How to Take the ‘Down’ Out of Downsizing

The Sarans of Amherst talk about their decision to downsize

By Nancy Cardillo

Leonard and Marcia Saran lived in their Amherst home for 50 of the 59 years they’d been married, raising their son and daughter there before deciding the time had come to downsize. “We wish we’d done it sooner,” they say.
Leonard and Marcia Saran lived in their Amherst home for 50 of the 59 years they’d been married, raising their son and daughter there before deciding the time had come to downsize. “We wish we’d done it sooner,” they say.

Downsizing. The word alone can make a person hyperventilate. After all, you’ve likely invested plenty over the years to make your house your home. It’s where you raised your family, created memories, hosted holidays and spent many evenings gathered around the dinner table. And then there are all the things that are crammed into every nook and cranny, stored in every closet and drawer, jammed into attics, garages and basements.

Be honest:  you’ve thought about downsizing, and you know it’s probably the right thing to do — but there are so many questions! How best to go about it? Where do you start? What about all your precious memories and mementos? What about your stuff?

Leonard and Marcia Saran lived in their Amherst home for 50 of the 59 years they’d been married, raising their son and daughter there before deciding the time had come to downsize.

“There were things the house needed or would soon need,” says Marcia. “We looked at each other and realized we didn’t have the energy to do the updates, the painting, the redecorating. Our house was tired and so were we. It was time to move.”

“We were approaching that age where you’re vulnerable to health issues and might need continuing care,” added Len. “We wanted to locate somewhere that offered everything we might need down the road.”

Their 3,000-square-foot home had four bedrooms, a full basement, attic crawl space, dining room, living room, kitchen and three bathrooms — and was full of the treasures they’d collected traveling around the world, as well as family mementos, photos, antiques, tools and furniture. Len and Marcia are crafty. He builds model boats, she sews and makes dollhouses and quilts, so their basement was set up as a full workshop, and also housed Len’s train collection. Yet, it took just 53 days from the time they signed the paperwork at Asbury Pointe Retirement Community to empty the house, sell it and move into their beautiful, comfortable two-bedroom apartment.

How did they accomplish this?

Well, for starters, they were organized. Asbury Pointe gave them a layout grid for their new apartment, and their daughter-in-law measured everything and determined what would fit in their new space. After deciding what they wanted to take with them, and giving the children and grandchildren what they wanted, Len and Marcia cleaned out the house, room by room.

“We started with the garage, which wasn’t too bad,” says Len. “Then we moved to the basement, which was very intimidating, as it was quite full.” But they tackled it a little at a time, with Len making frequent trips to the grocery store for banana boxes. “They’re the strongest,” he says. And they hired someone to carry everything up from the basement so they didn’t have to do the heavy lifting.

The Sarans sold some of their antiques and artwork, held an estate sale at the house and a garage sale at their daughter’s and moved. At first, they missed their house and some of their things — “my Kittinger dining room set!” — but after three years, they don’t miss a thing. And, as is common with downsizers, the Sarans say, “we wish we’d done it sooner!”

They love their maintenance-free lifestyle that allows them to pick up and travel whenever they want. Both avid gardeners, Len and Marcia can still tend to their garden at Asbury Pointe, and they love that they don’t have to cook if they don’t want to. “The food here is fabulous,” says Len. “And we’ve made so many friends. It’s like family here! There’s plenty to do, and the staff is exceptional.

“The defining moment in the downsizing process is when you make the decision to move,” adds Len. “The rest is just commentary.”

Downsizing Made Easier. Ask the Pro

Jamie Shaner has been an organizational specialist and senior move manager for 12 years, since starting her business, Home Solutions of WNY, Inc., in 2005. She has helped many go from huge homes to smaller living spaces, such as retirement communities. She prefers to call it “rightsizing” and says it’s never too soon to start the process.

“In Western New York, most homes have attics, basements, garages, lots of closets — these are the places where our ‘postponed decisions’ end up. We keep things because we have the space to do so. When it’s time to think about downsizing, it can be very intimidating and that’s why people put it off,” says Shaner.

The process of moving always takes longer than people realize, so the longer you have to go through your things, the less pressure there is, says Shaner. You’ll have more control and make better decisions when you can take your time, which is why she recommends starting the process even before the decision to downsize has been made.

“There are emotional and mental health benefits to getting rid of clutter, to reducing the amount of items in a home,” says Shaner, who knows from experience that family members often don’t want Mom and Dad’s “treasures,” collectible items or large pieces of furniture, making them more difficult to get rid of.

How does she help a client downsize or rightsize?

“I start with a walkthrough and free consultation,” says Shaner. “I will ask questions such as, ‘Do you know where you’re going?’ ‘How much space will you have?’ ‘What are you allowed to take?’ ’Will you have a meal plan?’ That helps me determine how best I can help my clients and determine what other vendors — such as estate sale, antique experts, movers, etc. — will be needed.

I also recommend clients start putting “like” objects together so it’s easier to see what they have and what they won’t need.”

Shaner encourages her clients to be realistic about what to take. If they’ll be taking most meals in the dining hall, they don’t need as many kitchen items or sets of dishes. If the new living room is smaller, they won’t need a couch and a love seat. “If you’re going in to senior living, it has to be a safe environment,” says Shaner. “Most, for example, won’t allow candles. And you want enough space to potentially navigate a walker or wheelchair. These are things to keep in mind when considering what to take with you.”

And while she understands the emotional value in memories, Shaner knows you can’t keep everything. She recommends taking photos of items before releasing them and creating photo albums of memories. That way, “you hold on to the memories, but the items go to people who need them more than you do now.”