When It's Time to Downsize

Senior woman leaning on hand and looking forward.

My friend, Betty, recently moved from her family home to a one-bedroom supported living apartment. I asked her why she decided to move. She replied that she developed a chronic hip problem, and was no longer able to work in her garden, walk up and down stairs, or drive. Her physical condition limited her independence and access to friends, many of whom no longer drive either.

Betty worked in the aging field for years. Last March, when Betty recognized that she—like many older adults—had become isolated and depressed, she sprang into action. She called her daughters. They had noticed her deepening depression. Together they talked about other living options.

Betty began to do her homework. She knew from working with older adults that it's important to have supportive services nearby or in the same housing complex. She found a one-bedroom apartment in a senior living complex with many supportive services and activities available for her to age in place, including an exercise program available to help strengthen her hip.

Daughter hugging her mother and smiling to her.

Betty did her homework and collaborated with family and friends to accomplish her move.

In the meantime, Betty's real estate agent asked her to have her place ready by June—when the garden is in bloom. Her most challenging job was to get rid of 30 to 40 years of "stuff." First, she asked her daughters to meet at the house. Each daughter received a set of dots to place on the items they wanted.

Betty enjoyed that memorable weekend with her daughters and was surprised and pleased that they liked so many of her things. Items with fond memories were the most popular, including an old jelly dish, a book she read to them when they were children, and a doll house made by her grandfather. Everyone got along during that heartwarming weekend.

Next Betty tried to sell many of her items. She was advised to have them appraised, so she made appointments with several dealers who came to her home. Although she was able to sell a few items, some possessions she considered valuable sold for very little. Books, records, knickknacks, and silver-plated serving dishes were worth little to nothing on the resale market.

Betty donated remaining items to a variety of nonprofit organizations, including the Children's Orthopedic Hospital Fund. Some nonprofits, like the Salvation Army, picked up large items.

Once Betty's house was on the market, she set a date to move and arranged to shut off the power and water. She called to reconfirm the movers and, much to her surprise, they did not have her on the schedule. Thankfully, her son-in-law did an Internet search and found another mover—a man with a truck who was able to move her on short notice.

A friend recommended that Betty either draw out the location of furniture in the new apartment or hire an interior decorator to do it. Hiring an expert worked very well. It helped the movers be more efficient (which cost her less) and she didn't have to rearrange the furniture afterward. Plus, the interior decorator suggested a way to arrange the furniture that had not occurred to her.

How does Betty view her move? She said she is lucky to be there and appreciates the supportive services in the building and nearby community. Her children know she will be safe.

Contributor Gigi Meinig, a planner at Aging and Disability Services, staffs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services. She recently experienced a move of her own.