At some point, most of us must decide whether the home where we’ve lived, raised our families and created memories is still the right place for us.
That’s because life’s needs and circumstances change. Making the important decisions now about downsizing and decluttering will make a vital difference in your later years.
However, for many of us, the thought of decluttering our many years of belongings is best relegated to the “I’ll get to it” list.
But professionals say that once you start clearing out the clutter of accumulated belongings, you don’t miss it.
Patty Starr of Let’s Get Started and realtor Ron Bush of Equinox Real Estate both provide services to help their clients work through the process of preparing to sell their home and move.
After college, Bush worked with low-income older adults through the California welfare system, and later, while attending law school, received his California real estate license and embarked on a career in real estate-related law. This included landlord-tenant relationships, estate planning and transactions. He gained experience as a broker and property manager, among others. In Eugene, Bush co-founded Walker and Bush Real Estate, which became Equinox Real Estate in 2006.
His personal experience with downsizing came when his mother had an accident.
“We would try to talk to her about how she wouldn’t be able to stay in her home forever and her famous line was, ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,’” Bush says. “And when she came to that bridge, she crossed it, but she didn’t do it willingly or on her own terms.”
Instead, Bush’s mother fell in the shower one morning and stayed there all day until her daughter checked on her — every family’s nightmare. “Then we were in crisis mode. How do you make good decisions in crisis mode?” he says. “Nothing was planned. We had no idea who was going to take care of her.”
This experience was a strong impetus for downsizingeugene.com, a website Bush created to provide a clearinghouse of information for older adults and their families. It provides detailed information about the downsizing process and other aspects of aging.
What he’s found as a realtor is that many older adults who contact him to sell their home really are not ready to sell and move.
“When homeowners are much older, the selling process is not so much about the condition of the house,” Bush says. “You have a host of other issues involved. For example, how is the seller’s health? Are they mentally still OK? Can they physically handle packing and moving out?”
When he walks into a seller’s home for the first time, he assesses what will make the home ready to sell. He may notice the landscaping has been neglected, or that the house is so full of stuff that it’s not navigable for potential buyers to walk through. He also wants to know whether the seller has nearby family to help with the moving process.
“We can’t really show the house unless the seller is ready and able to participate in the process mentally and physically,” he says. “The really crucial thing that we found is getting things lined up, getting prepared for what is going to happen and having a plan in place. Because if you don’t have a plan, if you just wait until the day the crisis comes and the paramedics are in the driveway, then will you start thinking about everything you need to do?”
One challenge is the difficulty of sorting through and parting with our belongings. While Bush’s mother expressed regret about not planning ahead, she recognized that sorting through a household of stuff was overwhelming. Patty Starr, a professional organizer and downsizer, understands this mental block.
Starr previously worked in marketing at Cascade Manor retirement community, helping move in more than 100 residents.
“They all had the same challenge in common with moving from a larger home to smaller accommodations,” Starr says. “And every resident had the same problem that they brought too much and then they had to get rid of those items or realized they just didn’t quite fit. And that’s when I was introduced to downsizers and knew it was something I could do.”
She formed Let’s Get Started last year to help guide her clients through the process of organizing, downsizing and moving. “A lot of my clients are near or above 80 years of age, so physically they simply need some help and some guidance with the process,” Starr says. “They haven’t moved in many years. In some cases, it’s been decades.”
Her clients make their own decisions about the items they’ll keep, but she talks to them about the good feelings that come from letting something go.
“A lot of people hold on to items just because they’ve been holding on to items,” she says. “There’s no need for the item. They simply are attached to it because they’ve had it for so long.”
Letting go produces a wide range of emotions, especially when someone rediscovers treasures, likely boxed up for years. “I can’t tell you how many times people open a box and I hear, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t seen that in 50 years,’”she says. “It’s really a process of being with them, supporting them and giving them the nudge that they need to stay on track.”
If you’re facing the prospect of downsizing — to a smaller home, with your adult children or to a retirement community — contacting a downsizing professional for an onsite consultation can make the process much easier. She guides you through what is realistic and do-able, and maps out the necessary steps in preparing the home.
Starr is there from start to finish, bringing packing materials and helping pack up the items the homeowner chooses to keep. She also works with a trusted moving company once it’s time to leave the home. “I just simply start in a room and we both just work until we’re both kind of pooped,” she says.
The affordability and speed with which a downsizing move gets done really depends on how organized and prepared the client is ahead of time. Starr suggests taking a hard look at your items and not getting weighed down by them. “Clutter is visual noise,” she says. “And if you’re not surrounded by things that bring you joy, let them go.”
Bush sees it from a practical perspective.
“Be proactive, otherwise somebody else is going to make the decisions for you and it may not be the kind of decisions that you would like,” he says. “Do you want to be in control of your life? It’s about making sure that you are making the plans that you want to have happen.”
Reasons to declutter now rather than later
Decluttering leads to many positive feelings, including less guilt about having so much stuff to begin with.
When our homes are in disarray, we may feel our thinking is noisy and disorganized.
Being organized means the things you need and want are right at hand
Decluttering can improve mental focus, sleep and energy. A sleep study found that those who sleep in cluttered rooms had more trouble falling asleep and experienced more rest disturbances.
It allows you to be in control of your possessions, rather than the other way around.
Your family will not have the daunting task of dealing with your items themselves. ☸