Don’t Think “Downsize,” Think “Rightsize”

By Mark Pressman  

Last year, my wife and I moved from our singlefamily home of 17 years to a condominium apartment.  This decision was driven by three “truisms” that we both came to realize after many years of our working with seniors and in the medical field.  

  1. Moving is a taxing endeavor, at whatever age 
  2. Moving doesn’t get easier as we age.   
  3. As we get older, the odds of suffering a major medical incident increases by the day  

We were fortunate to have the financial wherewithal to make such a move and I realize that not everyone can do so. This doesn’t change the character or urgency of these truisms or eliminate the importance of assessing your current living arrangement and addressing the contingencies of getting older.  

  1. Moving is a taxing endeavor, at whatever ageMoving is rated as one of life’s most stressful experiences; it’s right up there with loss of a job, divorce or death of a spouse. Moving is massively disruptive to our daily lives. The house is a mess while packing; we are displaced from our home during the move; and new routines have to be established in the new home, “honey, where did we put the ____“, fill in the blank. Some may see this as a reason to not move, and indeed, it is one of the primary reasons that people put it off. After all, who wants to self-inflict this kind of disruption, inconvenience and angst into their lives? But don’t let the fact that this is difficult get in the way or scare you from doing today what may well benefit you tomorrow; which takes us to the next truism…

  2. Moving doesn’t get easier as we age. It is a simple fact of life that as we get older, we don’t have the same strength and stamina as we did when we were younger, and we don’t bounce back as quickly from strenuous or stressful events. Many people simply say, “I’m not ready.” Moving is a major decision; one that should not be made spur of the moment. It needs to be carefully considered and throughly planned. On the other hand, “I’m not ready” is most likely a rationalization for putting off an uncomfortable decision. But what exactly are you waiting for that will make you ready? A word to the wise: putting this off until later won’t make the decision easier and, in fact, may result in your having fewer options and less control.
  3. As we get older, the odds of suffering a major medical incident increases by the day. This is a well-documented fact of life. Two specific examples: according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.gov) more than 300,000 Americans over the age of 65 suffer a broken hip each year and 450,000 people over age 65 will suffer their first stroke each year (strokecenter.org). In addition, there is an every increasing chance of an accident such as a fall resulting in a broken bone, as well as numerous other significant medical diagnoses that could significantly impair one’s ability to get around the house and perform routine activities of daily life. So, even though you’re “not ready, ” time marches on; we will bet older and the likelihood of experiencing a major medical event or significant physical limitation continues to increase.

The questions to ask are, “when one of these conditions or diagnoses strikes, how will I (or my spouse or partner) be able to manage in my home?  Are there stairs and will I be able to climb them? Is there a bathroom accessible?  

Whether you ultimately decide to move to a single floor living environment or not, you need to think about how you will address the significant physical limitations imposed by a medical problem, accident or simply increased frailty. Are there modifications that can be made which will make living in your current home easier if (when) you have physical limitations? Are there things you can do now that will make a future move less stressful? There are resources available to you help with some of these actions and decisions. 

  • The Myerberg Center periodically offers classes on how to de-clutter and organize your belongings more effectively.  
  • Both JCS, as part of its ElderCare Consultation, and CHAI can help you assess your home environment and suggest improvements for home safety, including modifications. 
  • There are numerous home organizers and move managers who can assist you in preparing for a move, decluttering and removing unwanted items, as well as providing packing (and unpacking) and move coordination.  Listed below are the websites of three professional organizations which list practitioners in your area. 
  • National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM.org) 
  • Certified Professional Organizers (certifiedprofessionalorganizers.org) 
  • National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (napo.net) 

You cannot control the timing of a medical event or accident. Make a plan that gives you the most options if and when health issues and setbacks occur and they will. If you don’t do it ahead of time, you may find your options are limited. Your only options may be assisted living, nursing home or moving in with the kids. And in the case of a stroke, there may be diminished decision-making capability, in which case, the decision about where you live may have to be made by your kids or loved ones. Is this a burden you want to leave for them? 

A parallel exercise is to make plans for end of life decisions such as Advance Directives, creating a will and making funeral arrangements.  I won’t go into those details here, but JCS offers “The Greatest Gift” seminars with supporting materials to guide you through this process.  When these decisions are made ahead of time and discussed with your children and loved ones, they won’t have to grapple with them during a medical crisis or upon your death … it is a wonderful gift that you can give them now.    


Mark Pressman serves on the Board of Directors of  Jewish Community Services and the Edward A. Myerberg Center. He has extensive professional experience in the field of elder care. 

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