When you are in your 80’s, moving is a big decision. For my wife and I, though it was often challenging and overwhelming, it was also exciting. It took us several years to decide just when to take the plunge. When we finally decided that the time was right for us to make the big move, it was a bittersweet combination of excitement and anxiety. We started to feel a sense of relief at the thought of moving to a place where we didn’t need to think about navigating stairs to the basement laundry room or the mountain of stairs to get upstairs and downstairs from bedroom to kitchen. The home we had lived in for 51 beautiful years had sadly gotten to be too much for us and too unsafe and unbearable for our unsteady gait.
Most likely, when downsizing, whether it’s to a new house, apartment or a facility, it will be your last big move. The first thing my wife and I did was research available places where we could both see ourselves living. We decided that we didn’t need a real estate agent to help us because we were willing to do some leg work. My wife was 82 at the time and I was 83, and we knew that we wanted to stay close to the area we’ve lived in for 51 years, and not move to Florida or North Carolina, or too far from our friends, children and grandchildren. We also knew that we were going to need our kids opinions and also their help deciding on a new place to live. Not to mention, we would need their help with packing and unpacking bins and boxes, hanging pictures, arranging the space, and shopping for new items to make our new space feel comfortable and familiar. For us, the right choice was to downsize to an apartment versus a retirement community or an independent living facility.
The next big task was finding an apartment that we both “fell in love” with. Our priorities for a new place were no stairs, a full laundry room in the apartment, a modern functional kitchen, high ceilings, and an office (for me). We also wanted to be near enough to our doctors and to the local hospital which could save our lives if time is of the essence. We looked at many places and finally decided on a ten-story apartment building just 10 minutes from our house. We showed it to our children and our grandchildren and we all agreed that it was just the right place for our final move.
Packing was not easy and it took us several months. The best thing you can do is START EARLY. We resisted giving away things we love, like shoes or boots (my wife) and books and artwork (me). My advice is to keep what you love most but also to build your new home by first looking at what you need and be willing to compromise on some of the things that you feel you love and can’t live without.
6 Tips to Prepare for a Smooth Move:
- Start Planning Early. It’s better to plan before there’s an urgent need to move. When there’s a plan in place it will make the tasks easier and there will be more time to psychologically prepare.
- Research and Visit. Research places that are a good fit and visit the ones that meet your needs to get a feel for the environment and neighborhood.
- Don’t Aim for Perfection. Try not to rationalize, e.g. it’s the perfect location but the rooms are too small.
- Pare Down Possessions. It’s never too soon to start downsizing. Start by giving away or selling furniture, clothes, artwork and saving the things that have sentimental value. It can be difficult to pare down possessions to just things that are useful or meaningful. There are companies that can help you with this.
- Ask for Help. If friends and family don’t offer advice or help, don’t be reluctant to ask for it.
- Be Positive. Try to keep focused on the benefits of moving and have a positive attitude.
In our situation, moving was much more physically and emotionally challenging for my wife. We lived in our house for so many years, raised our 3 children, and had too- many-to-count celebrations, dinner parties, and holiday meals. I was the one who reinforced all of the positive aspects and who reminded my wife almost daily about the benefits of moving.
‘The Top ‘is the name of the ten-story apartment building where as I sit at my desk watching the traffic below go by, I feel like my grandmother, who died at 66 watching the traffic below on our lightly traveled street in Newark, NJ. She had no choice of where to live because only her daughter and son-in-law, my parents, had room for her. How privileged I feel to have the energy and means to enjoy with my wife of 61 years our new digs. Our friends were right to encourage us to simplify our lives. The first three words of the recipe for a successful move are ”Start decluttering now.”
Howard Schwartz, MD, is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and is a certified psychoanalyst. He has been in practice for 50 years, is still practicing, and is the author of 5 books.