Moving Tips, Tricks and Secrets for Seniors

Moving is a big job, but when you're a senior and you're moving from the home you've raised your family in to something smaller, you have some specific considerations you have to make. You can take measures to reduce the stress of the days ahead. Here's a guide to help you through the process as you get ready to downsize and prep for your move.

1. Knowing When It's Time to Downsize

Life happens quickly. One day you're in the midst of raising your kids, tripping over one another in a house that barely seems big enough, and the next your kids are grown and you're left with a large house that's more work than it seems to be worth. Most homeowners do not buy their homes with the intent of downsizing, but as they enter their senior years, the realities of owning a large home begin to catch up with them. Knowing when it's time to downsize is not always easy, but these tips and guidelines should help a little. Here are some signs that it's time to consider downsizing:

  • Need to Stretch the Budget - Your retirement savings are only going to go so far. If you need to stretch them, then it's time to consider downsizing to stretch your housing budget.
  • House Upkeep Becomes Overwhelming - If the task of cleaning and maintaining your home is overwhelming, and you don't have the budget to hire outside help to do the job, then it's time to consider downsizing.
  • Vacant Rooms - If you have multiple rooms in your home that you never use, then you don't need them. They are costing you money to heat and maintain, and downsizing will fix this problem.
  • You Need a Different Layout - As we age, getting up and down stairs gets harder and harder. If you have a multi-story home, you may need to downsize to a single-story home or apartment to ensure you can navigate your home successfully.

If you're noticing any of these are true about you, then downsizing is going to be the right choice.

2. Sorting Belongings

Once you've made the decision to downsize, then it's time to sort through your stuff. Moving to a smaller place means you can't take everything with you, no matter how attached you are to your things.

To sort, you will need to sort your things into four basic categories: Keep, Store, Sell/Give, and Trash. Start with one area of your home at a time, even if it's just one closet or one dresser, and go through each item, deciding which fits into which category.

If you're having trouble figuring out what to toss, look for these key signs that something is best thrown out or given away:

  • You never took it out of the box
  • It doesn't fit your style or needs
  • You think "I might need this someday"
  • It's old or out of date
  • You won't use or read it again
  • It's an unfinished project
  • It hasn't been touched in more than a year and holds no sentimental value
  • Furniture that won't fit in your new space

Next, know which items should be stored. Some items you don't need for day-to-day living, but need to keep for a variety of reasons. Items that are best stored include:

  • Paperwork and documents
  • Items with sentimental value
  • Seasonal items you don't have room to store at your new home

Finally, decide what you should keep. Make sure you don't overlook:

  • Sentimental items that you want to see regularly
  • Items with high value that you wish to keep close
  • Clothing items important for special occasions

Keep in mind that the more you get rid of before your move, the easier time you will have fitting everything into your new space.

3. Packing to Move

Now comes the job of packing. This is not an easy task, so make sure you give yourself enough time to do the job well.

It's important to remember that packing is a physically demanding job. You are not as young as you once were, so give yourself enough time to handle the task without physical stress or injury. Here are some tips that will help make the job a little safer:

  • Tackle Small Jobs - Break the task of packing your home into smaller jobs, which are much more manageable. Remember, you took many years to accumulate your belongings, so don't expect to be able to pack them in a week. Set aside an hour or two every day to work at the task until it's complete.
  • Be Aware po Box Weight - Even if you have help on moving day, you might need to move boxes around your new home as you unpack, so keep the weight of the boxes in mind as you pack. Mix heavy items with light ones to keep the weight of each individual box reasonable. In general, make sure no boxes weigh more than 50 pounds.
  • Ask for Help - This is probably not a job you can handle on your own. Ask for help. If help is not available, consider setting aside some funds to hire movers.
  • Handle Fragile Items with Care - Be sure to wrap fragile items carefully, and add more layers than you think are necessary to ensure they come out of the process unscathed.
  • Use Plastic Tubs - For items you will be storing for the long-term, use plastic tubs instead of cardboard to ensure that they are protected and safe.
  • Pack a "Open First" Box - Unpacking is just as stressful as packing, so make your job a little easier by keeping one or two "open first" boxes with the essentials you will need for your first days in your new space. Items like bedding, linens and toiletries will be enough to get you through the first few days so you do not have to stress yourself to unpack quickly. Put this box in the truck last.
  • Label Well - Labeling your items so that you know exactly what is in every box will help you unpack more quickly and effectively once you're settled in your new space.

4. Hiring Movers or DIY Move?

After you have started downsizing your belongings and packing, you're going to need to make one of the most important decisions in this process - are you going to handle the move yourself, or hire someone else to do it for you. Before weighing the pros and cons, ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • What is your health like? Can you handle taking on much of the tasks and come out healthy?
  • How much family help is nearby? Does your family have time to help?
  • How close is your timeline? Do you have the luxury of time?
  • How far are you moving?

If you think you could handle the move on your own, then you need to weigh the pros and cons of this decision. The main benefits of doing the move yourself are:

  • Spending less money
  • Ensuring your fragile items are handled well
  • Moving on your own timeline, with the ability to move a little at a time

The drawbacks are as follows:

  • More physically stressful
  • Greater demand for help from friends and family
  • Expensive if you are moving cross-country

If you choose to hire movers, you enjoy several benefits, including:

  • Limited stress in packing
  • More efficient and safe moving practices
  • Better protection of large items with experienced movers
  • Faster move
  • Cheaper for long distance moves
  • No need to rely on friends and family

In general, if you are moving 500 miles or more, a professional crew may be the cheapest option, and will almost certainly be the least stressful option. However, there are some drawbacks to moving companies to consider, which include:

  • Having strangers pack and handle your stuff
  • More expensive for local moves

So what's the bottom line? The answer to this question will depend on many factors, but if your health is compromised, you are moving a long distance or you don't have friends or family nearby who can help, then you're probably going to want to hire a professional. Otherwise, you can save some money by doing it yourself.

5. Keeping Moving Day Safe

After all of your planning, packing and preparation, when moving day finally arrives, you're going to want to take some measures to ensure everyone and everything is safe. This is a big job, so a little forward planning is not going to be a bad idea.

First, you are going to want to make sure you are not injured during the move. To avoid a serious back strain or even more serious injury, make sure you:

  • Get sufficient help. You can't handle your move alone.
  • Don't pack any boxes that weigh more than 50 pounds.
  • Use proper lifting techniques.
  • Leave the heavy lifting to someone younger, or use a dolly.
  • Keep a clear path into and out of your home.
  • Keep your pets away from your home on moving day.

In addition, make sure you take care of your nutritional needs. It's easy to skip meals and drink breaks in the hustle and bustle of moving. Make sure you do not get dehydrated, and provide plenty of food for yourself and your team of movers to ensure everyone has the energy they need to do the job well.

Next, make sure you take measures to avoid damage to your belongings. Make sure you stack boxes carefully, with heavier boxes on the bottom and lighter boxes on the top. Label the boxes so the top and bottom are clearly seen, and make sure you load the truck so that the heavy times are distributed near the front. This will protect the balance of the truck while driving to your new home. Finally, make sure anything that might shift during transit is tied down and secured properly. You don't want to arrive at your new home with damaged belongings!

6. Prepare for the Emotional Side of Moving

For some, moving involves a new adventure, and as such is an exciting time, but this is not the case for everyone. Some people find the transition to be a challenge, especially if they are giving up living in a place that they made family memories. The home where children were raised and grandchildren were welcomed can be hard to leave.

To prepare for the emotions of moving, make sure you first embrace them. It's normal to feel a bit sad when making this type of transition! Don't fear these emotions, as they are a healthy part of settling in to your new normal.

That said, sometimes the sadness can turn into something more. Be aware of the fact that some seniors will struggle with a condition called Relocation Stress Syndrome after making a major move. This is defined as a "physiologic and/or psycho-social disturbance as a result of a transfer from one environment to another." Signs of this syndrome include:

  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Despair
  • Confusion
  • Apprehension
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Withdrawal
  • Isolation

If you are noticing these signs in yourself, or if your senior loved one is experiencing them, be prepared to get medical or psychological help to ease the transition a bit.

7. Getting Settled in Your New Home

Once you've moved, take some time to get settled in your new space. Here are some tips to help you settle in more quickly.

  • Meet the Neighbors - Establishing social connections early will help you feel at home in your new space.
  • Get to Know the Community - Whether the social events of your assisted living community or the stores and social opportunities around your town, take some time to get to know the community where you have settled.
  • Unpack Logically - Start with the items you need right away, then unpack a little at a time until you're fully settled in your new home.
  • Schedule a Party - Invite your family or friends over for a little housewarming. You may need to limit the guest list to ensure everyone will fit, but don't be afraid to show off your new space.
  • Establish Routines - Routines go far in making you feel at home, so move towards routines as quickly as possible. Bring the routines you loved from your old home, if possible, to your new one.
  • Change Your Address - Missing bills because you never received them is stressful. Change the address on all of your utilities, medical bills, insurance companies and credit or bank statements as soon as possible to ensure you are getting all of your mail. File a Change of Address form with the post office as well.

8. Extra Belongings: Store, Bequeath or Sell?

As you sort through your belongings, you will find that you have a number of items that are still in good shape, but you simply don't need. In these instances, you will need to decide whether you are going store those items, sell them or bequeath them to your beneficiaries now. Making this choice is not always easy. Here are some guidelines that can help.

First, decide which items you want to hang on to for a while. This is a highly personal decision, and will depend on how much storage space you have, or whether or not you choose to purchase a storage unit. If items hold specific sentimental value, are items you need on occasion and still think you will need or want to bequeath but aren't ready to do so now, then you need to store those items. Keep in mind that the more you store, the more you will have to spend for storage.

Next, decide if there are any items you want to go ahead and pass along to the next generation. This can be a very rewarding way to part with your items. You will be able to see the next generation enjoy your items, but you won't have to store them. Some items that it makes sense to bequeath now include:

  • Heirloom furniture you won't have room to use
  • Special dishes or sets of china
  • Decor that might have a sentimental value
  • Antique and vintage items

Finally, decide what items you can sell. Often, antique and vintage items can bring a significant price. Make sure you're getting a fair deal, though. Have items appraised by an antiques dealer before selling them to protect yourself.

9. Tips for Family

If your elderly loved one is planning a move, here are some ways you can help with the transition:

  • Plan more time than you think for the move. Older people take longer to make decisions, pack and settle in, so give enough time.
  • Know when your help is wanted, and be ready to step in. Provide space when it's needed as well.
  • Be prepared for frustration on the part of your parent, especially if the move involves a move to assisted living.
  • Encourage your loved one to make friends as soon as possible after they move, which will help them get settled more quickly.
  • Watch for signs of emotional distress. Even a move that was your loved one's decision can create trauma and stress as the time progresses.
  • Have compassion for your loved one and the changes they are facing.
  • Set the time schedule, and keep everyone on task.
  • Help with the preparation of checklists that will help everyone stay on task.

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