must be kept.

·       While the neighborhood garbage company might have a limit on the number of large trash bags they will take, not every dump will accept unsorted waste either.  If Bagster is available in your area, it is a valid alternative to renting a dumpster particularly if a smaller scale alternative fits more with your needs.  One can purchase their large bags at a local home improvement store for around $30 depending on pick-up location.  These can be filled with over 3,000 pounds of trash and easily scheduled for pick-up.  There are also a number of Junk Removal companies which can be found in the phone book and on the internet.  Lastly, if the collection of items includes those which might be sold, a local junk dealer will likely haul things away for free simply to obtain the items which they can sell.

·       Lastly, think long and hard before snatching up some knickknack or what-have-you and taking it home.  Ask yourself these three questions:


1.     Is this something I need?

2.     Is this an item I can use?

3.     Does it have any value? 

Then, stop and remember all the time and effort you are having to put forth before making the final decision.  There is no doubt your spouse and/or children will be extremely appreciative.                  

Whether you are ready to move as quickly as possible or you are just starting to think about this as an option, we encourage you to give us a call  at 646-820-9202 and speak with one of our senior care consultants about helping seniors move. They will be able to assist you with making all the necessary arrangements and answer any questions you might have to begin the process.  Most of the services we provide for our elderly clients and their families are completely free since we work on referral basis with firms we trust. If you are in NYC, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island or the Bronx please get in touch with us to learn how we can help you today.

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