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How To Downsize A Home: A Caregiver’s Guide

Does anybody love moving? I’d be very surprised if anyone answered yes. It’s stressful, time consuming, expensive…some might even say overwhelming. Now I want you to imagine your parents having to, not only move, but also downsize from the big 4-bedroom house where you grew up to a 2-bedroom condo.   Perhaps you mom or dad is moving to an assisted living community or maybe a room in your house. This is not an average move. Sorting through decades of family history and possessions can be paralyzing.

We can look at this situation many different ways. On the positive side, a move can mean you reduce the messy clutter of a family’s history, fewer home and yard chores and can help reduce feelings of isolation from living alone.   Unfortunately, most of the time a downsize move means that a loved one can no longer either safely or financially afford to live alone. Depression and a sense of frailty and loss of independence are common among aging adults that must downsize. It’s hard to watch.

As a caregiver there are things that we can do to minimize these feelings are better prepare our loved ones for what this move might really mean for them. Here are some tips and a checklist that will help you along the way.

Planning Ahead

  • If you have the luxury of time, and if your parent is willing, de-clutter before a great idea. Six months or a year prior to moving is not too early to start this process.
  • Shred, toss or give away obvious items such as old cancelled checks, outdated food or medications, clothes etc.
  • Collect and keep together important papers: deeds, wills, Durable Powers of Attorney, medical records, military records, diplomas and degrees, birth certificates, passports.
  • Now is the time for family members to claim their keepsakes—old sports trophies, CDs, posters, school projects–and remove them from your parent’s house.
  • Try to limit sorting and packing activities to no more than two hours per day for your parent. Keep it relaxed.

Where to Start

  • Get organized and make lists: start a separate notebook just for the move. Keep it with you, and whenever you think of something related to the move, write it down. This will be so helpful to you as the move gets closer.
  • Find reliable moving companies, check references and get estimates.
  • Set a firm date for the move.
  • Make a floor plan 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.
  • Make a preliminary plan of where major furniture will go in the new home. See if pieces can serve more than one purpose.
  • A Senior Real Estate Specialist will be a good referral source to make recommendations and, if you have the money, help find a professional moving manager. This person can help with:
    • Sorting and decision-making
    • Packing
    • Arranging the move
    • Arranging for charity pick up, garage sale, estate sale or consignment shops
    • 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 and electricity.
  • Refill prescriptions in advance.
  • Complete address changes.

Sort Before Packing

  • Plan on going through one room at a time. Start with the easiest.
  • Divide furniture and possessions into four categories:
  1. Definitely save
  2. Possibly save
  3. Donate, sell or giving away to a friend.
  4. Throw out.
  • Use colored tags or stickers to indicate in which category items belong.
  • Make a list of which items go to which people.
  • Don’t try to sort paperwork or photos at this point, unless it’s immediately obvious certain items are not needed. This kind of decision-making takes too long and is too draining. Pack it up and it can be sorted in the new home.
  • If possible, move your parent out first, taking only the designated furniture and items he/she wants and needs.
  • Allow time at this stage for your parent to talk about memories and reminisce about family.


  • Get help: family members, friends, the move specialist or moving company. With everything pre-labeled, it’s much easier.
  • Label all boxes with their destination room/area in the new residence.
  • Pack boxes that you will open first. Include items such as fresh bedding, soap, toilet paper, toothpaste & toothbrush, comb, nightclothes, towel, plate and utensils, one change of clothes, flashlight, tape and scissors.


  • 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 the moving company’s arrival, at both the old and new residences.
  • Check inventory lists.
  • 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 labeled.
  • Use the “open first” boxes to set up the bedroom and bathroom immediately.
  • Prepare to spend a few days unpacking and organizing. Get someone to help if you can. Work as quickly as you can to make this new home feel homelike.

Downsizing from a large home to a small space is a challenge as a caregiver of an aging adult, but one that you can mange with the proper preparation and execution. You got this.

Now, if you are a Real Estate professional in this space or you’d just like to work with the above 50 market in any capacity, I’ve got great news.  I will be teaching a Senior Real Estate Specialist designation course coming in January 2018 so save the date and reach out to me at  [email protected] for updates.

If you’re looking for additional resources on coaching, mentoring and related subjects go to or contact [email protected].

If you’d like to stay connected, you can find Toni Patillo on, twitter: @tonipatillo and email: [email protected]