Downsizing Tips for Seniors: Making the Move Easier

Moving is hard under the best of circumstances but for seniors or those who’ve lived in their home for many years and must downsize, it’s even more challenging.

I was asked to speak to a group of seniors whose building is getting renovated on how to make the move easier and this blog is the information I will share.

Before you begin the downsizing process, get in the right frame of mind.  Visualize the way you want your new space to feel.  Keeping in mind clutter takes a toll on our mental health and is also a danger to our physical safety, ask yourself “Does this item support the lifestyle I want to have?”  It’s also important to be realistic about your physical limitations.  (For example, keeping high heels but using a walker or having difficulty with balance.)

1. Begin going through your belongings and look for any “treasures” – cash stashed away, jewelry, important documents, or photos and set them aside in a safe place.

2. Go through your dressers and any furniture you use to “store items” as well as cabinets.  Empty them out and fill them back with the things you’ll want to keep.  Do the same thing with cabinets. Most dresser drawers can be moved while packed with belongings (you’ll need to confirm with your mover) so they are ready when you move to your new home. If you organize your kitchen and bathroom cabinets with what you’ll be keeping, packing them will be much easier.

3. Create your Legacy List.  Identify the 10 items that are most important to you that have a family history.  Record the history and share these items with your loved ones. You can photograph these and other items to preserve the memory. A site you can use to store these memories and share them is

4. Break down the tasks into manageable pieces. Use a system of like-colored stickers and only put stickers on the things you’ll definitely be keeping.  If an item is broken and is no longer being used or can’t be used safely, arrange to have it fixed or prepare to discard it.

5. Identify how much space you will realistically have and purchase only the amount of boxes you’ll need to keep you on track.  Here is a guide provided by NASMM (The National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers):

Residence Size

One room, no kitchen
Small studio 
Large studio
Small 1 bedroom
Large 1 bedroom
Small 2 bedrooms
Large 2 bedrooms
Small 3 bedrooms
Large 3 bedrooms

Box Count


You can also use a moving box calculator. We’ve found Uhaul to be the least expensive place to buy boxes and if ordered in advance, they’ll deliver. Make sure to buy their bulk quantities as the cost is better and Uhaul is good about taking returns of boxes in new condition.  When taping the boxes, do an “X” on the bottom and one piece down the seam.  You only need one piece across the top.  If you are packing breakables, make sure your sides or tops won’t cave in.

6. Try the “Trash Bag Tango”.  Set your timer for 10 minutes a day and fill one bag with trash and one with donations. Arrange to have your items picked up to make it easier for you. Here is a list of charities who’ll pick up.

7. When downsizing, think of taking a vacation.  What items do you use every day?  Think of your favorite shoes, favorite hat, etc. Make sure you have a spot to keep these things in so they aren’t accidentally packed.  If you are only a couple of days out from your move, pack these items in a suitcase and think of your home as a hotel. Here is a list of items to make sure you include:

  • Sleepwear
  • Undergarments
  • Clothing
  • Towels
  • Sheets
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Paper products for meals
  • Tissues
  • Glasses
  • Hearing aids/batteries
  • Book
  • Clicker
  • Closing documents
  • Photo identification
  • Medication
  • Water glass

8. Use a labeling system on your boxes and with your process.  Think “A, B, C, D”. When getting ready for a move, pack your “D” items first. These are the non-essential and least used items first (things you use seasonally like holiday decorations). Next packs “C” items like decorations and tchotchkes. These are things you enjoy but aren’t necessary to your everyday life.  Your “B” items are things you use regularly but not daily.  These might include kitchen items that are not essential, nail polish, and other toiletries. Your “A” items are the things you use daily – vitamins, everyday dishes, coffee pot, clothing.

9. To make the unpacking easier, label the room each box should be placed in along with “A, B, C, D”.  You can also use stickers. Plan to start unpacking your “A’ items first and work your way toward “D”.

Plan to reward yourself along the way. Moving is difficult but it’s even harder when downsizing is involved.  Figure out something that makes you happy and give yourself these pleasures as you tackle your move.