Helpful Tips for Retirement Downsizing

By Brad Breeding

One of the main reasons older adults put off downsizing is the need to deal with all the “stuff” they’ve accumulated over the years. Yet, if done right, the process of downsizing may not be as daunting as you think. It may be enjoyable — even refreshing. A lot of the physical work can be done by others, so your main role is to categorizeorganize, and direct. Here are six tips to get you started:

Start now

When is a good time to start the downsizing process? Now. Don’t wait. The longer you wait, the more the process and emotions may be overwhelming, and you will have other things that require your attention. Your family members will thank you because there will be less stuff for them to deal with one day.

Recognize you can’t keep it all

To know what items you can and should purge, you first need to know which items you absolutely cannot part with. But here’s the key: After you have created the initial list, pare it down even further. This can be a tough exercise, but the reality is that some of the things you think you need to save may not be necessary to keep after all. For example, that sport coat in the closet you’ve held onto for 15 years because you are sure you will wear it again? It’s probably time to part ways. That stack of magazines with holiday recipes dating back 10 years? Those can go, too. Your most cherished recipes will not be hidden in a tall stack of magazines anyway, right?

Prepare yourself: Your kids may not want your stuff

Another popular reason for hanging on to various items is that kids or grandkids will want them. But many people eventually discover that the things they thought would be coveted by their adult children were not so desirable after all. To help sort this out, consider inviting your children over for a day to go through your things and find out what they actually want.

Sort by large and small

Once you know what you want to keep, make a list of big and small items. The big items are anything that will not fit in a regular size moving box, such as a sofa or table. Obviously, it could be tough to list out every single smaller item, but you want to think about your most utilized items first. Consider things like silverware, pictures, kitchenware, books, etc.

Sell, donate, or discard?

Once you’ve decided what items are no longer needed, it is time to decide what to do with them. Create a separate list with three columns: Sell, Donate, and Trash. As you consider what you want to sell, remember that items rarely bring in the amount of cash the owner thinks they will. In some cases, it may simply be easier to donate or discard an item than go to the trouble of trying to sell it.

However, if you feel sure it would be worth the time to try to sell some of your belongings, then you have a number of options. You could try to sell them online with sites like Ebay or Craig’s List. (Please take caution if you use Craigslist or a similar website. If possible, meet the buyer in a public place and take someone with you.) Sometimes a good old-fashioned yard sale could do the job, but you will want to get someone to help you with the set up and break down. Alternately, if you have more than a few valuable items, any number of local companies will be willing to administer an estate sale for you.

Hauling the junk

Finally, after you have gone through the above-mentioned steps, you may be surprised by the amount of left over junk. This would include things that have piled up in a garage or crawlspace over the years, such as old paint cans. Many national companies will come by and haul these things away for you. All you have to do is point to the items you want removed, and they will recycle or trash the items accordingly.

Brad Breeding is co-founder and president of myLifeSite, a website designed to provide objective information about continuing care retirement communities. A certified financial planner, Brad’s extensive knowledge of the senior living industry, combined with his financial planning background, allows him to provide valuable insights about lifestyle, healthcare, and financial planning considerations for seniors. This article is legally licensed for use.

Keys to Longevity

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Dec. 2015 on the site Where You Live Matters sponsored by the American Seniors Housing Association.

Inheriting good genes is a pretty good start for living a longer, healthier life. But the truth is that genetics will only get you part of the way there. Lifestyle and environment have just as much to do with how well we age – maybe even more. And because you can’t control your genes, but you can take control of the way you live, the keys to longevity are in your hands.

We know so much more than we used to about aging and staying healthy in later life. Good genetics are only part of the equation. Consider that 70 percent of the physical differences and 50 percent of the intellectual differences between older adults who are healthier in later years and those who aren’t comes down to lifestyle choices.

Environmental Factors That Determine How Well You Live

What else influences how successfully we age? There are a host of other factors, ranging from how socially connected we are to where we live:

Live with Purpose: Older adults who are engaged in meaningful activity have lower rates of mortality and better health. For example, seniors who volunteer at least 100 hours of their time each year enjoy improved mental and physical health. Purpose promotes positive living.

Social Connections: Isolation is a serious health risk for older adults. It contributes to everything from depression to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Staying connected to family and friends, even through social media and online chat services such as Skype, yields positive health benefits. Relationships keep you going.

Stay Active: A sedentary lifestyle puts you and your aging family member at risk for chronic diseases. Engaging in physical activity for 30 to 45 minutes each day will cut your risks for health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. People in the Blue Zones, those areas of the world where people live the longest, have active daily lifestyles built around natural movement such as gardening, walking, swimming, hiking and biking. Active living is thriving living.

Feed the Spirit: Spirituality influences healthy aging. Nourishing the spirit cuts risks from chronic illnesses, including heart diseases, diabetes and depression, and people who routinely feed their spirit also have lower rates of suicide. But spirit-feeding doesn’t necessarily mean organized religion. Engaging in activities such as meditation, watercolor painting, and gardening can all nourish the spirit. Spirit-centric soulful living is rich and full.

Physical Environment: Where you live matters greatly in setting the course for how well you age. A home that offers good lighting, an easy-to-navigate floor plan, a senior-friendly bathroom, and fewer, safer stairs can prevent older adults from falls. And falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for people over the age of 65. Home should also be a place where you can relax and enjoy life, not be bogged down with worry and stress about how you’ll manage the details of daily living. Buying groceries. Shoveling snow or shooing the ‘gators. Repairing the kitchen sink. Those tasks become more challenging with age. When simplicity appeals more than challenge, where you live matters.

Good Nutrition: Seniors are more likely to have poor nutrition than younger adults, especially those seniors who live alone. Problems arranging transportation, difficulty preparing meals and a tighter budget are just a few of the reasons why. But a poor diet can lead to higher incidences of falls, problems with wounds healing, and a weakened immune system that increases the risk for illness and infection. Eating well increases the appetite for living well.

Family Matters: Having happy, healthy relationships with friends and family is yet another lesson we’ve learned from the Blue Zones. When you surround yourself with upbeat people, you’re more likely to think positively and engage in healthier activities. Plus, families keep us connected with past and future, with heritage and hope – and that deepens and enriches daily life. Still true: No one is an island.

Child’s Play: One of the Ten Principles of a Life Worth Living developed by the Eden Alternative highlights the pivotal role children play in a senior’s quality of life. In short, intergenerational relationships help seniors feel life is worth living. Children are meant to be seen, heard and involved.

Laugh It Off: Laughter is still the best medicine. A good laugh can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and reduce pain. Laughter can also help you shake off stress, which has long been linked to illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. Rx: Laugh!

Brain Health: Growing evidence shows the key to overall good health lies in maintaining a healthy brain. Over the last decade, research has proven there’s much more to it than working the daily crossword, and that good nutrition, stress management, and regular exercise all play key roles in keeping brains healthy. And by the way, all that multitasking so many of us are proud of? It can actually have a negative impact on brain health, because the brain isn’t designed to handle more than one task at a time. And one more thing: We saved brain health for last on the list, since it’s the most important one to remember.

The good news? Seniors in their 70s and 80s who modify their behavior today still reap the rewards. It’s never too late to make changes, and adopting a healthier lifestyle and choosing the right type of living environment can impact how well you live … for as long as you live.

For more resources on this topic, read the full article.

Planning for the life you want to live

For many of us, retirement will be here much more quickly than we might expect. According to a 2015 fact sheet on aging and health from the World Health Organization, the pace of the world’s population is aging much faster than in the past. By 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years. Today, WHO reports, 125 million people are aged 80 years or older. By 2050, 120 million aged 80 or older will be living in China alone.

With these statistics in mind, it is never too early to begin planning for retirement. In a recent article for Forbes magazine, Richard Eisenberg recently offered the following nine keys to a happy retirement:

  1. Spend time with your children and grandchildren if you have them. Eisenberg referencesStan Hinden, author of How to Retire Happy, who suggests one of the best ways to be happy is to find ways to spend time with your children and grandchildren, even though they may be busy. “You need them,” Hinden said. “Whether they realize it or not, they need you.”
    What if you don’t have children or grandchildren? We suggest you find a way to connect with younger generations in a way that utilizes your experiences and strengths for their benefit. Tutor a high school student in math or science. Teach a class on investing at your church or community center. Allow kindergarteners at your local elementary school to read to you. The opportunities — and benefits — are endless. 
  2. Keep a schedule, but not like your pre-retirement one. Eisenberg describes a study from Taiwan that asserts the key to a happy retirement isn’t how much free time you have, but how you manage your available time. A schedule helps prevent boredom, depression and loneliness, Eisenberg says. While you may be able to throw your pre-retirement planner away, having a daily or a weekly plan will help organize your activities and maintain control of your schedule.
  3. Learn new things or pursue your passions. Remember thinking, “When I retire, I’m going to …”? Now you can write that novel, travel, take a cruise, or learn to play the guitar. Retirement is the time to pursue your passions and learn new skills. Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 64. The eight-book series that followed has since been translated into 40 languages.
  4. Get a part-time job. According to Eisenberg, studies show that working in retirement keeps your mind sharp and helps you avoid feeling isolated and lonely. Your current employer may offer a phased-retirement plan, or you could set up your own business as a consultant or contractor. Maybe, it’s time to pursue a part-time job in another field. A semi-retired writer I know now drives a school bus for his local public school system. The job not only provides him additional health insurance benefits, but it also provides him fuel for his stories through his interactions with students. (See #1 above).
  5. To the extent possible, stay engaged and healthy. According to Eisenberg, career coach Bill Ellermeyer says the happiest retirees are either engaged in meaningful activity or are actively employed. Whether your work is paid or volunteer, finding a way to contribute to society will help you stay engaged. Regular exercise and good nutrition will help you stay healthy.
  6. Choose when to retire and then follow through. “The authors of The Retirement Maze surveyed 1,477 retirees to see what made the happy ones happy,” Eisenberg writes. “They found that 69 percent of the retirees who retired by choice were satisfied with their lifestyle but only 36 percent pushed into retirement said they were.”
  7. But what if you had a plan for retirement, and organizational changes either hastened your departure or you were, as Eisenberg describes, “pushed into retirement”? Can you still be happy? A 2012 Forbes article by Margie Warrell references research by psychologist Marty Seligman who found that those most likely to succeed after a setback like involuntary retirement frame the experience differently from those who continue to struggle. Remember that your job status does not define you, Warrell asserts. If you can interpret the unfortunate circumstance as an opportunity to grow and reprioritize, you can look forward to your future with excitement.
  8. Come up with a retirement income plan. “Figure up how much your 401(k) and other accounts will translate into monthly income; how much you’ll get from Social Security and any pension; how much you can afford to withdraw each year, and which accounts you’ll tap first for withdrawals to keep taxes down,” Eisenberg advises.
    Adjusting your housing needs may also factor into your income plan. How much maintenance will your home require? Should you consider downsizing to minimize maintenance and upkeep? Should you consider moving to a one-story home? Should you consider the future possibility of assisted living or healthcare for yourself or your spouse? Seek advice from your financial planner or a retirement counselor as you make these decisions.
  9. If you have a spouse or partner, talk about your plans together. Much like you did in the early days of your relationship, talking with your spouse or partner about your hopes and dreams for retirement may give you both a sense of excitement and hope for the future. Quoting Neal Frankle, a noted financial planner, Eisenberg suggests that couples discuss their retirement dreams and write them down. Identifying each item as a “must have,” a “want,” or a “wish” will also help clarify your goals and aspirations. Of course, as with every decision in your relationship, be ready to compromise!
  10. Figure out in advance what you want out of retirement. Whether you want to travel the world or retire to a cabin in the woods, knowing how you want to spend your days, where you’ll spend them, and who you hope to spend them with are key decisions if you hope to make the most of the years ahead. Remember the words of George Burns, “Retirement at 65 is ridiculous. When I was 65, I still had pimples.”