Aging Well: Downsizing doesn’t have to be daunting |

Aging Well: Downsizing doesn’t have to be daunting

Tamera Manzanares

Editor's note: This article was originally published March 3, 2010. It has been updated for accuracy.

Downsizing is a process we undertake, to various degrees, throughout our lives.

Still, as we age, we seem to accumulate more stuff while growing more attached to items that have accompanied us throughout the years.

Inevitably, a person must dramatically pare down all belongings to accommodate smaller, more convenient living quarters or a simpler lifestyle.

While downsizing can be emotionally and physically draining, the price of delaying or avoiding it can be high, explained Karen Massey, family and consumer extension agent at the Routt County Extension Office.

At the very least, maintaining and shuffling too much stuff prevents a person from enjoying other things in life, especially as they age. Worse are the family arguments about who gets what or the heirlooms inadvertently lost after a person's death.

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The flexible nature of modern families — multiple marriages, step families and in-laws — can further confuse what may seem like a logical process on the surface.

"All you have to do is go to an antique store and realize that those were family heirlooms that didn't get passed down," said Massey, who conducts workshops on "Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate," a guide to passing down personal possessions.

Whether it's freedom and peace of mind or sharing memories while gifting sentimental possessions to family and friends, downsizing can be very positive for individuals who anticipate and plan for the process.

"If they control the process they feel much more powerful, and that makes it a meaningful process," Massey said.

Organization, sorting

Paring down decades of possessions can take a great deal of thought, organization and energy. Individuals should give themselves plenty of time and take frequent breaks.

Before beginning, it's important to create a sorting system grouping items to be kept, given to family or friends, sold at a garage sale, auction or consignment shop, donated to charity, stored or tossed/recycled.

Lists or color-coded stickers can keep things organized, and it's helpful to have packing supplies such as boxes, tape, markers and bags on hand.

Take a logical approach: Start with less-used rooms to minimize disruption, and begin with the biggest items working down to small pieces.

In general, it's best to stick to one room at a time though stuff may have to be consolidated with other like-items throughout the home. Be sure to have adult children or family members retrieve any memorabilia and property they've stored there.

Perhaps the hardest part of downsizing is making decisions about what to do with stuff.

Before sorting items in a room, pinpoint the things you love and/or use regularly. Again, be logical: You may love the four sets of dishes in your cabinet, but unless you plan to entertain large groups, unused dishes will be cumbersome.

Massey helped her parents make such decisions as they downsized and moved to an apartment. Her mother now enjoys activities she never used to have time for because she was spending so much time maintaining a larger home.

"She has a lot of freedom that she didn't think she wanted but now she does," Massey said.

Individuals stuck or bogged down in the organization and decision-making process can recruit family members or professional organizers to help.

The rapid rise in numbers of older adults has fueled an industry of professionals called senior move managers.

These professionals, who often come from backgrounds in gerontology, social work and health care, help with some or all of the moving process, including developing an "age in place" plan, organizing, sorting and downsizing, arranging auctions, donations, estate sales, etc., supervising moving companies and helping prepare homes to be sold.

For more information, visit the National Association of Move Managers at

Sentimental items

Just because you don't have room or don't use an item, doesn't mean it doesn't have sentimental value to you or others in your family. Undoubtedly, there will be certain things you will want someone to have, but it's important not to make assumptions about other things that you're not sure of.

A butter dish, paperweight or antique camera may have a special place in someone's heart.

"People should never underestimate the importance of small items that are part of everyday life," Massey said.

"Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate" helps individuals start conversations with family and friends about what they love and hope to have someday.

While it may be difficult at first for them to talk about the idea of your death and property, it can open the door to meaningful discussions about trials and tribulations, joys and quirks in a family's history.

"There is real freedom in gifting some of these treasures to your family and seeing them still enjoy them," Massey said.

This article includes information from "Downsizing Your Home: You Can't Take it With You," an article at, and "Tips on Downsizing: Moving from the Family Home," Ohio State University Extension and Ohio Aging Network.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit or call 970-871-7676.


Questions to ask when sorting possessions:

■ When was the last time I used it?

■ Do I love it?

■ Can I get by without it?

■ Is it in good shape and easy to care for?

■ Could someone else benefit from its use?

■ Is there great sentimental value?

■ What do I want to see family or friends enjoy and know the importance of?

Sources: “Downsizing Your Home: You Can’t Take it With You,” an article at, and Karen Massey, Routt County Extension Office.

For more

“Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate” provides tips on passing on personal possessions. The workbook is available at the Routt County Extension Office. Extension Agent Karen Massey is available to give presentations about the subject to interested groups. For more information, call Massey at 970-879-0825.

Thank you

The Aging Well program and the Northwest Colorado VNA would like to thank the Phippsburg Community Foundation for its generous $500 donation to help keep wellness programs affordable and accessible for older adults in our region. We thank the club and all residents and organizations whose support makes Aging Well programs possible.

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