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Helping a Senior Downsize

When Nancy Pelham's mother, now 80, was ready to downsize to a smaller home, she made a list of the possessions she wanted to give away and sent a separate copy to each of her four daughters, instructing them to put their name next to anything they wanted and send it back.

"She said, ‘I'll decide who gets what, but if I don't know what you want'," I can't give it to you, Pelham says.

Pelham, a Dallas professional organizer and owner of Helping Hands Personal Service, advises older clients who are preparing to move to a smaller residence to do something similar.

If seniors don't have adult children who want these possessions, they may have nieces, nephews or grandchildren. "But if they discover there is no one (in the family), they can start thinking about how to maybe make some money off this to help pay for the new place or cushion their lifestyle."

That could mean hiring someone to run an estate sale or taking items to a business that sells things on eBay.

Figuring out exactly what to keep can be a challenge, if say, a senior is moving from a 3,000 square foot house to a 1,000 square foot apartment or an even smaller space at an assisted living facility. Pelham helps clients get a floorplan of their new space, and will measure it herself if necessary, making note of such items as where the outlets are and the number of closets.

Another important considerations is whether seniors will have their own kitchen, just a microwave or will be eating in common areas.

With this information, Pelham can help seniors decide exactly how much furniture and other possessions they have room for in their new home. Computer software or simple cutouts made to scale can help seniors visualize where things will fit.

Pelham has some tricks for keeping clients organized before the move: Colored sticky dots can be used to designate what seniors are taking with them, what they are selling and what they are giving away. A spare room, or rooms, can serve the same purpose.

Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, has another tip:

If an older adult has 10 kitchen cabinets, and there are three at the new living space, tape off three cabinets in the old space and say, "Everything you want to take has to go there."

Buysse adds: "Lots of people have one or two pieces of furniture that really stand out, that are a part of their history; make sure there is space for that."

Your Next Move: 

Allison Bisbey Colter is a freelance writer in New Jersey whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and American Banker. She is a former editor at TheStreet.com and a former reporter for Dow Jones Newswires.

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