Moving is no fun. Neither is getting rid of stuff. And both jobs get harder as we get older. So when seniors are looking to downsize to a different location, many just say, “I’ll stay put, thank you very much.”
It’s not just their massive bedroom sets, armoires, hutches and 12-leaf dining room tables holding them back, but also the intangibles. The memories, the family history, their identities are all in jeopardy.
That thorny issue was the focus of the eXp Realty Seniors Network conference, where I spoke to real estate agents about how to help seniors through this process — in less than an hour. Not an easy task.
I mean, if you ask most seniors to get rid of a lifetime of acquired stuff and move from their large, raised-the-kids-here house to a place that better suits their current lifestyle, will cost less and is easier to maintain, they will act as if you asked them to stand naked on the freeway.
And yet, that reluctance to lighten up, let go and move on is commonly all that stands between them and a better life.
Don Maycott, a Realtor with eXp Realty and co-founder of the seniors network, invited me to address the group after he stumbled across my book “What to Do with Everything you Own to Leave the Legacy You Want.”
So I cobbled together my best advice to help this group assist their older clients to cross the bridge between stuck in the past and embracing a lighter, better future. Here are some tips:
• Know what hurdles you face. Remember that for seniors thinking of moving, letting go isn’t just about sorting through physical stuff but also psychological freight. Taking stock of a household makes us face the passage of time, where we’ve been, where we are in life, successes and regrets, our mortality. Gently remind them that living in the past robs you of the present.
• Reframe the move. They are not downsizing; they’re rightsizing. That reframing is not only true but it also removes the idea that moving to a smaller home and living with less is somehow a demotion.
• Highlight the pluses. Not to put too big a bow on this, because shedding is hard, but one reason so many seniors can’t let go and move forward is because they can’t see what’s ahead. Help them picture what their new life will look like and visualize the upside of rightsizing. Point out how much better their quality of life will be when they have to care for no more house than they need, and have less yard to maintain. The move could free up capital so they can enjoy life more.
• Point out the practical. Decluttered houses show and sell better. Maycott tells potential sellers, “We’re going to need to move some things or put them somewhere else because we want the house to feel bigger.” Hard to argue with that.
• Let go in stages. Suggest that, before the sellers list their house, they purge what they can, then box up what they’re not using: extra linens, dishes, clothes, books. That will make cabinets and closets look spacious and help buyers see the house and not the stuff. Move those boxed items neatly into the garage or into a temporary rented pod. Once the house sells, they can revisit these items. After having lived with less, they might realize they don’t need these items.
• Set an example. Share your own stories. Maycott, for instance, tells sellers to do what he did. He and his wife, both 61, moved to a 1,600-square-foot place at the Villages in Florida six years ago from a 3,600-square-foot home in Atlanta. “We asked our grown children if they wanted anything. Each took a few things. We tagged what was going to Florida and put the rest in a garage sale. What was left went to charity.” If only it were always that easy.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at marnijameson.com.