Tips to Design a More Spacious Apartment When Downsizing for Senior Care

When it comes time for seniors to move out of their home and into an assisted living facility, the new unit is typically a lot smaller than their house. This means that family members are often left helping their loved one downsize and make the transition into their new living space. Whether you’re moving your parent or grandparent across the country or just down the block into a smaller unit, understanding the downsizing process is the key to minimizing the stress that comes with the move.

While there are different levels and styles of assisted living, moving to any facility will almost always require a decrease in space, which means you’ll likely have to make some tough decisions about what items will need to be left behind.

If your loved one is already in an apartment that was previously downsized, the process may not be as challenging as for someone that is relocating from a large residence where they have lived for a long time. Regardless, the move can be extremely stressful, and at times emotional.

To help make this arduous task more manageable, we’ve compiled a list of tips for downsizing for senior care. First, let’s look at some tips for making the experience less stressful, and then we’ll cover a few design tips that will help you make the new unit look more spacious.

Do Your Diligence

Before the move, you’ll want to take several trips to the new facility – as many trips as you feel are needed to get a good understanding of your loved one’s new surroundings. Visit the apartment and take measurements so you know exactly what will fit and make a mental image in your head of how you might fit some of their current belongings inside. You might even consider sketching out a new floor plan or take photos to bring back with you. This will simplify the decision-making process easier as you begin to downsize. Some larger items just aren’t going to fit in the new space, and knowing this ahead of time will make your choices easier.

In addition to the personal living space, you should get a feel for all the other areas and amenities in the facility to get a better understanding of what daily life will be like. If the community offers a lot of dining options, you might find that it makes sense to cut down on cookware, dishes, and glasses. If there is a library full of books and movies available for residents, you can consider leaving those types of things behind in the move. Many facilities often offer fitness centers, art rooms, and gardening clubs as well, eliminating the need to overstuff the apartment with these leisure items.

Plan Ahead

Based on visits to the facility, make a plan for what items you’ll definitely need to bring, what optional items you might want to bring if there’s space, and what items can definitely be left behind.

You already know the apartment will need the essentials – a bed, storage, seating, tables, and so on. So plan on those items coming along from the start and figure out how much space you’ll have left over for other things after. Planning ahead will eliminate making sometimes tough choices on the spot when the move in date draws closer.

Don’t Start with Sentimental Stuff

Many people are emotionally attached to their possessions because of their sentimental value. If the first thing you do in the downsizing process is dictate that your loved one’s most prized and meaningful possessions have to go, the process will become much more difficult than it needs to be. Moving is always stressful and ripping someone away from what they treasure just amplifies the stress and sadness they may already be feeling.  

Start with the simple stuff instead. The garage can be a great starting point – since your loved one probably won’t need to mow their own lawn or remove their own snow anymore, the lawn mower and snow blower are typically easy things to get rid of. Tools in the shed and clutter in the basement are a few other examples of things that are usually easy to go through. Once you and your loved one are in the swing of parting with some possessions, it becomes easier to part ways with more sentimental objects.

Save it For Now

At some point, you’re going to need to part with the items around the home, but you don’t have to do that immediately. It’s hard for seniors to watch the possessions that they worked hard for being thrown or given away, even if it’s not a particularly sentimental object. To make it easier, avoid parking a dumpster in the driveway and tossing things right into it. Designate an area of the house or the garage to place things that won’t be coming to the new location. You may also consider temporarily renting a storage space for extra items while your family takes time to think about whether or not to keep certain items. 

Saving things, for now, will also give everyone another chance to make a final decision about the object without the need to rummage through the dumpster and will prevent regrets about selling objects too soon. Moving seniors out of their home is sad and stressful for the entire family so it’s best to let everyone take their time in what might be a tough decision.

Consider Mobility and Safety

Another thing to consider when you’re making decisions about what to bring to the new apartment is mobility and safety. Just because something can fit in the new space doesn’t mean it will be the best choice for your aging loved one. Even if they aren’t having trouble getting around just yet, they may develop it in the not so distant future. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t overcrowd floors –  If your loved one needs a walker or a wheelchair to get around, you’ll want to leave enough room for them to use it. Even if they are still walking, you’ll want to minimize the chance of them tripping on items that crowd their walking paths. Area rugs, coffee tables, and electrical cords are a few common hazards. If you do decide to put in an area rug, be sure to tack down the edges and opt for several end tables instead of one coffee table.
  • Bathroom safety – Bathrooms are one of the biggest hazards for seniors around the living space. Be sure that there are grab bars in the shower and around the space. If the shower doesn’t already come with a bench or shower chair, consider putting one in to reduce the chance of falls.
  • Kitchen safety – Depending on the facility, your loved one may or may not have a fully functioning kitchen in their unit. If they do, be sure to label appliances’ on and off switch and try to find appliances like coffee makers that shut off automatically to reduce hazards. Only keep essential cleaning supplies on hand, and be sure to store them away from food to avoid any confusion.
  • Leave a light on – Put small, automatic nightlights in around the unit. This will help to prevent falls and confusion if your loved one needs to get out of bed in the middle of the night.
  • Strategic positioning – Some facilities have emergency pull cords for residents to use if they need help in their apartment. If yours does, be sure to strategically position furniture around them so that seniors are more likely to be near them if and when they need help.

Utilize Extra Storage Space

Storage can be a tricky issue when it comes to living in a smaller space. Getting creative and utilizing all available space can make it a bit easier.

  • Utilize wall Space – Hooks and shelves on the walls can minimize the amount of floor standing shelves and tables needed around an apartment.
  • Space under furniture – If your loved one is still capable of bending down in harder to reach areas, the space under the bed or other furniture can be utilized as storage. If they aren’t capable of getting down there on their own, you can still use the space to store seasonal items that they won’t need to access themselves.
  • Make the most of vertical space – When living in a smaller space, you may want to put in taller shelving units to provide extra storage. Place the items your loved one uses most at eye level, and use the other shelves for decorative and less frequently used items.
  • Use door racks – Door racks provide extra hooks and small shelves and can be an excellent way to keep dressers and closets from being overstuffed. Use them for watches, scarves, hats, and any other small items your loved one might need to keep handy.

Use Bright Lights

Using bright lights in smaller spaces has several advantages. For one, it will make it easier for your loved one to find things and read. Utilizing bigger and brighter lights will also help you save room around the space because you’ll need fewer lamps. Be sure to place them strategically too, near chairs, beds, and closets. You can even find floor lamps that have multiple and adjustable lamp heads which can be like having several lamps in one. Spreading light evenly throughout a room can also make the space feel more open and expansive than just having one bright overhead light that pools all the light into one space. 

Making The New Unit Look Larger

In addition to utilizing all the space around a room for maximum storage, there are some ways you can strategically decorate smaller areas to make them seem bigger than they really are.

Paint It Bright

Color can have a huge effect on how a room feels. Paint walls bright colors like white or a brighter shade of yellow or blue to make spaces feel more open. For accents, use darker colors to give the room depth. Using different shades of the same color can also make an apartment feel more cohesive and less cluttered. 

Mirror, Mirror

Mirrors are a great way to increase the illusion of having more square footage in a small space – that’s why you see so many small restaurants and bars utilize them. Not only do the reflections help make it feel like there is more room, but when you place them across from a window, they bounce light around making the space brighter.

Let Windows Shine

During the day, leave windows uncovered to bring in light and give the room more depth. Windows allow light to enter the room and light creates airiness and space that smaller units lack, so don’t block the windows with furniture, large plants, or items that keep the light out. Long curtains can make ceilings appear higher than they really are as well. 

Stay Away from the Walls

Leaving some walls blank will help make spaces feel more open. If your loved one does want art on the walls, try to display larger photos and paintings instead of a gallery of smaller pictures which can make the wall look cluttered. Items placed right up against the walls will make a room look claustrophobic; make sure you leave a few inches between furniture items and the walls as this breathing room around your furniture lends the appearance of more space. 

Use Large Decorations

Having lots of small items around can make the unit feel more cluttered than it really is. Try to use larger decorations instead, and remember that you don’t need to have decorations on every single surface. Having a few empty table tops will create the illusion of more space.

Strategic Fabric Choices

Dark, heavy fabrics like wool and fleece absorb a lot of light and can make a room feel weighed down. Try incorporating lighter, breezy fabrics like linen into the design for most of the year. You can always bring the heavier blankets out when it gets cold enough for them to be used. 

Use Multifunctional Furniture

There’s quite a bit of furniture available that can serve more than one purpose, reducing the need for other items around the room. For example, a vintage trunk can serve as a storage spot as well as a table top. 

Keep it Simple

Above everything else, the best thing you can do to make a small unit appear larger is to keep the design simple. When you try to cram too many patterns, colors, and objects into a small space it will feel cluttered and uncomfortable. While it might be difficult depending on whether or not your loved one is heavily invested in their objects, encourage them to be strict about what goes into their new space. 

Downsizing isn’t an easy task. No matter what you do, it will be stressful and emotional for everyone involved, especially if your loved one has lived in the same home for many years. But you can make the transition much easier by following these steps to help your loved one settle into their new space and live a happy and comfortable life.

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