Downsizing: The Devil You Know

Downsizing: The Devil You Know

by Joan Blumenthal, MS LPC

For many of my clients and my older friends, too, selling their houses and moving to smaller quarters is a major trauma.

They worry about how much money they will realize from the sale of their houses.  Even if there is a huge gain over the price they paid 40 or 50 years ago, it certainly will be worth less than it would have been before the housing bubble burst, and naturally that rankles.

They are reluctant to leave the communities they know so well.  Even if all their friends have left or passed on, they recall belonging to a warm and supportive environment, and for many the idea of living near their children does not outweigh that loss of fraternity.

They dread — indeed, are totally overwhelmed by — the prospect of sorting through decades of accumulated treasures in attics, basements and closets.  They’re paralyzed by having to make countless decisions about what to take, what to leave, what to give away and to whom.

They would rather stay right where they are no matter what.  No matter that the roof needs replacement, no matter that the yard costs a king’s ransom to maintain, no matter that driving is problematic and stairs are daunting.  And no matter how many times their children express concern for their increasingly frail health.

Clearly for these people, the devil they know is better than the one they don’t, and their move is filled with turmoil and stress.  This is a common reaction to the thought of making such a big move late in life.

Here is a list of seven positive steps to alleviate some of the stress and make the move as smooth as possible:

  1. Find a real estate agent who is sensitive to the impact that moving has on older adults, one who will allow sufficient time for planning and working through the process.
  2. Consider selling the house “as is” to avoid the additional upheaval of renovating, repairing and revitalizing it.
  3. Identify those items that have the most meaning and, if space permits, be sure to take those things along.
  4. Focus attention on the positives inherent in the move:  personal services, amenities, activities and community.
  5. Rent storage space to hold the things that won’t fit in the new setting but are too important to part with. This way, the items can be dealt with at a later date when other concerns are settled.
  6. Hire a Senior Move Manager.  These professionals manage the move from beginning to end:  they pack and unpack; they distribute items to family members; they arrange for movers, dumpsters, etc.  They leave the old house broom clean and make the new home ready for occupancy, with furniture in place, dishes in the cupboards, clothes in the closet, and the bed made for the very first night!
  7. If you are helping an elder with a move, be sure to involve them in the decision-making as much as possible, but reduce choices whenever possible to avoid confusion.  For example, recommend one well-vetted realtor or lawyer, rather than three or four.

Pearl of wisdom:  Most elders adjust to their new environment within a few weeks or months.  Often they are so pleased with the new ease of living in an apartment or assisted-living facility that they wonder why they didn’t make the move sooner!  To locate a Senior Move Manager near you, visit

Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC is a Geriatric Care manager practicing in Fairfield County, Connecticut. For information visit © Joan Blumenfeld 2011

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