How to Make It Less Painful

Moving can be tremendously stressful. Possessions must be boxed up or discarded…a house must be scrubbed down and displayed to strangers…and dozens of details must be dealt with. But as unpleasant as any move tends to be, it can be worse when the people who are moving are older, whether that is you or someone you help to move.

For older people, a move is most likely to involve downsizing—and that means parting with lots of possessions. The move may be from a home with memories of raising a family, which triggers powerful emotions. And it frequently evokes a strong sense of loss.

When young people move, they tend to be heading to an exciting new place, taking a promising new job or otherwise opening a new chapter in their lives. When older people move, they may feel that their story is winding down.

Only later do they discover that these feelings of loss are not necessarily justified. Even for moves by people over 70, which often are into retirement communities or grown children’s homes, there may be greater opportunities for social interaction, which open the door to an interesting new chapter of life.

To reduce the stress and make the move a success, it is important to be aware that there are psychological minefields to navigate and tough decisions to be made. Here are eight things that senior move managers—professionals who specialize in handling moves involving older people—have learned about making it work…

Take as much time as possible. People generally try to get moves over with as quickly as possible. That’s particularly true when grown children try to help an aging parent move—those grown children want to finish the task so that they can get back to their own lives.

But rushing is the wrong way to handle moves that involve downsizing and/or moving away from a home where a family was raised. People making these moves are not just letting go of a house or an attic full of stuff…they feel as if they are letting go of part of themselves.

Example: That old pie tin is not just a pie tin, but a memory of baking pies for children who are now grown…or a memory of a spouse who baked pies but is now deceased.

What to do: Make sure that there is time to reflect on what items mean before deciding their fate—and that the people who are moving can share the stories with someone, ideally descendants. This will greatly slow the process, but sharing these stories might inspire descendants to take certain objects home with them, keeping the items alive in the family. And if not, this at least keeps the objects’ stories alive, which can substantially reduce the pain of parting with them.

Alternative: Take photographs of ­meaningful possessions so that they can be viewed at any time—possibly even as part of a collage of the photos hung on a wall of the new home—so the possessions won’t feel completely gone.

Use scale drawings or apps to get a handle on space limitations. People who downsize often arrive at their new, smaller homes with too much furniture and too many other bulky items that just won’t fit. They then have to figure out what to do with these things on the fly, adding to the stress of moving day and adding to the dissatisfaction afterward.

Instead, measure the dimensions of the new living space and plot this to scale on a piece of graph paper. Then measure the furniture and other large items, and cut pieces of colored paper in the same scale to represent them. Arrange these colored paper pieces on the graph paper to determine what will actually fit well in the new home.

Alternative: Interior decoration web tools, such as planner or Home.By.Me (both free)…or smartphone apps such as MagicPlan (basic version is free, available for iOS and Android)…and Floor Plan Creator (free, available for ­Android) can help do this without all the paper cutting.

Use auction websites to sell excess possessions. Holding a garage sale is a hassle. Hiring a conventional estate-liquidation service is invasive if people are still living in the home—they’ll have strangers tromping through the home for days. Instead, list possessions that won’t come with you through an online estate auction company such as MaxSold ( or Everything But the House ( These sites auction off furniture, antiques, art and more online and coordinate details including payments and pickups with a minimum of fuss. They tend to generate more cash than the traditional sales options, too.

Donate to a nonprofit the possessions that don’t sell. Lots of furniture will not find buyers these days, including some pieces that were considered desirable antiques a decade or two ago. There’s a furniture glut on the market as the baby boomer generation downsizes, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that today’s young adults have shown little interest in antiques.

Exception: “Midcentury Modern” furniture made in a style evocative of the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s is very much in demand.

But relegating once-treasured items to the dump only adds to the pain of parting with them. Instead, donate them to a nonprofit such as Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore or a local thrift shop that will find them a new home with a family that needs them. This imbues downsizing with a sense of meaning. The dining room table where your family celebrated so many of its important moments is not reaching its end. Instead, it is going to a new family that will enjoy it just as yours did.

Skip the storage unit. In a downsizing, renting a storage unit is just an expensive and complicated way to delay making decisions that will have to be made eventually anyway. A storage unit makes sense only if there is a specific end date for the rental in the not-too-distant future—for example, if a descendant wants a living room set but cannot pick it up until a month after the move.

Ditch the throw rugs. Throw rugs seem like the perfect possessions to bring along when people downsize—they don’t take up any space and they provide a visual link to the prior residence. But throw rugs are a common cause of trips and slips, which are a big health risk as people age. Take advantage of the move to get rid of them.

Create continuity where you can. Take photos of the interior of closets and drawers…and the arrangement of pictures on walls before you pack them up for the move. When you unpack in the new home, use these photos to ­re-create these parts of the home as closely as possible. These little areas of familiarity can make the new home feel more comfortable and the move less jarring.

Ask about moving rules before making the move. Condominiums and senior-living communities often have strict guidelines about how and when residents can move in. For example, you might not be allowed to transport large boxes or furniture on the elevator during certain hours…park a moving van right next to the building…or leave furniture in a shared hallway while you make room inside the living space. It always pays to learn these rules before moving day so that you can plan accordingly and have an easier day.