The Emotional Rollercoaster of Downsizing
Fear is the primary emotion that affects seniors in the downsizing process:
fear of relationships, fear of possessions and fear of the unknown. Fear is
very real. Being aware, acknowledging, appreciating and accepting this emotion
is the first step to aiding in the transition process.
Emotions run very high when a senior is getting ready to move. They are leaving the
house that they have invested 30, 40 or even 50+ years. They are leaving the community
and neighbours where they raised their family, played bridge once a week, depended
on one another for that missing ingredient to finish dinner and watched over each
other’s children. A safe and secure environment is being left behind and being replaced
Family relationships are also taxed during this time. There are hundreds of questions
being asked, coming from all directions and sometimes even a lack of family support.
The senior asks: “Why don’t you want my prized possessions?” While the children are
overheard saying: “Why did she throw that out? I wanted it.” “Why did Sue get the
lamp I was taking?” “Who gets what?” “What goes where?” Family members often begin
to fight among themselves. Each person is an individual, and everyone has their
own way of doing things. This creates road blocks and a bumpy ride for all.
A house full of “stuff” can be daunting. Imagine 40 years of ”items” packed into a 1,400
sq. ft. home. Every crevice full, from the attic to the crawl space and do not forget the
shed and garage! There is a fear of having to rush through the packing and the possibility
of tossing out treasured items. What do I do with all the stuff How can I accomplish
this on my own? Where can I get boxes? What am I taking with me? What will fit
into my new space? What do I trash? Will this go to charity? Does Mary want this figurine
she gave me? This is going to take forever, and I don’t have the time. The house
has been sold, and the possession date is coming.
Moving to a foreign location is unsettling. Tasks like figuring out where
to get groceries, where to do laundry, and where to catch the bus
may have been exciting in our younger years, but for many seniors it
is a fearful experience. Will the neighbours be helpful? Will I still see
my friends? Are the phone and TV working? They are all very real
Some seniors are unable to participate in the process due to failing health as they have
either been hospitalized or relocated to a care facility. They become anxious about not
being able to oversee the packing of their items. Can my family do my memories justice?
Are my treasures just seen as trash to them? What will happen to my mother’s
lace tablecloth? Will I be able to find the picture, painted by my granddaughter, or has it
been filed in the trash? The fear of not being in control haunts many.
There is light at the end of the tunnel! Emotions of relief take over once time is
made available to sort through belongings. Items no longer needed are let go of and
the joy of displaying prized possessions, and therefore memories, is obvious. Rooms become
safer for mobility as the decluttering continues. Peace of mind comes to the senior;
they are still in control.
Caregivers/adult children also feel relief as details are taken care of and their family
member is in a safe and comforting place.
Sure, navigating the emotional journey of downsizing is difficult—it’s filled with ups and
downs for both the caregiver/family and the seniors—and it’s why many families have
hired the services of a “third party” to guide them on the path.
Shannon Lang, owner of Edmonton’s Elder Move Inc., is a certified Senior
Move Manager® and specializes in seniors’ relocations. For more information,