Guide to downsizing for elderly

It is widely acknowledged that moving house is among the most stressful experiences in life

In later years, this already daunting life event can simply become too much to contemplate

The prospect of packing up a beloved home, with decades of accumulated belongings and all the memories attached can seem overwhelming and for many elderly people, this becomes a reason to delay or defer a move

Moving home may come under consideration for many reasons:

  • health conditions
  • changes in mobility
  • bereavement
  • changes in the surrounding community
  • changes in family circumstances

There are many good reasons to move:

  • to be nearer to family
  • to have a smaller more manageable home
  • for financial consideration
  • a healthier environment
  • to combat loneliness and isolation
  • to access support and care

How to help the elderly to move

Supporting an elderly person to make a move means much more than simply packing up boxes and calling in a removal firm

It is important to recognize and understand the physical, emotional and cognitive changes faced by an older adult and the impact this will have on their ability to participate in the process of moving

Even a fit and well older adult will have less energy, will tire more easily and can become mentally fatigued more quickly than a younger person, or even compared to their former self

Health conditions such as heart complaints, breathing difficulties or arthritis may be manageable on a day to day basis, but mean special attention and support is needed during moving

Memory loss or confusion may lead to extra stress as the person struggles to understand and cope with the upheaval in their environment

Organising the move

Allow significantly more time for the physical work needed in preparing for a move

If at all possible, plan the clearing and packing in several smaller allotments of time rather than setting aside one period  (a weekend) to achieve it all

This will allow the process of clearing and packing to be achieved calmly and positively without exhaustion, panic and frayed tempers all round

If it is necessary to do it all in a short space of time, plan for frequent breaks

Keep your parent well hydrated and nourished.

Do not underestimate the emotional impact that clearing and sorting a lifetime’s possessions will have: the process will involve rediscovering forgotten possessions, reliving memories that may be bitter-sweet and making dozens of decisions that will have permanent impact

All will bring the reality of the pending move into sharp focus. Stay positive, looking forward to the end goal of improved circumstances but take the time to treasure the memories and respect the trauma of letting go

Creating a photographic record of special items or collections can assist this process, aid memory and lesson confusion


Most moves in later life will involve downsizing

This may be a very welcome and positive change, for instance, moving from a large old house into a bungalow or retirement community, but will necessitate decluttering and disposing of collections, furniture and personal items

Here are some pointers that will help with decluttering:

Draw up a floor plan of the new accommodation. Make it as accurate as possible, including doors, windows and other features. This will help with deciding what will fit into the new space and imagining what it will look like

The most common reasons given for saving stuff are:

    • I paid a lot for it
    • it may come in useful some day
    • I’m saving it for my children/grandchildren; I will use it for a craft project
    • I inherited it

It is much easier to let go of things if we feel they are going to benefit someone else, so recycle as much as possible, by selling, through charity shops or by donating things to someone who will use them

Dispose rather than rearranging or re-storing. Do not be tempted to move things to a loft, garage or costly storage facilities as it is only delaying the decision and may cost you thousands

Go for quality rather than quantity. Keep a favorite vase or two for instance, but give the rest away. Be realistic about current needs: are a dining table and eight chairs really needed in your new flat?

Enlist help, especially if you know you are not good at throwing things out. A friend or relative can be an ally but consider asking for outside help

Sometimes a caring professional is more supportive than those you are close to and likely to fall out with.

Keep the end goal in sight. Your parent should congratulate themselves at every step and enjoy the new-found sense of freedom and self-determination

A word to anyone helping an elderly person downsize

A final word for anyone supporting an elderly person with decluttering and moving: don’t forget to acknowledge the impact this will have on you.

You may be dealing with the realities of the changing needs of your parent, the shifting of your roles as you become the caregiver, new living arrangements and the loss of your childhood home and the memories it holds for you as well

This is emotionally and physically draining work, so take care of yourself and be sure to get the support you need to stay positive and well.

We have an expert service to help you move or downsize, so call now on 0800 044 3904 and quote myageingparent

Or fill in the form below for more information

Margaret Wilson trained as a psychiatric nurse and has worked in mental health for over 30 years. She is now the director of Supported Moves 





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