Downsizing Checklist for Seniors or Retirees: 7 Items


Moving is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. And downsizing can be even more difficult. Seniors moving from the family home to a smaller house, apartment, or care facility can face major obstacles when it’s time to downsize. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

  1. Starting Early
  2. Planning and Strategy
  3. Organization and Paperwork
  4. Sorting and Labeling
  5. Discarding and Donating
  6. Packing It All Up 
  7. Moving and Settling In

Whether you’re moving to a new community, a more manageable property, or into your adult child’s home, sorting through all of your possessions can feel like an overwhelming task. 

If you’re facing the challenge of downsizing, or you’re helping a senior through the process of downsizing, the checklist below can help you prioritize and get started. 

1. Starting Early

Downsizing is difficult enough without an added time-crunch. Starting the process early can help you or the senior in your life manage the task more easily. 

You can start checking off some of the tasks below six months to a year before it’s time to pack up and move. You can even get things done if you’re still deciding whether or not (or when) to downsize. Here are some steps to consider well ahead of the move. 

  • Toss out expired food
  • Turn in expired medications to your doctor or pharmacy
  • Declutter your closet
  • Gather up important documents (more on this later)
» MORE: Are you preparing for the loss of a loved one? Get support now.

2. Planning and Strategy

Before you dive into the task of moving, it’s worth taking some time to create a plan of attack. 

Do some research

Before you get started with the more in-depth tasks of downsizing, it can help to do some additional research into the topic. Pick up a couple of these books about downsizing and see if they spark inspiration. 

Choose a method of decluttering

Multiple decluttering methods have recently become mainstream, and you might find that one speaks to you more than another.

For example, maybe you relate to the more extreme decluttering philosophies of Swedish death cleaning over the highly-popularized Marie Kondo method. 

Create lists

If you’ve found this checklist, you’re already on the right track. Creating lists can help you visualize everything you need to do in the process of downsizing.

It’s a good idea to set aside a whole notebook specifically for the move. Whenever you think of something you need to do, write it down in the notebook. 

Set firm dates

As soon as you can, decide on specific dates for the move. Work backward from the day you want to be completely moved in. 

Take measurements and make a floorplan

Once you have access to the new place, go there and take measurements of its dimensions. This will allow you to plan where you want to put all of your furniture. It will also help you visualize which pieces of furniture simply won’t fit. 

Consider hiring help

Moving isn’t a one-person job, and it’s easier the more help you have. If your finances allow for hiring outside help, consider bringing on professional movers. You could even hire a professional move manager. 

Get estimates

If you decide to hire a moving company, or if you’re engaging any services like moving trucks, you can save money by gathering estimates. Choose businesses that have good prices, as well as solid reviews from past customers. 

Create a plan for pets

Moving isn’t just stressful for us humans; it also takes a toll on pets, who don’t understand exactly what’s going on.

When you’re preparing for a move, make arrangements for pet care on dates where you’ll be in and out of the house a lot. 

Arrange charity pick-ups

If you’re going to have a large charity donation (lots of small items or several pieces of furniture), it’s a good idea to see if your local charity provides pick-up services. Arrange a date for that to happen. 

Schedule appointments and refill prescriptions

If you’re moving to a location where you’ll have a new doctor or pharmacy, make sure to make one final appointment and refill your prescriptions ahead of time. 

Change service providers

Set dates when your services will change over to the new home, including electricity, gas, and water, if needed. 

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3. Organization and Paperwork

Moving isn’t just a physical task. There’s also a lot of paperwork and organization that goes into downsizing. When you’re downsizing or helping someone downsize, make sure you get this paperwork in order. 

Change of address

Change of address with the Post Office. You’ll need to complete an official Change of Address Form with the USPS to begin forwarding mail to your new address. 

Update address with other businesses and agencies.

Because USPS Forward Mail lasts a limited time, you’ll also need to update your address individually with the following parties:

  • Bank accounts and credit cards
  • Voter’s registration
  • Driver’s license and vehicle registration
  • Newspaper and magazine subscriptions 
  • Investment and retirement accounts
  • Social clubs and places of worship; and
  • Medicare and Social Security

Inform other parties about your change of address, including family and friends, as well as lawyers, accountants, and other service providers. 

Locate important paperwork and organize it

Most of us have a stash of paperwork in our homes, but it’s not always organized.

Now is a good time to finally go through that pile of documents, save what needs to be saved, and shred what needs to be thrown out. If you’re not sure what to keep or toss out, start here

4. Sorting and Labeling

Next, set aside time to sort through your belongings and label what you want to take with you or not. At this stage, you’re not packing anything up. You’re simply making decisions regarding each item in your home. 

Go through one room at a time

The easiest way to complete this stage is by going through one room at a time. Start with the room farthest away from the center of your home (the attic, basement, and other places you’re probably storing junk), and work in concentric circles towards the heart of the home.

Again, you’re not packing anything at this stage—you’re just sorting through the items. 

Divide items into four categories

You’ll be dividing your furniture and other belongings into four categories: 

  • Definitely take
  • Maybe take
  • Donate, give away, or sell
  • Toss

Label items with colored stickers

Use colored tags or stickers to mark each of your items according to the category they fall into. 

For example, you could use blue stickers for items in the “definitely take” category, yellow stickers for items in the “maybe take” category, purple stickers for items in the “donate” category, and red stickers for items in the “toss” category.

5. Discarding and Donating

Once you know which items you want to sell, discard, or donate, you can get this step out of the way. Here are some steps to consider. 

Discard broken and expired items

Throw away open toiletries that you no longer use, as well as anything else that isn’t of use to someone else. 

Have a giveaway

Next, you can give some items to your family and friends. This might include pieces of furniture or clothing, as well as kitchen appliances you won’t need or have room for in the new house. 

Hold a garage sale

Finally, having a garage sale can be a great way to get rid of items that still have value. If you’re not sure what to sell and what not to sell at a garage sale, start here

» MORE: Save $$$ and time with our tools. Start now.

6. Packing it All Up 

Next is one of the most potentially strenuous steps in the moving process: packing everything up. Consider the steps below to help you through this stage. 

Enlist help

Whether you’re packing up your own home or helping an elderly parent, you’ll likely need help with this stage. Consider asking friends and family or hiring a moving specialist. 

Label everything

As you put items in boxes, make sure to label the boxes by room. This will make unpacking ten times easier. 

Make “open first” boxes

As you label your boxes, make a few that are labeled “open first.” These are the boxes you’ll open as soon as you get to the new home, before you’re ready to embark on the entire unpacking process. 

They should include kitchen necessities and toiletries, as well as some clothes, bedding, scissors, and a flashlight. 

Create a stash of items you need during the move

Set aside a special box (it should be a different type of container than your regular moving boxes) for items you need easy access to during the move. This includes your lease documents, medications, and keys.  

7. Moving and Settling In

Finally, it’s time to move everything to the new home, unpack, and settle in. Here are some ideas that will help you get it done. 

Check over your contract with the moving company

If you hired a moving company, make sure that you have a written contract with coverage for damaged or lost possessions. 

Make sure all your boxes are labeled 

Whether you have hired help or not, labeled boxes will streamline the process of moving in and unpacking. Label your boxes according to what’s inside and where they’ll be in the house.

Assign someone to meet movers at the property

Assign a friend or family member to go to the property ahead of everyone else to let the movers in and supervise them as they start bringing everything in. 

Keeping a Level Head When Downsizing

It’s important to understand the practical tasks associated with downsizing and moving to a smaller home. But just as important is managing your physical and mental health throughout the process. Below are some steps that can help you minimize the stress of downsizing. 

  • Make good use of your time
  • Take breaks
  • Ask for help 
  • Make time for self-care

Downsizing is Stressful

Whether you’re the one downsizing, or you’re helping clean out an elderly parent’s home to prepare for a move, downsizing is a daunting task. It can quickly become paralyzing if you don’t approach it in manageable steps and avoid potential pitfalls. 

Whenever you’re undertaking a moving process, make sure to plan ahead and take the time to care for your physical and mental wellbeing. 

Looking for more tips? Read our guide on how to organize your day for success.


  1. “Downsizing a home: a checklist for caregivers.” Family Caregiver Alliance.
  2. Landau, Ian. “How to downsize for a movie.” Readers Digest.

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