Downsizing Stress

Posted by on Jun 21, 2011 in Housing Options, Living Arrangements |

You have made the decision to move and “downsize” your living arrangements. You have either decided on your own, acted in part because of pressure from family, or put the decision off for so long that now you must move to a care home for medical reasons.

Whatever the reason, downsizing can be a stressful and uncertain life transition. There are common reasons behind the stress, and each person will experience them uniquely and in different proportions. Some common stress triggers are grief, resistance, uncertainty and overwhelm. Here are some thoughts on how to cope with them.

Give Grief A Chance

First and foremost, allow yourself to grieve. “Downsizing is an end to one phase of your life and it is okay to be sad”, says Dawn Rennie, President of Transitions – Your Moving Facilitators. “Like the day you watched your children move out, leaving your home will be bittersweet. Your new home and lifestyle will mean new friends, new activities and new adventures. But you are leaving your home of many years and possibly your community and friends.” Rennie says it’s vitally important to allow yourself the time to say good-bye to what you are leaving behind. 

Hanging on to “Independence”

As we age, our physical abilities decline, and we fear losing our “independence”. But we can choose what independence means to us. Does it mean doing everything ourselves? Or does it mean arranging for others to do demanding tasks, and focusing on doing the things you really love to do? When we arrange for others to do the cooking, cleaning, and maintenance, we gain time and energy to spend on travel, volunteering, friends and family, or new hobbies.

“You don’t give up your independence when you are the one choosing what you want others to do and who those ‘others’ will be,” says Jan Sali, Managing Director at Transitions. “But you do give up your independence when you allow yourself to decline to the point where others make those decisions for you.” 

Fear of the Unknown

Not knowing your downsizing options can be stressful, even frightening. To combat this, prepare and gather information, to avoid feeling forced into a decision you know nothing about. Explore all your options – including condominium living, an independent seniors’ residence, or various levels of care homes.

Consult a local seniors’ housing directory (in Calgary, published by the Kerby Centre). Inquire at the local seniors’ centre or your municipal offices. Consult with friends who have made the move, interview realtors (if you are buying or selling), or talk to eldercare specialists.

Armed with a list of “must haves”, visit the places you are interested in. Many places will give you lunch or dinner and invite you to their special events. Tour their facilities, learn about services and activities. Sample the menus, get a feel for the staff and “culture” of the place, and learn what the particular community is like. Spend enough time at each place see whether it fits with your budget and desired lifestyle.

Once you decided where you will move, you will feel relieved, but more anxiety could follow:

How will we manage the move?!?! 

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, develop a personal moving plan, which includes decisions on the following:

1. Your time frame, e.g., set a goal for being in your new home.
2. What you want to/can take with you.
3. What you can give to family and friends.
4. What possessions are saleable, what can be donated, what needs to be disposed of.
5. Move-out and move-in dates (ideally with a couple of weeks between).
6. Packing and unpacking – time and help available.

Professional downsizers and movers can help at all stages of your personal moving plan. The moving process is time-consuming. It’s hard work, physically and emotionally, and involves juggling and co-ordinating many details. As you examine your downsizing options, it’s a good idea to also explore the benefits of hiring a professional vs. relying on your own resources.

“Depending on your situation, you may find your grief still with you after the move,” Rennie cautions. But she has seen time and again that, once people become involved in their new community, meeting new people and enjoying more free time, things shift. “Your old home becomes a pleasant memory. Precious keepsakes can remain part of your new life. With the right preparation and mindset, downsizing marks the beginning of a new, different phase of life – one that’s as rewarding and fulfilling as we choose it to be.”

© Transitions, 2011.

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