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Overcoming the Mental Obstacles & Emotional Barriers of Downsizing

By | 2018-10-01T10:42:24+00:00 October 1st, 2018|

After a recent talk I gave at a retirement community, a guest came up to me and said he knows he wants to move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), but the prospect of downsizing just feels so daunting to him. He explained that he has over 10 acres of land, a few animals, a good-sized house, and so on. He was overwhelmed by where to start, he explained, and rhetorically asked, “How do I go from that to a 1,500 square foot apartment?”

I often hear variations on this same sentiment. While most people may not have the acreage and the large home that this man is contending with, in many ways, his downsizing situation isn’t too different from anyone else’s.

At its core, the two major factors that must be contended with in the downsizing process are the mental obstacles and the emotional barriers, both of which cause people to feel overwhelmed. These are among the near-universally common hurdles that prospective CCRC residents must overcome in order to make their “sign on the dotted line” decision to move to a community.

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

The mental obstacles of downsizing

Moving is never a simple proposition. There are countless tasks that must be checked off the to-do list and sometimes-complex logistics that must be coordinated. Downsizing — moving to a smaller home that cannot possibly accommodate all of your current possessions — adds an additional complexity to the situation.

Here are just a few examples of the mental obstacles that a senior may need to overcome in order to make the move to a CCRC.

  • We have a lifetime’s worth of “stuff”…enough to fill up an entire house, including attic, basement, and garage! How do I choose which things to keep and what to get rid of? What do I do with the things I won’t have the space for in a CCRC condominium?
  • How will I get my house ready to put on the market? In addition to all of the clutter, there are a number of repairs that are needed, and I don’t have the ability to do them myself.
  • How will I pack up and move all of my possessions? I have a difficult time doing extensive physical labor, and packing and moving an entire home feels completely overwhelming.

>> Related: Making a Move: Packing Parties and Other Creative Ideas

The emotional barriers to downsizing

When dealing with the emotional challenges of making the move to a CCRC, the stakes are high. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that this is a life-changing decision that will impact the senior for the rest of their life. It’s completely understandable that people may be feeling anxious, depressed, unsure, stressed, sad, and/or overwhelmed.

Here are a few of the common emotional sentiments of people who are thinking of downsizing and moving to a CCRC.

  • We’ve lived in this home for most of our lives. We raised our children here. We celebrated birthdays and holidays here, mourned losses here, and formed a lifetime of memories that are all associated with this home. How can I let this house go?
  • I feel like I’m still too young to move to a retirement community. I don’t use a walker or a cane, like many of the people who already live at the CCRC. I’m just not “that old” yet.
  • I am simply not sure if I’m ready to make this move, knowing it will be the last move I will make. I’m not prepared to close this chapter in my life and begin what feels like the final one.

 >> Related: Trash or Treasure: Why Seniors Should Declutter Their Homes…Today

Weighing the hassles and heartburn of downsizing

For these reasons (and other reasons as well, such as concerns about running out of savings, etc.), it can be tempting to put off a CCRC move to another day, another year, some date in the future when you think you will attain the proper level of “readiness.” Or it could be that the daunting task of downsizing is enough for some people to throw in the towel on the prospect of ever moving to a CCRC and instead decide to age in place in their current home.

>> Related: 8 Questions to Consider Before You Decide to Age in Place

There is no minimizing the fact that downsizing — letting go of beloved and prized possessions — and making the move to a CCRC is a big change, and that point should never be discounted. There are countless articles and books written on both the practical matters associated with the downsizing process as well as on the topic of the emotions tied to this activity. Just Google “difficulty of downsizing” and you’ll get nearly 1 million results!

But here are a few key points to keep in mind as you wrestle with your decision about moving to a CCRC and the necessary downsizing that will precede that move.

  • Opting to age in place, rather than downsize and move to a CCRC, may be the easiest solution in the short-term, but should you suffer a health setback that requires care, this option may end up being not only physically challenging (especially if you do not have a bedroom and bathroom on the first level) but also expensive (the current average cost of in-home care is around $4,000 per month, or higher, depending on the level of need). Additionally, this choice to age in place can cause issues in the long-term for your adult children, who may end up dealing with the many challenges that come with caregiving for an elderly parent.
  • Eventually, someone WILL have to sort through all of your possessions, decide what to keep and what to get rid of, pack up those things, move them out of your house, and sell the home. Once again, this task will invariably fall on the shoulders of your adult children or other loved ones, and it can be a heart-wrenching and exhausting chore for them.
  • While it is common for people to feel unsure about their decision to move to a CCRC, in my experience speaking first-hand to hundreds of CCRC residents, very few people ultimately end up regretting their decision to make the move to a CCRC. They recognize that the sacrifices that must be made, such as selling a beloved home and getting rid of certain sentimental items, are well-worth the many benefits of living in a community that is custom-made for their needs, both now and in the future.
  • Another common refrain I hear from CCRC residents is how glad they are that they moved earlier, rather than waiting until some unspecified time in the future. They are glad to have had the opportunity to build relationships with other residents, who are then a built-in social and support network in the future (for example, when there is a health setback or a partner passes away).

>> Related: How Do I Know If I’ll Be Happy Living in This CCRC?

Solutions to address the hinderances to downsizing

Thankfully, there are more and more resources available to assist seniors with the downsizing process.

For example, senior move managers will help take the reins of the entire downsizing and moving process. They act as project managers and personal organizers, helping seniors sort through their belongings, and then make decisions about what to keep and what to let go of.

There are of course professional moving companies who, with very little prep work required on your part, can be hired to pack all of your possessions, load them into the moving truck, and then unload them in your new home, putting furniture in the right spot and even setting up beds. Many of these moving companies also will pick up the empty boxes once you’re unpacked in your new home.

Real estate professionals who have obtained a Seniors Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®) designation have special training on issues and concerns related to older home buyers and sellers. A senior’s home is likely their most valued and valuable asset, and SRESs understand this. They also are especially sensitive to the fact that moving can be highly emotional for someone who has lived in a home for many years.

And then there are move-in coordinators, which are becoming more and more common at CCRCs. After making a deposit at a CCRC and narrowing in on a move date, the community’s move-in coordinator can help with downsizing decisions, referrals for realtors, handymen, and movers, interior space planning for the new home at the CCRC, and other moving day logistics. This concierge-type service can alleviate much of the stress —emotional and physical — that typically comes with the CCRC moving process.

>> Related: These Experts Can Ease Seniors’ Stress About Relocating to a CCRC

The welcome relief of downsizing

If you are unsure about whether you are ready to downsize and move to a CCRC, I’d encourage you to weigh all of this information and determine if you are ready to consider letting go of your current home and some of your “stuff.” It is a big decision that should never be taken lightly, but once you pull the trigger, you may just find that it feels as if a weight has been lifted, and you were actually readier for the change than you thought!
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About the Author:

Brad Breeding is president and co-founder of myLifeSite, a North Carolina company that develops web-based resources designed to help families make better-informed decisions when considering a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or lifecare community.