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Managing the Emotions of Downsizing

We know that the decision to downsize your home is not an easy one to make. Learn about how dealing with the emotions of downsizing can help.


Homeownership represents the American dream. The chance to have a place to call your own and raise a family. But after the kids leave to start lives of their own, the maintenance and upkeep of your dream can eventually become more of a burden. That’s why more and more seniors are considering the idea of downsizing and moving to a smaller home. According to a 2018 Transamerica Center for Retirement Research report, 40% of retired seniors have made a recent move. And of those, according to a Merrill Lynch study, 51% downsized.

Of course, moving means sorting through a lifetime of possessions and dealing with the emotions of downsizing that comes with them. If you’re thinking of downsizing your home to fit your current lifestyle, here are some things to consider.

Home is Where the Heart Is

It’s normal to have an emotional connection to the place you live. Birthday parties, holiday celebrations, raising children, and visits from grandchildren all create memories that make a house a home.

That’s why dealing with the emotions that arise while downsizing your home can be difficult. Here are some common causes of emotional challenges and ways to look at them differently:

  • Memories: When you start thinking about getting rid of the belongings that represent your achievements and past experiences, a range of emotions may arise.
    • Suggestion: Your feelings are what make you who you are. Take time to tell stories and relive old memories. You have a great life and there’s nothing wrong with taking time to celebrate it.
  • Fear of the unknown: The uncertainty of not knowing what the next step will look like can raise a lot of fear and anxiety.
    • Suggestion: Have a clear plan and enlist help from a family member, trusted friend or a professional, like a senior move manager, who can be more objective and help you stay focused. Check out these downsizing tips.
  • Stress: No matter how old you are, moving is stressful. There are belongings to pack, rooms to clean, papers to sign, and deadlines to meet.
    • Suggestion: The most important thing is to get started, and remember that it doesn’t have to be difficult. Start with the least emotional area of your home first until you build a rhythm, then work your way up in difficulty.

A Practical Plan for Dealing With the Emotions of Downsizing

Your goal is to keep possessions that reflect who you are now, not who you were then. By downsizing, you’re reducing your responsibilities and workload while potentially increasing your cash flow, and giving yourself greater flexibility. This is your opportunity to create a new chapter in your life and it’s a time to reinvent your lifestyle and your surroundings. But when you hit the roadblock of what do with a specific item, here are some suggestions:

  • Get sorting: Sort all items into one of four categories — sell, donate, recycle and keep. As you do, remember: While some possessions may keep you connected to your past, they may also prevent you from making healthy changes and moving into a new phase of your life.
  • Heirlooms: Often items are significant because someone special gave them to you or they remind you of a special time in your life. Consider giving these items to others who would appreciate them because of this past significance.
  • Know the value: If you have items you would like to sell, get them appraised and decide if you want to have them sold, rather than donated. However, they’re only worth what someone else is willing to pay you for them.
  • Worse case scenario: Ask yourself, what is the worst that will happen if I get rid of this? For example, if you have clothes, toys and artwork from when your kids were growing up that you were saving to give to them, set a firm deadline to have it picked up. If it’s not worth space in their homes, maybe it’s not worth space in yours.

Take Your Life in a Direction That Matters to You

Think back to all the decisions you’ve made in your life. All the thoughtful planning along with the anxiety and fear of making the right decision. Now think about the sense of excitement and relief you felt once you put your plan in motion and how it all turned out well.

If you decide to downsize and take your life in a new direction, keeping the positive aspects of your new future in mind can make a big difference. To help you get started, many senior living communities have moving and downsizing experts on staff or can put you in contact with trusted vendors.

When you’re ready to find an option that fits the new direction you want to take your life, start by reviewing a community near you with our Where You Live Matters community finder.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.

Transamerica Center for Retirement Research
Merrill Lynch