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9 Things to Declutter when Moving to an Assisted Living Apartment

April 17, 2024 6:38 PM | Janet Schiesl, CPO® (Administrator)

by Diane Greenhalgh

Tiny to the Max

Moving into an assisted living community can be stressful. There’s so much to do, and so much is changing. On top of that, the move is probably not by choice, and the loss of some of your independence can be scary. There’s certainly many things to look forward to as well. Getting help also means you don’t have to do some of those chores you’ve always dreaded, like cleaning the bathroom. And you’ll be much more connected with the community. Live-in chess partners or craft circles are part of the perks.

But one thing I can’t sugar coat is you’ll need to downsize… a lot. You’ve got a lifetime of accumulated stuff to go through. It needs to get done at some point anyway so might as well be now. You don’t want to burden your family with it down the road, do you? But where to start? I suggest first focusing on the 9 things below that you don’t need anymore. Eliminate these items, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a curated collection of treasured belongings that make you feel at home in your new place.

Dining and entertaining

No more hosting family dinners. But you’ve served your time, so let someone else take it on. Donate your dining table, entertaining supplies, and even extra sets of silverware. It’s just you, and your partner if you have one. You only need enough for yourself/yourselves and maybe a friend or two to come over. A small dining nook would do the trick. If you don’t have room or the mobility for that, you can use tray tables or trays affixed to your furniture.

Bulky furniture

This one should be obvious. There’s no space for bulky furniture anymore. Bring or purchase smaller furniture that fits in the space.

Anything already provided for you

Depending on the services the facility provides, there are a number of things you won’t need anymore. Certainly you won’t need household maintenance and lawn care items and most of your tools. If you have a meal plan you can do without most of your food and cooking supplies. Other services might include an exercise room, music room, crafting space, game room with puzzles, or party room for entertaining. Also, there may be items provided in the apartment, such as window treatments and certain furniture, like a hospital bed. Check out the amenities and decide what you need from there.

Rugs and other safety concerns

Anything that can be a tripping hazard should be left behind. Even if you don’t have mobility issues yet, if you’re moving into assisted living it’s a safe bet friends from the community you invite over will have some trouble getting around. Avoid rugs and anything stored on the floor and leave plenty of space to maneuver. Also, plan for the future — get rid of any flimsy stepstools (or stepstools altogether) and furniture that requires you to climb or kneel down to use.

Forbidden items

Just as dorms do, assisted living communities have rules about certain things you can’t have for either safety or aesthetic reasons. Think candles, small appliances, window signs, or draperies in vibrant colors. Read the rules and leave those things behind. You don’t want to get written up, or worse, thrown out.

Unsentimental décor

You have such a small space, choose only the things you love that give you a feeling of home. And limit what you bring. Too much will just seem cluttered, and clutter has been shown to cause anxiety. You don’t want that for your new home.

Holiday decorations

I’m not saying you need to get rid of all of it, but you’ll want to pare it down significantly. The community is bound to have decorations for every season so all you need are a few for around your little apartment and something for your door. Look on the bright side, no more detangling lights.

Other people’s things

It’s time to have a chat with your kids, or anyone else storing things with you, that it’s time for them to take responsibility for their belongings. You no longer have the space. Give them a reasonable deadline and let them know that you’ll be donating whatever is left after that date. Keep in mind, they may not want them anymore. Even those sentimental childhood mementos you’ve been holding onto for them. If you still decide to keep them, they are now yours and your responsibility to find somewhere to put them. You can always save space by taking a photo and letting the physical item go.

Important papers

If at all possible, store important papers and valuable belongings with a trusted family member or in a safety deposit box. Community staff will be in and out of your apartment, so best to secure those items. If you decide on a safety deposit box, make sure the executor of your estate or power of attorney is aware so the fee is consistently paid, so you don’t lose the contents.

Try to Avoid Storage Units

If assisted living is going to be a long-term, permanent living change, don’t just throw your excess items in a storage unit with the intention that you’ll go through it later. The truth of the matter is, you probably won’t. You’ll be wasting money and pawning the responsibility of figuring out what to do with it onto your grieving family.

There are two caveats I have for this. 1) If the turnaround to move into assisted living is really quick, you may need to use a storage unit temporarily. Set a schedule in your calendar to go through it to make sure it gets done. 2) If you have seasonal items that you regularly switch out, you can use a storage unit to expand your storage space. But if you haven’t visited your storage unit in the past year, it’s time to let go.

Letting Go Without Letting Go

There are lots of other ways you can save space but without having to let go. You can go digital with your bills, rent books from the library or purchase audio or e-books, rent special occasion wear from Rent the Runway, and stream music and movies. For the holidays, ask for consumable or experiential gifts.

Whatever you decide, remember to focus on what is important to you for helping you lead your new life and what makes you feel at home.

For more information. contact Diane Greenhalgh.

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