In the “I’m Not Ready Yet” blog series, we will be taking an in-depth look at some of the most common reasons why people put off a move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or other senior living community.

There are a number of reasons why people put off moving to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC or life plan community) or other senior living community, many of which fall under the general category of feeling like they are “not ready.” That might relate to not believing you are financially prepared to make the investment required for a CCRC move. It could be a belief that you are not yet “old enough” to move to a CCRC. But oftentimes, that “not ready yet” dilemma relates to the understandable emotions that surround downsizing.

Many seniors have lived in their current home for years, even decades. They may have raised their family there and have countless fond memories connected to that home — births and birthdays, graduations, holiday traditions, and more. The thought of selling that home and moving someplace new can be a difficult emotional barrier to overcome.

And then there is the “stuff.” Of course, most people naturally accumulate more and more possessions as the years go by — be it items they have purchased themselves or things they were gifted. On top of that, people who have lived in the same home without moving for a lot of years might not have spent much time culling through all that “stuff” tucked into their closets, attic, basement, or garage.

The thought of tackling the decluttering and downsizing task can be daunting to say the least. Not only does going through and packing up all of one’s possessions seem like it will be physically exhausting, it also has a very real emotional component to it. How does one let go of possessions that have so many memories attached?

>> Related: The Best Time to Begin Decluttering for a Senior Living Move is Now

Head vs. heart downsizing dilemmas

We’ve written before about suggested approaches to taking on this sometimes-intimidating downsizing project. It can help to enlist a friend or family member to assist with this process, both for the company and the moral support. Having boxes, tape, markers, trash bags, paper towels, and cleaning products handy is also useful. Add in some music to help pass the time, and be sure to take breaks and reward yourself with a treat of some kind at the end of each day (maybe takeout for dinner or a special dessert).

It is often wise to take on one room or area at a time. Go through each item in that room and sort it into one of four categories: Keep, Sell, Donate/Giveaway, and Trash/Recycle. But here’s the rub of this entire process: How do you decide what goes in the “Keep” pile and what to get rid of?

It can be a very practical matter in certain instances — logical decisions where you follow your head. Let’s say the two-bedroom CCRC condominium with the floorplan you want has become available, and your name is at the top of the waitlist. If you currently live in a three-bedroom house, obviously you will need to sell or give away one of your bedroom suits and the linens that go with it.

But then there are the much more difficult decisions about what to keep versus get rid of — often those smaller, more sentimental items. The decisions you have to make with your heart. Boxes of old photographs and albums that you cleaned out of your parents’ attic. The dolls or toy trucks from your childhood that your own children and grandchildren also played with. The fine china set that you inherited from your grandmother. These are the items that are much harder to contemplate parting with.

>> Related: The Upside of the Downsize: A Smaller Home Can Have Big Benefits

Making choices about sentimental items

The good news: Obviously, you do not have to sell or give away all of those sentimental items. If an item brings you joy, it should absolutely make the move with you to your new home. But for those items you’re on the fence about, struggling to decide whether to keep it or let it go, there are a few tips I’d offer.

  • If it is an everyday-type item — one without sentimental value — that you have not used or needed in the past year, odds are you can put it in the “Sell” or “Donate/Giveaway” pile.
  • If there is an item you are holding on to based on the possibility that a family member might want it “someday,” go ahead and have that conversation with them to see if they do indeed want it. If they do, ask them to take possession of it now. If they don’t want it, it is okay to let it go.
  • If you have items with sentimental value that you just aren’t sure you’re prepared to get rid of, it can help to sort those things into their own box. Set that box aside and revisit the items in a few months. At that time, you may have clearer feelings about whether it is truly something you need to hold on to or not.

>> Related: Overcoming the Mental & Emotional Barriers of Downsizing

Easing the downsizing process

In addition to the tips above about how to approach the downsizing process — going one room at a time, categorizing each item, enlisting loved ones to help, rewarding yourself for your hard work — there also are professionals who can assist you with this task. These experts can help alleviate some of the emotional and physical stress that sometimes accompanies decluttering, downsizing, and moving.

For example, senior move managers can help orchestrate the entire downsizing and moving process for you. A blend of project manager and personal organizer, these folks will help you sort through your belongings and make decisions about what to keep or let go of.

When it comes time to actually pack up and make your move, professional moving companies can do the heavy lifting, literally. These pros will carefully pack up all of your possessions, load them into the moving truck, and then unload them into your new home. They will even place furniture in the right spot and often set up your beds for you.

And then there are move-in coordinators, who are on staff at many CCRCs and some other senior living communities. After you make your CCRC deposit and are closing in on your move date, these professionals can help you with some of those downsizing decisions. They also can act as a concierge for referrals, interior space planning, and other move-in logistics. It’s a helpful service that can take away a lot of the stress that sometimes comes with a CCRC move.

>> Related: Resources to Reduce the Stress of Moving to a CCRC

What is in your “Keep” pile?

Moving is a lot of work; there’s no denying it. Add to the mix the necessity to sort through all of your possessions and decide what to keep and what to let go of, and it can be tempting to put off a move to a smaller home, a CCRC, or another senior living community to another day. Maybe there will be some point in the future when you will finally feel “ready,” you might think.

But the reality is that someone WILL have to go through this sorting, cleaning out, downsizing process — either you…or your loved ones. With that in mind, many people decide that they would prefer to make the decisions themselves about what goes in the “Keep” pile and what can be sold or given away.

But here’s what I so often find when I talk with people who have bitten the bullet and made the decision to downsize and move to a CCRC or other senior living community: No matter how difficult the thought of a move had originally been for them, or what their reasons for staying in their previous home were, once they get settled into their new home, they realize that it was absolutely the right decision for them. Living life, sharing life, discovering life, enjoying life, celebrating life — all of it is so much easier to do in a community surrounded with new and longtime friends.

And the added bonus of moving to a CCRC is that you also can continue to be surrounded by the things you put into your “Keep” pile while having access to a continuum of care services should you ever need them. For many people, the peace of mind that brings is well-worth the downsizing effort.

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