Declutter Your Home for a Move or to Age in Place Safely

An interview with Cynthia Arnold, Vice President of Senior Move Managers/De-Clutter Hawaii

How do decluttering and relocation services help seniors move or age in place?

These services assist older adults and their families with the emotional and physical aspects of relocation and/or aging in place. The services are used when seniors are preparing to downsize to a smaller residence, retirement community or relative’s home.

Decluttering services are also used for those aging in place, to help clear and/or organize their home so that it is safer to live in. In all those cases, these services help relieve stress on the senior and help with a smooth transition.

When should decluttering begin?

People should always be thinking about decluttering. Clutter isn’t age-related. All of us can accumulate too many possessions. However, if you start to notice that you can’t find things or you can’t get into areas in your home, then that is definitely a time to start thinking about decluttering.

Can your services be used in preparation for downsizing for a move down the road?

Yes. When you start thinking about a future move, whether it’s one or five years from now, now is the time to start  downsizing. The emotional aspect of getting rid of things can be difficult, so start as early as possible to help moderate the emotions of moving from your home.

How do you help seniors and their families make decisions about their possessions?

Making decisions on what to keep and not keep can be very emotional and difficult. Most clients want to keep everything because they love all their possessions. However, if we keep the focus on what we want in our future, like a move to
a retirement community — our decisions can be based more on that destination instead of the stuff. We focus our clients on their happy future and their new goals.

We stress that the value we need to hold onto is our memories and stories, and the journey we are about to embark on.

How do you help determine what to discard?

When working with clients, we can’t tell them what to discard. The question we always pose is “What do you want to keep?”

What can seniors do with unwanted items?

Unwanted items are often discarded, but includes recycling guidelines and locations. There are many organizations that take used household goods, clothing and furniture.

How do you help them determine what memorabilia to hand down through generations?

Everyone has different memories or special feelings regarding different items, so family members are the only ones who can determine what they would want. Include immediate and extended family when you are considering gifting your items. Our general rule for family items would be to keep photos and videos. We also recommend scanning photos and digitizing videos.

What should seniors gift to friends?

It is nice to give a special gift to a friend, especially if you remember them saying “Wow, what a beautiful platter!” or “I love that jacket!”

How do you help them determine what to move to the new location?

When relocating, the first thing we like to do is create a floor plan of where you are relocating to, which will help you to see what furniture will fit versus what furniture you want to take. You can only take the furniture pieces if they will fit in your new home. After you make those decisions, decide how many books, how much clothing…

How do you help seniors determine what to declutter for safety reasons?

When we declutter to age in place, the first places to focus on would be walkways that are obstructed, such as hallways, stairways and high-traffic areas. We want to remove any trip hazards that we can see, like floor mats, and extension and computer cords. Ideally, there should be three feet of clear space in all walking areas.

When is renting a storage space for extra possessions a viable solution?

We do suggest a storage unit when clients have a hard time getting rid of things or if they are short on time. If a client needs to be moved out of a place by a specific time and the sorting process is taking much longer, then a storage unit can accommodate those items for the time being.

Most times, if you are moving from a four- or five-bedroom home to a one-bedroom home, it will be difficult to let go… We also encourage clients to pack up their “maybe” items and put them into storage. If they don’t think about those items in three to six months, then that probably means they don’t mean much to them. This is a good way for them to have more time to process.

What tips can you offer to motivate everyone approaching their golden years to start decluttering on a regular basis?

We have what we call a “De-Clutter Sweep.” Take a box/bag and go into each area of your home and take things out that you quickly see you don’t want — for example, trash items. Take a trash box/bag and discard old mail, paper clippings, food wrappers, etc. You may be surprised how much trash is on the floor.

Once you get the hang of it, you can then do this with things you don’t like; things you haven’t used in a while; things you don’t need; then, things you don’t want. If you do a declutter sweep once a week, you’ll be surprised how many things you are getting rid of. Before you know it, you’ll have several boxes/bags to get rid of. Call your favorite nonprofit to  schedule a monthly donation pickup.

What are some of the benefits of hiring an expert rather than attempting to do it with the help of friends and family?

When our clients moved into their homes 50-plus years ago, they were in their 30s and they called their friends with trucks to help. Moving in 2021 is very different than moving in 1971. Now that they are in their 80s, it’s not that easy to call those friends and ask them for help.

Having a hired professional will help relieve the stress and ensure that all the details of moving are completed: packing up all the items, moving the furniture, unpacking and even getting your cable, internet and phone set up. There are so many aspects to moving now and it can be extremely stressful, so it is very helpful to hire a professional who can walk you through the entire process.

When looking for decluttering or relocation help, are there any certifications to look for that help ensure quality service?

To be a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), you need to be reviewed based on  experience requirements, certifications and insurance coverage prior to being accepted. Read testimonies or reviews about a company, but also ask around. Many retirement communities have resources on specialists like us. Another place to call is the Elderly Affairs Division, which has many resources as well.

What advice would you give to those approaching their golden years about the importance of decluttering and downsizing?

Don’t wait. It is never too early to start the process of decluttering and downsizing. Educate yourself about all the retirement communities on the island. Decide which one you like the best now, that way, when the time comes and you want to move, you are ready to go to the place you like. It is also a good time to get all your affairs in order, like your wills, trusts, life insurance paperwork and such. Not only is it good to declutter for today, but to also prepare for the future.


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