Downsizing | Ask the Life Coach

Downsizing | Ask the Life Coach

Dear Coach,

I recently sold my large home and this fall, I’m moving to a much smaller condo. As I sift through my belongings, I’m finding it extremely difficult to part with the many precious mementos I’ve accumulated over more than eighty years.

What do I keep, what do I give to charity or sell, what do I give to my children and grandchildren, what do I put in storage?

Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this dilemma?



Dear Overwhelmed,

Recently, as I was polishing up the manuscript for my soon-to-be-published historical fiction, The Bootmaker’s Wife, I considered the plight of the pioneer housewife as she decided on the few things she would pack in her trunk or wedge into her covered wagon. Your situation isn’t as dire but the analogy is similar.

As you look around your home (I’d suggest taking photos to allow your scrutiny to be less biased), what draws your eyes, what sings to your heart, what have you carefully moved from home to home over the years? I challenge you to think only of yourself (I’m assuming you’re alone), not your children or grandchildren. Don’t let guilt creep in about what was once a gift that you’ve kept over the years “in case Cousin Sally comes to visit.”

My list is fairly short. The walnut, cane-backed rocker that I was rocked in as a baby sits in my bedroom along with a walnut chest made from wood taken from the first Nebraska homestead. The ring that was my mother’s and grandmother’s is always on my hand. The angel that sat atop my first birthday cake is missing a hand but is still on display. My wooden rolling pin was my mother’s and the original art that hung behind my parents when they were married and behind my husband and I when we were married, followed me from home to home.

In addition, there are a few current things I’d take like my newly acquired lemon dishes and some table runners made by a friend who is now gone. I have a collection of paper weights that I’m gradually giving away – I’d save a few. At seventy-seven, I understand your angst. Mementos from the past grow more precious as we age. They are a conduit for intense feelings of love and connection but we must sift through what is most important.

Karen Shinn, a senior move manager and cofounder of Downsizing Diva, a Toronto business that specializes in helping seniors declutter their lives, gives us some suggestions on how to do this. 

  • Start small. Start today. Pick a drawer. Shinn recommends setting a timer for 15 minutes and going through your stuff a bit at a time. 
  • Collect all of your photographs and make notes on the back as to who’s in them. If you don’t know the people in a photo, toss it. Distribute photos to the people in them. 
  • Millennials and Gen X-ers, the children of many people downsizing for retirement right now, would rather collect experiences than stuff. Don’t put something in storage for them. Save the fees and give them the cash to purchase what they want when they want it.
  • Make sure there’s a spot for the furniture you’re thinking of taking to your smaller space. Also, consider your storage space and pack accordingly. That lace tablecloth may have sentimental value but do you have the space to store it? Will you ever use it again?

Finally, I’d advise you to “always use the good stuff.” Don’t save it. Get rid of the old towels, sheets, dishes, placemats, etc. Use the ones you’ve set aside for “special occasions.” This time of your life is “a special occasion.” Get rid of clutter and surround yourself with what you love the most.

Good luck with your move!


Mershon Niesner is a Certified Life Coach and author of “Mom’s Gone, Now What? Ten Steps to Help Daughters Move Forward After Mother Loss” which is available on Amazon; also, locally at Sunshine Booksellers and Keep In Touch. For more information visit Email your coaching questions to: Your identity will be kept strictly confidential.

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