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  • Downsizing Dilemma: Tips and tricks to make the process manageable

    Chicago Tribune: Original article

    Whether you are moving your parents out of the family home to a retirement community, or deciding that you no longer need a five-bedroom house now that the kids have flown the nest, downsizing a home filled with memories and furniture is something we all will experience. While it may not be easy, there are some tactics to employ to ease the process.

    All the ‘stuff’ Wheaton resident Terri Murray moved her mother from a 2,800-square-foot house in Long Beach, Indiana, to a memory care facility in Glen Ellyn. Nearly every weekend for three months, Murray would make the two-hour drive to meet her brother, John Murray, and sister, Lisa Murray, at the four bedroom, four bath home. Six months prior, their father passed away, so the siblings had to sort through his personal belongings as well as their mother’s.

    The trio banded together to come up with a game plan on how to sort through decades of their parents’ accumulated “stuff.” They would work together making decisions on dividing family memorabilia, but each would be responsible for a different room to process.

    Some of the sorting was easy, such as the decision to throw away 12 bottles of barbecue sauce. Other times, the sorting was slower and more bittersweet. “You’d go through pockets and find stuff you remember when you were 4 or 5 years old. We found my dad’s old driver’s license when he was 30,” she says.

    Most of the items in the house were either purged or donated to Goodwill.

    “We had an estate sale with some furniture and other items,” Murray says. “You don’t make much money, but it was a good way to dispose of things no one wanted.”

    Help wanted While the Murray family had to downsize their mother’s home without her input due to her advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease, many homeowners still partake of the process themselves, but can’t always do it on their own.

    Maceo, 89, and Dolores, 83, (last name withheld by request) wanted to continue an active lifestyle, but also have the option of independent living, assisted living or complete health care when needed. After spending 13 years in a four bedroom, four bath, threelevel, 2,700-square-foothome, they needed a plan — and help — to downsize to a senior living retirement community in the western suburbs of Chicago.

    “The new place is 1,250 square feet, two bedrooms and two baths,” Maceo says. “It was quite a downsize.”

    Like most married couples, they accumulated plenty of stuff. With the decision to downsize, they now had the overwhelming process of deciding what to take with them and what to do with rooms of furniture and items that couldn’t fit into their new surroundings.

    Their adult children had their own homes and families, and only wanted family memorabilia and a few small items, says Maceo. A contact at the senior living community told them Honoring Aging, a senior move management company, could help.

    “I was skeptical,” Maceo says. “I’ve moved about five times in my adult life, and I knew it was an arduous task. I’m detail oriented and didn’t see how someone else could pack up my belongings like I wanted.”

    That mindset is not uncommon, says Tammy Bilek, certified move manager for St. Charles-based Honoring Aging.

    “I always reassure clients they are not the only ones who go through this and don’t know where to start,” Bilek says. “They see a big picture of the move, but don’t know which drawer to start going through, so we find solutions. Yes, it’s daunting, but the more I can educate someone the sooner the stress is decreased.”

    The process Time is one of the biggest considerations when the downsizing process starts because sorting can take weeks or even months, depending on the amount of household items.

    While Bilek works oneon-one with clients to help sort three to five days a week, clients are also given homework, such as going through the linen closet or bathroom medicine cabinet. Paperwork is often the most difficult for people, so Bilek often suggests taking one drawer at a time when attacking the file cabinets.

    For Maceo and Dolores, the sorting and removal process took about six weeks.

    “We were provided a list of places to donate furniture and locations of consignments shops,” Dolores says. “We donated furniture, kitchenware, kitchen appliances, flatware, an entire set of dishes and pots and pans, wicker cabinets and tons of books.”

    Bilek says a customized floor plan of the new location is essential. Every piece of furniture can be measured and compared to the room size of the new location to see how it will fit.

    “There is a lot of coaching involved,” Bilek says.

    To maximize space, clients are prompted to consider: How many of a particular item do you already have? How many would be enough? Have you used it in the last year?

    Do you really need it? Is there space for it at the new house? 

    Downsizing dos

    With 11 years of downsizing experience under her belt, Tammy Bilek of Honoring Aging offers these tips to consider:

    • Plan. As soon as you begin to think about moving, start sorting.
    • Prioritize. Determine which rooms will be worked on in any week, then stick to the plan.
    • Simplify. Sort individual items in a room — the office file cabinet one day, the desk another day.
    • Decide. Sort items that can be donated to charity, sold or thrown out.
    • Match. Whatever comes out of an item, such as books from a shelf, number the box and the shelf the same to make unpacking easier.
    • Coordinate. Give every piece of furniture a number to match up with the new floor plan.
    • Specify. Write on the box the destination and what’s inside: lightbulbs, extension cords, etc.
    • Ask. People don’t have to downsize on their own; don’t be afraid to seek help.

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