Many of these ideas come from experiences with helping my parents with their downsizing move in 1996, from my own downsizing move two years ago, and from working with my older adult clients. These suggestions should help whether you're the older adult ready to move on to this step of the process, or whether you're the adult child who has offered to help your parents with their living TRANSITION.
SHIFT YOUR FOCUS
"To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say 'Is it necessary?' when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life."
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh
The first and primary piece of advice I'll give you for this step of your transition, do not start with the idea of how much you can FIT in your new home. Rather, think about which of your belongings are really IMPORTANT to you and focus on creating your space around these items. Simplicity rather than clutter should be the essential ingredient with a later life move. Here are several key things to consider when selecting furniture for your new home.
IS IT TRULY LOVED?
Decide which pieces hold a strong attachment for you or have important SENTIMENTAL value. You may have already identified one or more pieces of furniture that you will want to take with you to your new home. You may have decided on your favorite chair that you sit in each evening while you watch television, the rocking chair your grandmother gave you, or the bookcase that was in your father's law office for many years. Whatever your choice is, if it really defines "home" to you, then see if you can move it with you if at all possible.
IS IT FUNCTIONAL?
Consider which pieces of furniture are used on a REGULAR basis. The formal living room furniture may look very attractive, but if it's never been used on a regular basis, or if you have never felt comfortable sitting on this furniture, take it OFF your list. The same holds true for the glass coffee table with the sharp edges that you keep running into, or the wicker table that is too delicate or rickety. When making a downsizing move, it is best to keep only those items that will be used and that will add to the comfort of your new home.
If it is necessary to choose between pieces that you frequently use and items that hold strong attachment for you, see which pieces can serve a DUAL function. For example, I had two dining tables and sets of chairs in my last house, but only had room for one in my new home. I always used the set in the breakfast area but the other set was an antique table and chairs that my parents had refinished and given to me and thus, held strong sentimental value. I decided to take the antique table and chairs since I knew this set would be just as functional for me in my new dining area, and I would not need to part with this special furniture.
LOOK TO THE FUTURE
Consider how functional or USEFUL the selected pieces will be in your new home. You've probably heard a realtor say that the most important things related to selling a house are "location," "location" and "location." When making a downsizing move, the most important things to keep in mind are "function," "function" and "function." Why function? Because when you are moving to a smaller space, you want to take as much advantage of your space as you can.
You do this by choosing furniture and other belongings that can serve more than one function. Where possible, try to select pieces of furniture with drawers, shelves, and other STORAGE spaces. For example, you can utilize an heirloom trunk as a coffee table and for additional storage. A small chest of drawers could serve as an end table, or you could place two end tables (with drawer and storage space) together to serve as a TV stand.
WILL IT HOLD UP?
Consider the comfort, DURABILITY and safety of each piece. Chairs and sofas that are high, have firm cushions and arms for support may be easier for you to get up from than a soft down sofa, especially if you have arthritis or joint problems. Also, remember that tables and other pieces of furniture should be sturdy and stable since you may need to lean on them for extra SUPPORT (or to prevent a fall at some point down the road). Remember, the key is being comfortable and maximizing independent living. This means choosing furniture you know you will use and that will support your safety and independence.
DO YOU NEED ANYTHING NEW?
Consider if this is the time for new, more functional furniture. This might be the time to part with furniture that is no longer functional for your current PHYSICAL condition or STAGE of life. This is a very important consideration, and a change is highly recommended if the old furniture no longer works for you. My mother decided to sell her old living room furniture when my parents made their transitional move because the couch was old and no longer functional for her. My mother is tall, has arthritis and has already had two joint replacements, so she selected furniture that fit her present situation better. The new couch and chair are 15" high from the ground to the top of the seat cushion to accommodate her longer legs, and they have firm cushions and solid arms so she can easily lift herself up from a seated position.
SIZE IT RIGHT
You may also want to consider new furniture that is scaled to SMALLER spaces, especially if you currently have furniture (like a big sectional couch) that fits well in your large living room area. There has been an increasing demand for furniture made to accommodate smaller living spaces because of the aging of the population and moves into smaller living spaces. You might also want to inquire about REUPHOLSTERING pieces of furniture that you would like to take with you but that need an update -- a change in color or pattern to fit better in your new home.
TAKE YOUR TIME
And if at all possible, don't plan to move your old furniture if you know it will be replaced immediately. But remember, FLEXIBILITY is key. If you cannot make up your mind about new furniture prior to the move, don't worry -- this can be rectified after the move takes place. The old furniture can be discarded by calling one of the local charities and asking them to pick up the donation. You might also be able to sell the furniture via an ad in the paper or via consignment. This is a major transition, and you may understandably need some TIME to make decisions. You may also need to see that the old furniture really does not work well in your new home before you consider new furniture.
GO WITH YOUR GUT
Be very SENSITIVE to your needs and your emotional state throughout the transition process. Use good judgment and your intuition in deciding when you need to push yourself to make a decision (or when you need pushing from family and friends) and when you need to give yourself more room and more time because you are not yet ready to make a final decision.
Copyright 2000 Living Transitions, All rights reserved. Sue Ronnekamp founded Living Transitions -- a service that facilitates and eases downsizing and transitional moves for older adults. For more information about making a later life downsizing move, visit her website at www.livingtransitions.com.
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