There was a box that sat in our attic for twenty-three years. It contained twenty-three years of my husband’s unopened monthly bank statements—276 statements. Did I mention they were unopened? When it was time to move to a smaller house, that box was the first thing to go. My husband was the second. (Kidding. He’s still around.) Paring down possessions is a daunting task. If you’re in your sixties or beyond and have lived in your home for decades, it may seem impossible. But, it doesn’t have to be. Seniors, we can rightsize, too. Just take it from me. “Rightsizing” was formerly called downsizing. Although, “downsizing” came with negative baggage. Rightsizing means empowering yourself to let go of what doesn’t serve you and keep only what’s right for your life moving forward. If you’re planning to move–especially if you’re relocating to a smaller home–you should rightsize before you move. So, start rightsizing now, and don’t pay to move things you won’t need later! (At the end of this blog post, I’ve organized links to in-depth articles on rightsizing and moving. Because, well, I’m organized.)

First, take a deep breath 

Just thinking about rightsizing may make you wonder, “Ugh. Where do I even begin?” Well, with the junk drawer. We all have one, and it’s a good (small) place to start. Pull up a chair, then toss the mystery keys, old batteries, dried-up pens…and all that jazz. Soon, you’ll have a less junky junk drawer. It’ll feel good and give you the courage to tackle other spaces.

Do as I say, not as I do

Here’s some advice I learned the hard way: take on one space at a time. I decided to clean out our basement and garage on the same weekend. By Saturday afternoon, I was in a fetal position on the couch, mumbling about the mouse trap behind the snow tires with something big and dead in it. So, do one space at a time. Learn from my tragedy.

On to bigger things: closets

Closets are the Great Keepers of Things We Won’t Ever Need. Donate what you can, give stuff to friends, do what is needed to lighten the load for the moving van.

Clothing closets 

You probably have clothes you haven’t worn in years. Or clothes you hope to fit into. Or clothes you don’t love, but hey, you paid good money for them. Nope. Give those items to someone who needs them. Try on everything, and be ruthlessly honest with yourself.

Linen closet

We haven’t had twin beds since my adult kids were little. And yet, we had twin sheets in the closet. Condense to one or two sheet sets per bed*, and keep only the towels, quilts, and blankets you actually use. Don’t be like me. *Tip: store each set of sheets in one of its pillow cases. Not only does it keep sets together, it also hides the fitted sheets that nobody alive can fold neatly.

Cleaning closet

Leave this until almost your moving day. This way, you can use up cleaning products over the coming weeks. You may need to dispose of some items at your community’s hazardous waste disposal facility. It’s probably cheaper to buy new than to transport what you have. Liquids are heavy!

Kitchen clutter

Our old kitchen was the Noah’s Ark of suburbia: we seemed to have two of every gadget imaginable. Attack one cabinet or drawer at a time, and separate all duplicate and unused items to be donated. Same for unloved appliances. (Hello, air popcorn maker.) Look for a local Buy Nothing group on Facebook or It’s a great way to give away items to people in need. Don’t forget to toss expired food. If you have non-expired food you won’t eat, donate it to a local food pantry.

Paper piles

Many of us have enough paper for an impressive bonfire. Some paper, like taxes or financial and medical records, should be kept for certain periods of time (see below). Although, most paper can be tossed. Gather all your papers together, then sort piles to keep, recycle, or shred. This is less mind-numbing if done while watching TV. Recycle papers without personal information. For more sensitive papers (for example, 276 bank statements), many towns have local shredding events. Staples, UPS, and Office Depot will shred paper for a fee. Or, if you love the sound of grinding metal, you can buy an inexpensive shredder.

Books. Soooo many books

Short story: one of my kids used to be a book designer, and the publisher let her take all the books she wanted. She shipped hundreds of books to me because I’m an avid reader. Our house looked like Borders Bookstore, minus the nice coffee bar. Now, I know it can feel sacrilegious to get rid of books. But we don’t re-read most of them, do we? Let someone else love them. Good sources for donations include libraries, unsuspecting friends, and used bookstores. I got rid of many books this way. (Not surprisingly, nobody wanted my husband’s collection of Time-Life Books of Flight from 1978.)

Furniture: the elephant in the room

If you’re moving to a smaller home, memorize these words: all your furniture won’t fit. It just won’t. It’s physics or something. Too much furniture will make your home feel crowded and claustrophobic. You will be unhappy. If you have kids, see if they want some of it. However, don’t guilt them into it. You don’t want to be my Aunt Alice, who literally wept (she was faking) when I wouldn’t take her gigantic china hutch while I was living in a tiny apartment in New York City and owned two plates and one bowl. Think carefully about your new space, and sell or give away furniture that won’t fit. Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp are good options for selling locally. Similarly, most towns have consignment, antique, and vintage stores, along with charitable organizations that accept furniture.

Miscellaneous stuff

Fun fact! Did you know that bric-a-brac means “at random” in 19th-century French? Me neither. We all have random souvenirs, trinkets, tchotchkes, and knick-knacks cluttering our homes. Keep only what you truly love, and free yourself from the rest. Woohoo, less to dust!

The sentimental side

It’s emotionally wrenching to part with gifts from friends, things you’ve inherited from loved ones, and things from when your kids were little. You feel like you should keep it all. But consider this: your loved ones wouldn’t want you to feel burdened by their possessions, would they? You can still honor someone without keeping all their stuff. Carefully choose the most beloved, meaningful pieces. Ask if family members want anything. Let your kids pick out their favorite items. Invite friends to come “shop” at your house, and make it a party…where everyone has to take at least one thing. And as for whatever is left, gently give yourself permission to let it go. We keep our loved ones in our hearts. We don’t have to keep all their possessions, too.

Finally, the scary spaces: garage, basement, and attic

Garages have mice. Basements have mold. Attics have ghosts. So here is my Sacred Rule of Moving: if you’re over sixty, do not clean out your garage, basement, or attic by yourself.  Seriously. Just don’t. Seniors, we are old and have earned the right not to do this. There are people who do it for a living. Hire them!

A few last words of encouragement for seniors

When we moved cross country, my husband had injured his back and couldn’t even lift a roll of packing tape. I did all the rightsizing and packing in New York and all the unpacking and organizing in Oregon. Every. Single. Box. (I know, I’m such a martyr.) Yes, it was challenging and exhausting. But I did it! You can, too. Start early, start small, and work your way through your home, one space at a time. In a few weeks, your physical and emotional load will be much smaller. So will your moving bill. I swear on a stack of 1978 Time-Life books. And when you’re done rightsizing, it just feels…right. You’re no longer owned by the things you own. As a result, you have more time for what really matters. At the end of the day, it’s just stuff, and letting it go is easier than you think. Just open that junk drawer and begin. Happy rightsizing and moving!

PS: Seniors, we can clean out your creepy basement…and other spaces

Big Rocks Organizing would be honored to help you rightsize any space in your home. We can also provide move management, as well as packing and unpacking services. Just contact us.

More on rightsizing:

Moving tips from the pros:

Where to donate in the Portland/Vancouver area:

Cutting through paper clutter:

Recycling ins and outs:
About Andrea Thompson Andrea was an advertising copywriter/creative director for 40 years before retiring then unretiring to start a new career in organizing. She fully admits her new home is not 100% organized.