Helping Older Adults & Seniors Downsize

downsizingEvery year thousands of older adults and seniors face the decision of whether to downsize to smaller living accommodations or to stay in their existing homes.  For some the decision to downsize is made for them due to serious illness or perhaps the death of a loved one.  Sometimes the comfort and safety of people comes into play. But regardless of the reason, the upheaval and relocation can be traumatic.  My experience in this industry has clearly indicated that it is even more so for seniors.

I received a call from a gentleman whose mother was living alone and had recently injured her leg falling over piles of newspapers that she had collected.  He was concerned for her health and safety due to the amount of belongings and clutter that she had accumulated.  He wanted to move her into a condominium and was looking for assistance in helping to sort through a lifetime of her possessions.

Safety First

Safety is usually the first thought that comes into mind when considering downsizing.  Home location and its construction are very important issue to consider.  A few questions you may want to ask yourself are: (i) is the home easy to get around in? (ii) can the maintenance of the home be easily managed by the occupant? (iii) how close is the home to local shopping centres and banks?

Limitations regarding the physical abilities of the people in the home are also relevant and need to be considered.  Can basic personal hygiene be handled?  What about manoeuvrability in and out of the bathtub or shower?  What about memory issues as it relates to safety?  Leaving a burner lit on the stove or a pot boiling over can be a potentially dangerous situation.

Let the idea of downsizing marinate.

If you know an older adult or senior who should consider downsizing, it’s best that you introduce them to the idea slowly.  Many well-meaning family members may push too hard resulting in more resistance.   Sometimes it’s helpful to suggest  to your parents that they may wish to make the decision of moving to a smaller home when they still can.  Sometimes illness or injury, like that of my client, ends up making the decision for you and you are then forced to move when perhaps you don’t feel ready.

Emotions play a role.

Often times adult children don’t play an active role in the downsizing process due to other family and work obligations.  The stress and tension can be very high for all members of the family and often times it’s best to call and hire an experienced professional organizer to assist and make the process run smoothly and without trauma. In addition, adult children often feel a lot of turmoil when long time family possessions are sorted and pared down.  I have personally seen the upheaval of emotions cause conflicts among family when these conflicts could easily have been minimized by initiating a few simple organizing and downsizing strategies to be prepared.

For me, working with older adults and seniors is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.  I don’t just work for my clients, but with them, side by side, hands on coaching, motivating and encouraging.   Working collaboratively I have helped clients make decisions on what to keep, what to pass on to family or others, and what to be discarded.

Senior couple

One way I like to encourage and motivate my clients is to suggest that the preparation of a move to a smaller home is the first step of a fresh start, a new chapter in their lives and perhaps an even greater adventure!  Preparation is key to a successful downsize so that precious memories can still be treasured while streamlining for a simpler and more efficient lifestyle.

5 Reasons Cluttered Homes Don’t Sell

De-cluttered home that sellsThis article was originally published on the Comfree Blog, where I am a frequent contributor. You can view the original article here.

You’ve got several people in line to take a look at your house that you’ve just put up for sale. The lawn is immaculate, the driveway is as smooth as glass, and there isn’t a single wrinkle in your clothes. However, behind closed doors lies a completely different story.

“I know where to find everything in my own house!” you might argue. That might very well be true for you, but what about the couple looking at your home for the first time? Are they convinced?

It turns out that it does matter to other people whether your home is presented as spic and span or as the remnants of a hurricane. The “hygiene” of your house can potentially be the difference between a brief, disinterested house tour and an enthusiastic down payment.

Here are five reasons cluttered houses don’t sell and why you should clear the clutter before putting it on the market.

1. First impressions are critical

From the moment a potential buyer sets foot in the house their opinion on how suitable it is as a home depends greatly on first impressions. It makes sense. Why buy something that doesn’t deliver your specific needs?

It’s critical to ensure that every room conveys its purpose. There shouldn’t be plates in the living room nor should there be newspapers scattered in the kitchen. Only when everything is in its rightful place can a potential buyer assume that the house offers living space appropriate to his or her needs.

2. Potential buyers need to be able to visualize themselves in the home

Not that you need to encourage anyone to make themselves feel at home but if you’re hoping to make a sale you want potential buyers to relate to you as a homeowner. The couple taking a look around your living room should be able to picture themselves sitting on the couch with their feet on the coffee table after a long day.

If your couch is covered in dog fur and your coffee table is littered with old mail, chances are they’re not picturing anything of the sort.

3. Buyers want a home with lots of space to live in

Ultimately, you want to present your house as a place that is suitable for comfortable living. Spaciousness is crucial in illuminating the potential of the house in that regard.

With the right furniture arrangement you can make that effort to appease potential buyers and demonstrate that they too can enjoy living in this very house with as much or as little space as they desire. But of course show them more space as opposed to less and let them see what they’re working with.

4. Your closet says a lot about you

Someone taking a look in your bedroom might like to see how much closet space your room has. Probably so they can know how much junk they can store inside without rhyme or reason.

You should not, however, use your closet that way, at least not during a tour of the closet. Everything inside should be neat and orderly. If you have clothes or other items spilling out, a potential buyer might believe that their own mess won’t fit inside. The trick is to avoid presenting them with a mess in order to show off how much space there actually is.

5. Messy home = messy owners

You know that saying “never judge a book by its cover”? Forget that. Consider yourself judged. How you physically present yourself doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you physically present the house, seeing as it’s the house people are interested in buying.

A messy, cluttered house tells potential buyers that the owners have messy, cluttered minds. If you don’t even have time to wash that tower of plates on the kitchen counter, how is anyone supposed to believe that you have time to clean and maintain facilities within the rest of the house?

Downsize And Simplify Your Life


Downsizing is creating in a smaller space and can often be a daunting process.  For seniors it can be even more overwhelming, especially when you have lived in a home for several decades collecting numerous possessions along the way.

Every year, thousands of older adults and seniors leave their larger homes for smaller, more manageable spaces.

Several reasons exist for seniors who want or need to downsize.

According to some of my clients it’s because they no longer want the burden of home ownership.  For others the kitchen is too difficult in which to manoeuvre and retrieve items, or the home is too far from grocery stores and banks. Often times the hallways in older homes are too narrow and there are too many stairs. Housekeeping is difficult to keep up with and for many physical and health issues make caring for a home too difficult.

If you are considering taking the plunge to a more simplified way of life there are a few things you can do to get started before you move.

First, look at the top shelves in your home.  The ones you can’t reach.  If you have items on any tops shelves in your current home it’s because you either don’t need them or can’t reach them.  Whichever the case, it’s likely a safe bet that you can let those items go.

Secondly, don’t hold yourself hostage to being a keeper of all the heirlooms from your family. I’ve heard from many clients that this is their primary reason for not letting go of items they no longer have room for. Take a photo of the item and then send it to other family members to see if anyone would be interested in taking the item.  If not, you know that it is safe to donate to charity or send it along to a consignment store without causing family despair.

Thirdly, remember you can still keep the memories without keeping every possession that goes with that memory.  Consider taking swatches of cloth from special, treasured items and a few tokens of memorabilia and creating a memory box rather than keeping every single item.

Consider how much you can gain from downsizing to a smaller home. Think of it as an opportunity to start a more secure and socially active way life so you can do more, have more free space and room to move around without barriers to safety.

Lastly remember that you are still you without all your stuff.  We are only a caretaker of our stuff.  When we pass on, someone else becomes that caretaker. It’s better to downsize now when you are physically able and can still make the decisions on what to keep and what to let go of than have to do it when the choice is taken away from you. Ultimately, downsizing is the process of sorting through all kinds of stuff to determine what is most meaningful and important.

To downsize is to simplify, lighten up and get organized. Remember, the important things in life are not things. It’s the people who are important.  Just keep the memories, not the stuff.

Quick Tips For Preparing Your Home For Sale

Selling your home can be a very stressful experience.  So why not make it as simple and easy as possible to get your home ready and sold quickly.  This requires you to look at your home with fresh eyes.  But with the following tips to get your home ready for sale you will be well on your way to a quick and stress free home sale experience.

  1. Remove unnecessary furniture and household possessions.
  2. Think “de-clutter” and then multiply that by three.
  3. Don’t assume people can look past your clutter and disorganization.
  4. Depersonalize your home and remove family photos and treasures, magnets and other mementos you have around your house.
  5. Give your closets and drawers a “fall cleaning” as you can be sure any potential buyer will be opening your closets and cupboards to check out how much space there is.
  6. Clean and de-clutter every corner of your home.
  7. Don’t forget the garage.

When it comes to preparing your home for sale, less is more. You want to make the space feel bigger.  Any who knows?  After you follow through on these tips you may decide you like the simplified, streamlined and clutter free look and change your mind on selling your home!  I had a client who did just that after we de-cluttered and organized his cottage.  He liked what we did so much that he decided not to sell after all!

Sometimes you just need a change of perspective and see how wonderful living clutter free can be.

The Valuation Of Possessions …

There is a difference between the value of an object and how it actually fits in your life. One of the challenges that I face when working with my clients is their idea of what is valuable.  This usually occurs when we are paring down possessions and a client is hesitant to let something go because of what he or she paid for it and what it was worth in the past.    For instance, I have a client who is holding onto a very old dining room set she and her ex-husband acquired over 25 years ago. Their marriage ended 12 years ago and she has since moved to a much smaller home in which this dining room set is much too large for the dining room itself.  In fact with the set in the room there is actually no room to move around so the room and the set are effectively unusable. In addition, she identified that she dislikes entertaining and having people over for dinner so to have a dining room set does not even fit into this client’s life.

The space could be better used in a way that reflects her lifestyle. Yet she does not wish to let go of this set because she paid over $20,000.00 for it in 1988 and it is still in very good condition.   If you ever find yourself saying “hey, I paid a lot of money for that” you are evaluating the object based on its past value, not the present value.  If the item is of no use to you now and not important to your present life, the fact that you paid a lot for it doesn’t change the fact that it is taking up valuable real estate in your home and actually costing you more in terms of time, energy and space to store, clean and maintain.  Why do this when you get no benefit from it when you could actually sell or donate the item to someone who could benefit from it.


What are you holding onto that is no longer a benefit to you?

Paring Down Your Vases?

How many vases is too many vases?  I have been in client’s homes assisting with their organizational needs and it never fails that we come across vases in the kitchen, in the dining room, sometimes even plopped down somewhere in the basement.  We all have received them for birthdays, get well’s, anniversaries etc. yet we rarely go through them all to determine what to keep and what to pitch.  Of course, my clients are often surprised by just how many they have when we actually put them all together on a table.

I recommend to my clients that, depending on how often they receive and display flowers, they keep anywhere from 3 to 5 maximum. Remember that many vases can serve a multitude of purposes.  Also remember that if you don’t have the perfect vase you will likely have something else in your home that you could use as one.  For instance, a ceramic or glass water pitcher or cylindrical pot can work just as well.

Vases take up alot of precious space. When paring down your vases, donate those that you rarely use & don’t really like.  We all have those favorites that we continue to use time and time again.  Ideally, you want to keep a small, medium and a large in a shape that can be multifunctional. When a new one comes into the house, don’t feel obligated to keep it.  Decide if it should stay and if so, which one of your existing vases it should replace. If you never display flowers, that’s okay too.  Then perhaps you need only keep one that is multifunctional for that special occasion.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much space you have freed up!


Spring Cleaning – Storage Locker Organization

As you know from my previous post, I was faced with the challenge of organizing two condominium storage lockers for “spring cleaning”.  It was quite a challenge as the owner of the lockers, as well as his two sons, are sports enthusiasts and involved in everything from hockey, lacrosse, golf, fishing to mountain biking and more. The main storage locker had to accommodate all the sports gear for easy transitioning from one type of sport to another, as well as store all seasonal items.  As you can see from these photos, the locker was an obstacle course and in a state of disorganization making it virtually impossible to maneuver and reach anything without tripping and falling over stuff.

Storage Locker Before OrganizingStorage Locker Before Organizing

Faced with two concrete walls and two wire grid walls, being creative and having a vision was essential to be successful in this project.  Most condominiums have very strict rules regarding storage lockers and what you can and cannot do.  Utilizing new storage shelving, re-configuring the space and sectioning off parts of the locker into specific zones for sports and seasonal holiday items was the most efficient and functional way to work through this project without breaking any condominium rules. My client was so excited about this project that within 30 minutes of starting the final organization and set up session, he actually sent his girlfriend down to see what was happening with the space.  Then not long after that he came down himself, on 2 or 3 different occasions, to “nonchalantly” check it out and see the transformation take place. He was like a little boy at Christmas, he just couldn’t wait.  When I completed the final touches and he came down for the big reveal, he was in fact thrilled with the outcome.  Here’s the picture I took after the project was completed.

It was a challenging experience and the outcome was a successful transformation into a fully accessible, safe and functional space. Look! You can even see the floor! What’s your next challenge?









The Upside To Downsizing

Believe it or not, there is an upside to downsizing.  In addition to the benefits of getting organized in general, such as:

  • Reduced stress and frustration
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased energy & productivity
  • Paying your bills on time

there is also an opportunity for you to start a more secure and socially active way of life with more free time and the ability to do more of the things you enjoy and things that are important to you.

When you downsize you reduce the amount of stuff you own.  In doing so, you may also find you have more space.  For example,  wouldn’t it be great if you could actually store your car in the garage! I can’t tell you how many clients I have that are simply unable to do that because of the all the “stuff” currently situated in that space.  Imagine that! Actually putting your car into a garage!

And let’s face it.  Many seniors need room to move around in a space.  Too much stuff creates barriers to safe living.

If barriers exist due to excess furniture and belongings, you’ll need to downsize your living space to reduce the amount of furniture in your home.

But scaling down from many rooms to just a few is a massive job.  What’s really important is the type and amount of furniture that will fit in your new space. There will be instances where some spaces may have to do double duty.  For instance, in your new home the living room may also have  to serve as your office or your craft room. This means looking for items for your home that are multi-functional, such as a console/sofa table that you can also use as your desk. You’ll need to be creative.

When it comes to downsizing, start with a single step.  If you love it, keep it, if you don’t, use the opportunity to let it go.

 Ultimately, downsizing is also the process of sorting through all kinds of stuff to determine what is most meaningful and important. By removing the clutter, the treasures that are most meaningful will have more space so they can be treasured EVEN MORE!!!



Many are doing it for a better quality of life.  So can you.  Are you up for the challenge?

Organizing a Pinball Workshop

This has to be one of my favorite projects to work on.  This wonderful gentleman with a great sense of humour called to say he really needed my  help with his workshop.  As a pinball hobbyist in his spare time he fixes and refurbishes pinball machines back from the time when I was growing up including the newer models of machines.  When I visited his basement workshop to assess the project, there were literally hundreds of tools and miscellaneous items strewn throughout the shop, various pinball machines in different stages of repair (or disrepair as the case may be) as well as tons of little parts, glass templates, schematics, and various household workshop items. It was virtually impossible for anyone to work in the space or let alone find anything.

Workshop Entry View Before Organizing

 As we began the process of sorting items, we came upon dozens of items for which there were doubles, triplicates and more.  All  because this gentleman couldn’t see what he owned, so he just kept buying more of what he thought he needed. I’ve never seen so many utility knives and screw drivers in one workshop before!  By the end of our project, my client had generously donated literally hundreds of dollars of tools to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  Of course, part of this process of sorting and categorizing provided me with a pretty good education in  pinball machine parts one could only dream of.  In fact, I dreamt of pinball flippers, thumper bumper parts, coils, bulbs, fuses, ball bearings, springs and more! Of course, the goal for this project was to have every item sorted, categorized and contained so that my client could see exactly what he had for tools, parts and accessories. This took a lot of planning and a clear vision for the outcome.

The end result was pretty spectacular given that we were working within a budget and making every attempt to use containers that were already available to us in the space.  We did need to purchase shelving for the shop as well as a number of specific containers, but overall cost for products was less than $250.00.  At the end of  the last session when I was completing the final set up, my client asked that he be led into the room with his eyes closed just like on television. Upon entering the room and opening his eyes his reaction could not have been any better.  After a couple of  “omigods” and “wows”  from both him and his wife, they could not seem to believe their eyes. Workshop After Organizing

 This was the first time I actually received goosebumps from a client’s reaction.  Maybe I should have them all come in with their eyes closed! It was great and they are thrilled.  And even better than that?  He invited me to play a game of pinball on one of his refurbished machines.  I scored over 100,000 points (probably not too exciting for most people) and it brought me back to my teenage days. And today he sent me an email saying he was moving into his workshop he loved it that much! Goosebumps, pinball, happy clients…..what more could I ask for!?  When was the last time your clients gave you goosebumps?

Downsizing for Seniors

Downsizing is a tough process in and of itself. For seniors, taking the plunge is even harder. One thing to make it easier it to remove the guilt factor. Although you may feel you’re the one who has to be the keeper of all heirlooms in the family, there are other options. Perhaps there are other family members who would like some of the heirlooms you are closeting in your home, especially if you are in fact storing them as opposed to using them. In sharing with other family members you can feel secure in knowing that they really want them and will be the one to inherit them. I recently did this myself with some items that my father had given to me before he moved back to Amsterdam. I no longer had a physical place to store them, and knowing that they always have a place in my heart made it easier for me to share the items with others in the family who would be in a position to enjoy them more. And remember, the item is not the memory. The memory lives within you, not in the item itself.