Georgia Dixon

Home & Garden

The definitive checklist for downsizing

The definitive checklist for downsizing

Victoria Dryden is part of the team at Classic Moves, a full relocation management service, assisting seniors in downsizing or relocating into retirement or aged care. They take the stress out of moving.

Moving is a high-stress life event, the experts tell us, and they're right. Whether it's crosstown or cross-country, whether to a small apartment or a large suburban home, tackling the organising, packing, discarding, cleaning, paperwork and the myriad other tasks is a major challenge.

When you're older and moving from the family home to a new smaller residence, possibly in a new community or your adult child's home, sorting through decades of family history and possessions can feel overwhelming.

As we progress through life, a move may offer a sense of “lightening” to reduce the messy clutter of a family's history, fewer home and yard chores and can help reduce feelings of isolation of living alone. More often, this relocation can be an unwelcome admission of frailty, loneliness, possible serious illness, and a loss of independence.

This is our handy guide to save time, energy and sleepless nights. Most importantly, the checklist below provides a tool to help you organise your move and help it progress as smoothly as possible.

If you are facing a crisis, such as moving a parent into an aged care residence after a spouse dies, or into a nursing home after a devastating illness, the process will be condensed and planning time will be minimal. This may be the most challenging experience of all. We encourage you to get as much help and support as you can from friends, family, and relocation specialists. If you are an adult child helping your parent make this move, we hope this also offers advice on how to be both supportive and efficient as you and your loved ones manage this major life event.  

Planning ahead

  • If you have the luxury of time, and if you or your parent is willing, think about beginning to declutter before a move is on the near horizon. Six months or a year prior to moving is not too early to start this process, regardless of where your parent is planning to move, or even if your family is still deciding.
  • Shred, toss or give away obvious items such as outdated food or medications, clothes, or extraneous household items that just take up space. (If you're not sure, ask an accountant or tax person what records need to be retained.)
  • Continue this decluttering process monthly until you start the major activities of sorting and packing for the move. You'll be surprised at how much you can eliminate before you get into the emotional task of dealing with prized possessions.
  • Collect and keep together important papers: Wills, Powers of Attorney, medical records, diplomas and degrees, birth certificates, passports, Service records. These can be in a file cabinet or safe-deposit box, but let key family members know where they are.
  • Try not to allow grown children to use the home as a storage unit or museum. Now is the time for them to claim their keepsakes – old sports trophies, CDs, posters, school projects – and remove them from their parent's house.
  • Throughout the process, try to limit sorting and packing activities to no more than two hours per day for your parent. Try to keep it relaxed. Have a cup of tea (or glass of wine!), and take breaks.
Where to start

  • Make lists: start a separate notebook just for the move. Keep it with you, and whenever you think of something – anything at all related to the move – write it down. Include to-do lists, a calendar/timeline, things you're likely to forget, questions about the new residence, floor plans. Even offhand remarks like "Oh, Aunt Heather would love this picture." Although the notebook may not be particularly orderly, at least you'll know where to find the information.
  • Find and get estimates from moving companies or senior relocation specialists.
  • Set a firm date for the move, set settlement dates on both ends of the move.
  • Get a floor plan or template of the new home, whether it's one room or something larger. Be sure measurements are accurate, and reflect placement of doors, windows, appliances, built-in shelves, linen storage, heater vents, etc. You now know precisely how much space you will have; you don't need to guess. Your relocation specialist can help you with available area.
  • Make a plan for major furniture and where it will go in the new place – bed, couch, table and chairs, TV, bookshelf, dresser and desk, for example. Again, measure carefully. If pieces can serve more than one purpose, all the better.
  • If finances allow, think about hiring a move manager, senior relocation specialist or organiser. Fees vary across the country. A real estate agent may be a good referral source to find this specialist, or get recommendations from friends, seniors' residences or senior centres. This person can help with all or part of sorting and decision-making, packing, arranging the move, arranging for charity pick up, garage sale, estate sale or opportunity shops and unpacking boxes and arranging new home.
  • If pets are involved, be sure to have a plan for them to be moved and accommodated in the new home.
  • If needed, change providers for utilities such as gas, phone and electricity.

Complete address changes for:

  • Post office
  • Credit cards
  • Bank accounts
  • Investment/retirement accounts
  • Medicare & health cover
  • Voter's registration
  • Family & friends
  • Driver's license/car registration
  • Newspaper/magazine subscriptions
  • Social and sports clubs/places of worship
  • Notify lawyer, accountant, and others

  • Go through one room at a time. Start with the easiest. Don't try to pack now, just sort.
  • Divide furniture and possessions into four categories:
  1. Definitely save (these are the most useful, most beloved, most meaningful items)
  2. Possibly save (you'll need to revisit these later, and continue paring down)
  3. Donate, sell or giving away to a friend
  4. Discard
  • This is the time to designate items to be given to specific people. Make a list.
  • Items that have much sentimental value but are not likely to be taken can be memorialised in photographs. Later, you can put these on a memory stick or into an album.
  • Don't try to sort paperwork or photos at this point, unless it's immediately obvious certain items are not needed or wanted. This kind of decision-making takes too long and is too draining. Pack it up and it can be sorted in the new home. Shred discarded paperwork.
  • The number of kitchen items should be greatly reduced especially if you or a parent are going to a residence or facility that serves meals.
  • Be patient and allow time at this stage for you and your parent to talk about memories, to reminisce about family activities or relatives no longer with you, to acknowledge emotions. This can be a nice opportunity for you both to remember the stories and incidents that are part of your history and that make each family unique.
  • Don't go overboard retaining items to take – you can keep some collectibles, especially if they're small. You want the new residence to look like a home.      

  • Welcome others to help with packing chores: family members, friends, the move specialist or moving company. With everything pre-labelled, the task is easier and fairly mechanical. Senior relocation companies are available to do this task for you if family is not around.
  • Label all boxes with their destination room/area in the new residence.
  • Moving companies and senior relocation specialists can supply specialised containers, e.g., wardrobe boxes, so you can leave clothes on hangers.
  • Pack other important items that you'll keep with you during the move: new lease or residence contract, keys, medications, legal documents, cheque book, mobile phone, address book, first-aid kit, extra cash, your relocation notebook. Label this container.
  • Valuables such as jewellery should be in a safe-deposit box unless items are worn regularly. (You might wish to make a list of all valuables.)
  • TOP TIP: Pack "open first" boxes. The contents are for setting up sleeping accommodations and the bathroom. Include items such as fresh bedding, soap, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrush, comb, nightclothes, towel, plate and utensils, one change of clothes, flashlight, tape, scissors etc.
Unwanted items

  • Discarded items should be marked.
  • Give away items as designated. Offer friends and family members additional keepsakes.
  • Before selling items, get an appraisal from an expert such as a jewellery, art collector or someone knowledgeable about rare books if you're not sure of the value.
  • Furniture and other items can go to estate sale companies, auction or websites such as eBay or Gumtree, opportunity shops or charity, garage sales (if someone has time and is willing to organise and operate it) or donate the remainder of items to charities that may offer a pick up.

  • Be sure you have a written contract from the moving company and clear idea of coverage for lost or damaged possessions.
  • Get a firm time for their arrival, at both the old and new residences.
  • Check inventory lists.
  • Check payment options: credit card or cheque?
  • Have someone assigned to meet the movers at the new residence. Be sure they have a key! If this is a facility, be sure the manager is expecting you.
  • Ensure that all boxes are properly labelled.
  • Use the "open first" boxes to set up the bedroom and bathroom immediately.
  • Prepare to spend a few days unpacking and organising. Get someone to help if you can. Work as quickly as you can to make this new home feel like home.      
Settling in

Plan to check in often with your parent. Adjusting to the new surroundings may take days, weeks, months. Individuals' reactions differ after such an upheaval in their lives. Many people feel relief at not being alone and not having to maintain a large house. Others may be withdrawn and hesitant about making new friends. Many grieve the loss of their old community and friends. And sometimes, the reaction is: "I should have done this years ago!” This is always the desired outcome!

Find more information at Classic Moves.

Related links:

5 expert tips to declutter your home

13 storage tips to banish kitchen chaos

Tips for decorating a small apartment

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