Downsizing? The Stress Free Moving Guide For Seniors [Free Moving Checklist & Labels Included]

Moving is a BIG undertaking for anyone, to say the least.

And when you’re a senior, there might be some important elements to consider during a move. It can be quite an emotional journey, leaving a home where you’ve raised your family, to downsizing into something smaller. By taking just a few extra precautions, you can prevent unnecessary (and unhealthy!) stress during the days to come.

Here are a few golden tips to help you prepare like a pro to downsize and move, smooth sailing all the way.

Knowing When It’s the Right Time to Downsize

Life moves fast. One day you’re in a house that hardly seems big enough as you’re tripping over your kids and the next, your children are adults with kids of their own — leaving you with a house that’s more work than it’s worth.

Most families don’t purchase their home with the thought of downsizing later. However, as they enter their years as a senior, owning a big home starts to catch up with them. Knowing when it’s the right time to downsize isn’t easy. Luckily for you, these tips should give you some insight as to when it’s a good time to consider downsizing:

  • Stretching the retirement budget — This is one of the most common reasons people look into downsizing. If retirement savings are only going so far and they’re needing to be stretched, downsizing might be worth considering. A smaller and cheaper property can help decrease your yearly expenses by reducing property taxes, insurance, and mortgage payments.
  • Feeling overwhelmed with upkeep — If maintaining and cleaning your house is becoming overwhelming and it’s not in the budget to hire help to do the job for you, it may be time to consider downsizing.
  • Empty rooms — If there are multiple empty rooms in your home that are never used, then frankly, you don’t need them. Walking by empty rooms in your home that do nothing but collect dust and cost you money to heat, cool and maintain does absolutely nothing for you. Downsizing fixes this problem, meaning you’ll use less energy, use less space, and spend less money.
  • Stairs are a no go — As we get older, going up and down stairs can become increasingly difficult. If you have a multi-story home and you find that you’re having some difficulty, downsizing to a single-story home or apartment might be the route to go.

Any of these true for you or a loved one? Then it might be time to consider downsizing to a smaller home. Maybe a switch to a one-story townhome or a first-floor condo is what’s best for you. Maybe it’s a 55+ resort-style golf community. There’s something out there for everyone.

Alternatively, you might consider opting for a senior living community with assisted living and independent living options. It all boils down to your unique needs.

Sorting Through Belongings

Ok, you’ve decided to downsize. Great! Now what?

It’s time to start sorting through everything you’ve accumulated over the years, especially all of those knickknacks and memorabilia. Downsizing means you can’t take everything with you, no matter how attached you are to that one thing you bought that one time at that one place.

When you start sorting through your belongings, it’s best to sort them into four categories: Things to keep, things to store, things to sell or give away, and trash. Start with one area or room at a time, even if that means you’re working on just one closet or one dresser and as you go, sort each item into one of the four categories.

Struggling to figure out what to toss in the trash? It’s okay, look for these signs that indicate something is best thrown away or given away:

  • It was never taken out of the box
  • The item no longer fits your desires or needs
  • “I might need this someday”, is a thought you have
  • It’s out of date or old
  • It won’t be used or read again
  • It’s an unfinished project
  • You haven’t touched it in more than a year and it has no sentimental value.

The next step is to know what needs to be stored. A lot of items won’t be needed on a daily basis but might need to be kept for various reasons.

Items that are best stored are:

  • Documents and paperwork.
  • Items that hold sentimental value
  • Seasonal items that you don’t have room in your new home to store.

Lastly, deciding what you should keep. Don’t overlook:

  • Items that are sentimental that you wish to see regularly
  • High-value items that you want to keep close
  • Clothes that are important to keep for special occasions.

It’s important to remember that you’ll have an easier time moving (and fitting) into your new home with less.

Packing in Preparation to Move

seamless transition into new home

Next, comes the task of packing. This isn’t an easy job and it’s important to give yourself enough time to complete the task and to do the job well.

Keep in mind, packing is physically demanding. If you’re packing alone and you don’t have help, give yourself enough time to finish packing without putting yourself under physical stress or potential injuries.

Here are some suggestions to help make packing a little safer:

  • Break it up into small tasks — Doing this will make the task of packing more manageable. Keep in mind, it took several years for you to accumulate your belongings. That being said, don’t expect to be able to pack them overnight. Plan to work for an hour or two a week until everything is complete.
  • Pay attention to box weight — Even with help on moving day, you might have to move boxes around. Be aware of the weight of the boxes you’re packing, mixing heavy items with light ones will keep the weight of each box reasonable. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to ensure that no boxes are heavier than 50 pounds.
  • Ask for help — More than likely, this isn’t a job you can handle by yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If help isn’t available, consider budgeting some money to hire movers.
  • Pack a box to “open first” — Unpacking can be just as stressful as the job of packing itself. Make your job slightly easier by packing a few boxes to “open first” with all the essentials you’ll need for the first few days. These boxes can be things like bedding, linens, clothes, and toiletries. Things that will help you get through the first few days with as little stress as possible. When loading the moving truck, put these boxes in last.
  • Label your boxes well — Doing the best you can to label your boxes well so that you know exactly what’s in each box will help you unpack more effectively in your new home.

Do You Hire Movers or Move Yourself?

Once you’ve started the process of downsizing and packing your belongings, the next decision to make is whether you’re going to hire movers or handle the move yourself. Before you start weighing out the pros and cons, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • What’s your health currently like? Can your body handle taking on the majority of the tasks without hurting yourself?
  • Do you have a family to help nearby and do they have the time to commit to helping you?
  • How tight is your timeline? Do you have the luxury of taking your time to pack and move?
  • Are you moving far?

If moving on your own is something you think you can do, then it’s time to weigh the pros and cons of this choice.

The major benefits of moving yourself are:

  • You spend less money.
  • You can make sure your fragile items are handled well.
  • You can move in your own time, with the option to move little bits at a time.

However, there are a few drawbacks:

  • It’s physically stressful.
  • There is a greater demand for help from family and friends.
  • If you’re moving cross-country, it gets expensive.

Making the choice to hire movers has many benefits as well, including:

  • Less stress in packing
  • Safer and more efficient moving practices
  • With experienced movers, large items are better protected.
  • The move is faster
  • When moving cross-country, it’s cheaper.
  • There is no demand, or need to rely, on friends and family.

A good rule of thumb is if you’re moving 500 miles or more, hiring professional movers is the cheapest choice, more often than not. It’s also definitely the least stressful option. There are some small drawbacks to hiring professionals to consider, though:

  • Strangers are packing and handling your stuff
  • It’s more expensive for local moves

The bottom line? Your answer to whether or not to hire movers is going to depend on several factors. However, if you’re moving a long distance or your health is compromised and you can’t rely on friends or family, then hiring a professional moving company is your best option. If this isn’t the case for you, you’ll be able to save money by doing it yourself.

Keep Moving Day Safe

Once you’ve finished all of your planning, packing, and preparation, moving day finally here. You’ll want to take measures to ensure all of your belongings and everyone helping you are safe throughout the move. Moving is a huge undertaking, so planning ahead isn’t a bad idea.

Avoiding physical injury is a priority here. To make sure back strain or any other serious injury is avoided, consider these tips:

  • Get plenty of help. You can’t handle this alone.
  • Avoid packing boxes that weigh more than 50 pounds.
  • Make sure you lift with proper lifting techniques (lift with your legs and not your back)
  • Leave the heavy boxes to someone younger, or use a moving dolly.
  • Make sure there’s a clear path into and out of the house.
  • Make sure pets are secured on moving day, doors tend to stay open a lot.

It’s also important to make sure you’re taking care of your nutritional needs. It’s easy to forget or skip meals and water breaks when you’re busy in the throes of moving. It’s extremely important to make sure you don’t get dehydrated and you have plenty of food for yourself and those who are helping you move. You’re going to be burning quite a bit of calories.

Next, you’ll want to make sure you take the necessary measures to avoid damage to your belongings. Stacking boxes carefully, with heavy boxes on the bottom, will help prevent any boxes and their contents from being crushed.

Labeling boxes so that the labels are clearly visible will make your life easier when unpacking. While loading the truck, making it so the heaviest items are near the front protects the balance of the truck while it’s headed towards your new home.

Lastly, make sure any items that are likely to shift during transit are secured and tied down properly. The last thing you want is to arrive at your new home and find some of your belongings damaged.

Plan For The Emotions That Come With Moving

Some people consider moving a new adventure and an exciting time. However, not everyone feels this way. Some find the transition of moving to be emotionally challenging. Even more so if they are giving up a home where their children were raised, have made wonderful memories, and where grandchildren were welcomed into their home.

The best way to prepare for these emotions that come along with moving is to embrace those emotions first. Feeling sad when making a big move is normal. Don’t be afraid of the emotions you might feel, they are a healthy part of transitioning into your new home.

With that being said, sometimes those emotions and sadness can turn into something more serious. It’s important to be aware that some seniors will struggle with Relocation Stress Syndrome after making a big move.

Relocation Stress Syndrome or RSS is defined as a “physiologic and/or psychosocial disturbance as a result of a transfer from one environment to another. Signs that you or a loved one is suffering from this syndrome include:

  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Despair
  • Confusion
  • Apprehension
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep Problems
  • Withdrawal
  • Isolation

If you’re noticing your loved one, or yourself, suffering from these symptoms, seek medical or psychological help to ease the transition.

Settling Into Your New Home

Once the move has happened, take time to settle into your new home. Here are a few tips that will help you get settled in quickly.

  • Meet your new neighbors — Establishing social connections early on can help you feel more at home in your new space.
    Take time to get to know the community — Whether it’s the social events in your assisted living community or the stores or the social opportunities around your new town, making sure to take some time to learn and know the new community you’ll be living in can help you feel settled.
  • Logically unpack — Start with what you need right away, then move on to unpacking a little at a time until you’ve finished unpacking and settling into your new home.
    Schedule a housewarming party — Plan a housewarming party and invite friends and family over to see your new home and space. Limiting guests might be a necessity due to space, but don’t let that hold you back from showing off your new home.
  • Get Into a routine — Getting into a routine go a long way in making you feel at home. So, establish those routines early on and as quickly as possible. Use routines from your old home that you enjoyed whenever possible.
  • Change of address — Missing bills and other important mail because they weren’t delivered can be stressful. Make sure you change the address on all of your utilities, insurance, medical bills, and bank statements as soon as possible. It’s also important to file a change of address with the post office as well. Besides, you might even get some awesome coupons too! Who doesn’t love coupons?

What to Do With the Extra Belongings: Sell, Store or Bequeath?

When unpacking your belongings you’ll notice several items that missed your initial filter and only realizing now that you’re in your new place that you no longer have a need for these items. It’s time to decide if you’re keeping, storing, selling, or bequeathing these items. It’s not always an easy choice to make, but here are a few guidelines to help.

First, decide which items you’re going to hold onto for a while. This decision is extremely personal and it will depend on how much space you have in your new home or if you’ve chosen to get a storage unit or not. If you still need these items on occasion, they’re items that hold extreme sentimental value or you want to bequeath at some point but you’re not ready to yet, then you’ll need to store these items. Keep in mind, the more you choose to store, the bigger the storage unit, which costs more money.

Bequeathing some of your belongings to the next generation can be a rewarding way to part from them. You won’t have to store them and as a bonus, you’ll get to watch the next generation enjoy them.

Items that might make sense to pass down could include:

  • Heirloom furniture that you won’t have room to use.
  • Sets of china or sentimental dishes.
  • Decor that holds sentimental value.
  • Vintage and antique items you don’t have space for.

Lastly, it’s time to decide what items you’re going to sell. It’s not uncommon for antiques and vintage items to sell for a significant price. Make sure the deal you are getting is fair. One way to do this is to have your items appraised by a reputable antique dealer before selling them. This will help to protect you from accepting offers that are far below the value of the items.

Tips For Family With An Elderly Loved One Moving

If you have a loved one who is a senior and planning a move, here are a few ways you can help them with the transition:

  • Allow for more time than you originally think for the move. Seniors take longer to make choices, pack and settle in. So, allow them more time.
  • It’s important to know when your help is wanted or needed. Be ready to step in, but also be ready to provide your loved one with space when it’s needed.
  • Be ready for frustration if you’re helping your parent move. Especially if they’re moving into an assisted living community.
  • Encouraging your loved one to quickly make friends after they move will help them settle in quicker.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of emotional distress. Even if this move was their idea, there can still be trauma and stress as time moves along.
  • Be patient and show compassion — moving is can be emotionally taxing.
  • Use a schedule and checklists to help keep everyone on task.


Have some downsizing tips of your own? Let us know!


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