Four Key things I learned from Downsizing –By Patricia Justice

Professional Home Stager, Redesigner, and Downsizing expert in the Winston-Salem, NC and surrounding area.

A few years ago, when my family decided it was no longer safe for my mother to remain in her own home due to her having Alzheimer’s, we had to make the difficult decision to place her in an assisted living facility, thus downsizing most of her belongings. Needless to say, this process was one of the most difficult emotional and challenging tasks that we, as her children, could ever undertake. Knowing there were resources available, we had made use of some of them. Guides for family and elderly are available: Aging Care

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For me personally, it felt like we were going through the process of death, where the grieving was tremendous, although no one had actually died. Not only was the “hub” of all our family gatherings gone, the guilt feelings of having to place her in a facility, along with sorting, weeding, and yes, even selling many of her things, was emotionally very draining.

Being that none of us siblings except one of us lived directly in her town, it was a daunting task. We did get it completed, and in the process I learned many things:

  • You must have a plan and a process in place
  • Clutter is just postponed decisions
  • Although it feels emotionally paralyzing at times, you can get through it.
  • Editing and eliminating possessions may be difficult, but when completed, can be very freeing.

We had already placed mom in the assisted living facility when we did go through with the process of downsizing the rest of her belongings. I felt guilty because I wanted to wait a while, however, my sister, who was in charge of the financial aspects of the home, knew she didn’t want to try to continue with the upkeep of the home. This home was the gathering ground and central point for the remaining four of us siblings, so it felt like a double loss. We had to sell the home, but before we did that, we had to go through decade’s worth of possessions. It felt like ripping off a band aid every time we hit upon a memory. Dad had died years ago, but even that felt fresh again at times.

  1. The Plan and Process. The first thing we did was to go through and decide what mom herself could keep. Just a few pieces of furniture, which already had gone with her to her location was the first step. Some pictures that would hang on her wall at her new residence, some personal things, and minimal valuable jewelry also went with her.

Then, we went through and divided up what we could. For items that some of us mutually wanted, we drew names out of a hat.

  1. Clutter is Just Postponed Decisions. Next, we went to work on the rest of it. Boxing up yard sale items and marking it, boxing up items with our names on it, and then what was left, we put in a yard sale after labeling everything. After sorting through so much, one realizes that just a few meaningful pictures, a few items of a favorite collection, a few favorite books, takes on more meaning than overwhelming boxes of stuff. Weeding and purging the rest of it was the way it was streamlined. Having the boxes as: a) Family Keepers b) Yard Sale – labelled specifically, and c) Give Away/Charity boxes and let go…let it go….

My mother kept her home immaculate, but she secretly stored SO MUCH under the bed, in the closet, etc. and I don’t think she ever got rid of any papers. She was one of the youngest in a family of 13 children, so hanging on to things was what made her feel safe. In this process of weeding, our minds started to glaze over at times, yet we trudged on.

  1. Although It Feels Emotionally Paralyzing, You Can Get Through It. I remember one lady at the yard sale bringing me one of Mom’s bracelets (it was one of those that had the children’s birthstones – the little dangly birthstone people necklace) that she thought I should keep. It wasn’t highly valuable, and we had already kept so much – it made me feel like a criminal when she handed it back to me…I still have it. But by that point in time the worst was over. It brought us together as a family to do this, and we missed my one sister more than ever (she died several years ago from cancer), but I am glad we came together as one and tackled this task.

I realized after this process that I didn’t want to put my children through having to weed as much of my own stuff later in life, and this process of downsizing really opened my eyes.

Fast forward in time just a bit: My mom settled nicely into the facility and in the beginning talked about going home for certain things, but eventually that faded, and she came to know the Elms as her own home, and if we took her away from there for very long for a visit, she would say “I think they’ll be wondering where I am at the Elms….”

  1. Editing and Eliminating Possessions May be Difficult, but When Completed, can be Very Freeing. A few years later, my husband and I downsized our own home. I took these valuable lessons of weeding and sorting with me. When I had staged my own home to sell, my own adult daughter asked me why our home couldn’t have looked that good before. However, the lesson was very simple. Edit what you have, toss or sell about half of it (if you haven’t used it in 6 months to a year – you don’t really need it), and free yourself from the burden of dragging stuff around wherever you go. For example, I realized I did not need 50 mugs . . . who needs that many mugs?? Also, I got rid of one “collection,” weeded out another, and only have a few nice pieces to show off in my curio cabinet, and you know what? You actually see them in there because they show up! And staged nicely, it brings an added element to the home.

In Quote Best of my Lifeconclusion, whether you are staging your home to sell, downsizing, or just purging, it can be done. Just be sure to schedule and plan, be patient if you are involving your elderly parent, giving them basic and easy choices when purging. Lastly, if you are overwhelmed, it’s a great idea to seek a pro to assist you during this time. Most of us are in this business because we truly care, want the best for our clients, and understand some of the psychological ties that come with the territory.

There are other sources that can help with more strategies on downsizing. There are many great ideas out there: Forbes



Patricia is a professional home stager and redesigner in Winston-Salem and the Triad area. She understands the challenges of downsizing and would love to help you with this process.

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