Downsizing refers to exchanging large homes for smaller digs, and there are plenty of companies around to help aging boomers make this transition. Yet, there are nuances to making the right changes at the right time in anyone’s life. These nuances are the reason why I became interested in a company called Caring Transitions. They offer help in what they call right-sizing.
I asked Chris Seman, president of the company, about what they do and why they are different from a company that comes in to aid people with downsizing. I found Chris’ information helpful, and I hope that you do, too.
HealthCentral (HC): Chris, is right-sizing different from downsizing, and if so, how?
Chris Seman: It’s very different. The concept of right-sizing is to manage your possessions and living space based on behavior modifications. It’s the process of turning your space into the next stage of your life and setting up your living arrangements and possession in such a way to facilitate and improve your life. Right-sizing is all about giving yourself permission to move towards the next stage of your life.
Downsizing is more about the negatives, getting rid of things you can no longer take care of or afford or have space for. It’s not about making your life better; it is about reducing expectations and minimizing your dreams. Right-sizing is the exact opposite. It is embracing what is coming next and setting up our living arrangement in a way to enhance that. When done properly, it can be a relief. Most people wonder why they didn’t do it sooner.
HC: When should right-sizing be considered?
CS: Right-sizing should be considered in all parts of our lives, but usually we stop right-sizing after our first move from our parents’ home and then start adding possessions and not aligning our lives in a way that makes sense for our current life goals. Consider the college student leaving for their first dorm room. The student doesn’t take the entire contents of the family home or even their bedroom with them. They select the things that they will need and add a couple of things that they love or that remind them of who they are and where they’ve been. The rest of the items they bring will be items that support that next stage of life such as textbooks, computer, printer, and a desk. Fitting those select items comfortably into a small dorm room is the perfect example of rightsizing and what we should be doing for every stage of our lives, especially as we age.
Often as an empty nester or older adult, we decide to move into a smaller space to accommodate life transitions and changes. At this point we need to sit down and discuss what will fit in both the space as well as the lifestyle.
The other time when rightsizing makes sense, even when we don’t move, is when we face changing lifestyles. When a young couple adds a child to their family, the home was set up for a young adult lifestyle, and now the needs of raising a child need to be considered. That might mean replacing the pool table and the poker table with the bassinette and the changing table. An older adult may need to declutter, remove fragile antiques, and add safety features like grab bars and other durable, functional furniture items.
HC: What are the best steps to right-sizing?
CS: Right-sizing has several steps, but it begins with space planning. We use technology to compare the amount of space in the new location vs. the old, so we know how much right-sizing for their needs has to be done. Are we planning to keep 25 percent of the possessions? Thirty percent? More? Once we have our space plan, we start to add items the client will need such as clothing, a place to sit, a place to sleep, lighting, and so forth. We then move on to isolate the touchstones — the important things we own and should keep– and separate those from the endless amounts of clutter so many of us have in our drawers, bookshelves, closets, sheds, attics and basements.
Once a person is able to identify what is important, they find it easier to release the rest. Then we can help sell the unwanted items through our own professional estate sale process or our CT online auctions website, and also help to donate and gift items to others who can use them. We choose the best liquidation option based on the objective.
From a Caring Transitions perspective, this part of rightsizing gives us an opportunity to honor a person’s achievement and accomplishments, whether we help them preserve war medals in a framed window box, or hold onto the client’s favorite handmade quilt so we can drape it at the foot of the new bed.
Finally, we add any new items that may be needed to support the new lifestyle. For an older adult who is moving to assisted living, it may be something like a small drop-leaf table that is used for both work and meals, or a special desk to accommodate a wheelchair or talking computer. Identifying this very personal combination of what a person needs and loves is what right-sizing is all about.
HC: Should adult children suggest right-sizing, or is it better if seniors start making these adjustments early?
CS: The best solution is always when someone takes charge of their own lives, but this often doesn’t happen because people become overwhelmed by the scope of the task. The adult children should be open to listening and taking cues from their parents. If they start talking about wanting a change in their lifestyle, this is the perfect time to enter the conversation. The key to being successful in right-sizing is planning, and the sooner the conversation starts, the quicker the resolution can arrive. Families often need months and years to do what we can accomplish in a few days based on our knowledge and experience.
The challenge for many families is that they don’t have this time. For instance, if someone falls ill, these sudden changes to health and housing can be overwhelming. In this situation, the value of having a professional third-party perspective can help remove much of the stress and emotion from the process, and that is why we offer a free consultation to all families that need advice and input.
HC: Thank you, Chris, for telling us about right-sizing. I like the idea that this is a step in a positive direction rather than a negative step that many boomers feel forced to take. It’s good to know that companies like yours are out there to help. I appreciate your time, Chris.
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Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.