Planning can never begin soon enough, starting when your nest empties for the first or last time. With kids in college, we bought a new bedroom set because I didn’t want to take our original one to our retirement home.  When a sport or activity ends, like soccer, boating, hunting, skiing, camping, get rid of the equipment and paraphernalia. All that sells quickly on your local Craig’s List.

Plan by previewing the retirement communities in the area you want to live.  We put down deposits at three or four places fifteen years before we finally moved.  After settling three estates and knowing our own extensive household goods there is no way we wanted our children to have to do it.

Early planning includes finding the value of your home and who will sell it.  You may have a realtor you liked from before or ask for referrals from friends.  Part of the initial interview is advice on what updating you should do to make your home more saleable.  Painting or decluttering can be done in a short time, but even small upgrading of bathrooms or kitchens takes time if something cannot be bought at Home Depot.

Once you have decided on a new place, measure every room on the floor plan yourself down to an inch.  Then measure the furniture you want to take.  Will a secretary, sofa and end table fit on the living room wall?  Will a king size bed fit?  Will the leather desk chair fit or maybe trade it for a smaller one that slides under the desk?  Decide what you want to take with you before you start giving away or selling what you have.  Be aware of smaller pieces of furniture that might fit and be useful, particularly if it is a cabinet or has shelves or drawers. Keep them.

When you know what is not going with you, invite all your family to come over a Saturday or stay the weekend.  Empty items from all your cabinets, drawers, closets and put on tables in the garage, pool table, dining room table for them to take.  Send them pictures of furniture pieces available and they can pick what they want before coming with a truck or hitched tow.  Be sure your own children have had first pick before this event, a family reunion with plenty of food and drink.  A cousin’s granddaughter took an antique bed.  This occasion gave us the most pleasant surprise of happiness in seeing many family pieces staying in the family.

Time spent on planning the kitchen will save you space.  Why take your heavy Kitchen Aid mixer when you are not going to be cooking anymore and have a hand mixer for the occasional cake?  Take pictures of the cabinets with the doors open and plan where everything will go, including the items in the kitchen desk you won’t have.   Baskets and empty tins organize small items on a shelf. Under bed storage is the answer to where to put everything including leaves for the dining room table and plastic boxes to hold out of season clothes.  Closet space can be expanded with another layer of shelves or a lower rack for pants or shirts.

You know that you can’t take four beds to a two-bedroom apartment or two sofas for one living room. However, small things are great for versatility.  Nesting tables get split up to hold plants or be a small end table. Flower vases and plant pots, pruning scissors, gardening tools in a tote bag if you will have a garden plot.  Odd dishes and bowls and baskets to hold the odds and ends of daily life.  A big trash can sits next to the washer and holds the big detergent bottle, swifter, and broom that won’t fit on a shelf. It’s easy to get rid of something you find you don’t need in your new life, but you can’t go back and get what you didn’t bring.

Organizing shelves and drawers is easier with containers from the supermarket.  Costco has a box of chocolates with a clear plastic bottom and top, which are wonderful liners under a plant pot or grouping toiletries together in a vanity, plastic containers of all sizes for all those items you shouldn’t just throw in a drawer.  If you’re putting baskets or totes on a high shelf, print out and attach a sign what is in it.

We had at least four foot stools in our home, and I use three folding ones now, one each in the closet, kitchen, and laundry room.  A folding stair of 2 steps gets me to the back of high shelves.  Don’t forget you can put things on top of cabinets, especially pretty flowerpots.   Another fixture hanging on our laundry room wall is a Dustbuster for the small vacuuming necessary due to weekly housekeeping service.

We moved many things ourselves, especially setting up the kitchen and bathrooms and having the sheets and pajamas for our bed the first night.  The boxes will be overwhelming when the movers have gone, but you’re too exhausted to attack them.  Up at 6am I’d unpack and put the empties out in the hallway but didn’t unlock the door.  I stepped out and ended up going to the reception desk in my pjs to get a key.  My sleeping husband never would have heard the doorbell, and I didn’t have my phone on me. Neighbors retold the story until I was streaking across the main lobby.

Mentioning my husband, reminds me that it is very important that he be given space for his things.  His own closet, area of cabinet shelves for bourbon and batteries, and floor space for his toolbox made mine happy.

I’m not a hoarder or pack rat, but over the years I made decisions of keeping some papers and then promptly forgot about them.  Forty years later the movers found college term papers and 1990 budget papers in bottom drawers or on top shelves of closets and sent them along to resurface in the unpacking…..maybe I can take a look at them and hopefully see how much sharper my writing skills have become.

All during the process of moving, every half hour seemed like a whiplash from one task to another, so you do foolish things. After trying to reach housekeeping that my brand-new dryer wasn’t working, I learned I must slam the door shut, or the second time we ordered takeout dinner, when John appeared with only one bag, I realized I never filled out my side of the form.

So many widowed friends said how fortunate I am to have a husband helping to make decisions and sharing all the work.  Two contemporaries downsizing at the same time as we hired people to do it all. We’re both organizers by nature and physically and technologically able to do the whole process on our own.  We know where everything went and what we have with us now, including all the letters between us from Vietnam years and the ones Mother saved that we wrote from two years in Germany, fifty-four years ago.  Now that the years of worry over ‘what are we going to do’ are over, maybe we will find time to reread them.

The Woodlands offers independent living that focuses on the health and wellness of our residents. If you would like to learn more about what we have to offer, call us at 703-667-9801 or schedule your visit for a consultation on our positive living opportunities. We serve the Fairfax, VA area and beyond.