Moving from a large house to smaller home? Downsizing advice can help seniors

Avid golfers Bob and Lucy Sato were enjoying their retirement years in the ideal home: a spacious townhouse on the eighth fairway of the Mill Creek Country Club. Golf was literally steps away. But then Bob had a stroke, and the large, two-story townhouse they owned for 17 years became less practical and manageable for the Satos.

In March, the Satos decided to move into the Midori condominiums at 1515 E. Yesler Way.

The Midori was another ideal location for the Satos-friends lived in the building, it was close to their church on Beacon Hill and they grew up in the neighborhood. But as their moving date approached, they realized they had a problem: they were moving from a 2,300-square-foot townhouse to a 1,062-square-foot condo.

"This place is half the size, so we had to get rid of half our stuff. So that was the biggest challenge," Lucy Sato said recently from her Midori condominiums, a private development for residents 55 and older.

Like most seniors, the Satos accumulated a lifetime's worth of possessions. Making the move meant they had to strategically scale down their belongings, what's known as downsizing.

At their real estate agent's suggestion, they attended a two-hour downsizing seminar taught by Connie Walton of Smooth Move and offered through Windermere Real Estate and Nikkei Concerns, a leading provider of elder care services in the Pacific Northwest for 30 years. The Midori was developed by NC Enterprises, a wholly owned, for-profit subsidiary of Nikkei Concerns.

"We came to the downsizing seminar and we got a lot of pointers that helped with the transition," Lucy Sato said. She recalled vividly some of Walton's advice: "She said don't throw anything away because you don't know the value of it."

During the stress of moving, people often make bad decisions about what to keep and give away, Walton explained.

"People are vulnerable at the time of downsizing because they're tired and overwhelmed," Walton asserted. "They just want to get rid of the stuff. So they throw stuff away before they have time to figure out what they have."

Walton recommends seeking professional advice to help determine which personal items are valuable.

"A lot of people think they know what has value, but that possession may have more sentimental value than real value. They want to sell things on their own but they under-price the good things and overprice the old things," she said.

Bob Sato saved his personal correspondence during the internment of Japanese Americans and his later military service records during World War II as well as his letters while serving as a commander of the Japanese American veterans association, Nisei Vets. And Lucy Sato had an extensive fine-art book collection.

After much contemplation, Bob donated his personal papers to the Wing Luke Museum, and Lucy had her books appraised at the Seattle Asian Art Museum before selling most of her collection.

Nikkei Concerns and the Midori's real estate agents anticipated the community's need for downsizing classes when the Midori was built in 2003.

"Many people may feel overwhelmed. They can come to the seminar and get some momentum going, and that helps," Windermere agent Dale Kaneko said.

The close association between the Midori and Nikkei Concerns provides a built-in community for Midori residents and access to the organization's continuum of care, a range of programs serving seniors throughout all stages of aging, from wellness classes and adult day programs to assisted-living and skilled-nursing services.

Walton said her class offers more than advice on distributing possessions. The class also prepares seniors for the transition into a new home and a new lifestyle.

Many seniors, for example, struggle with the sentimental emotions of selling their long-time homes and navigating the home selling process. Walton suggests planning early for the move while seniors are emotionally and physically fit. This provides ample time to sort through possessions and move at a comfortable pace.

A plan should include identifying and setting aside the essential items you'll need in the new home, such as items used on a daily basis, items that have real or sentimental value, or belongings that add to your quality of life.

"Studies on seniors in transition say if a person can start early enough and make decisions for themselves, they tend to be happier about the new place and adjust better," Walton said.

Fred Nakagawa, a recent downsizing seminar graduate, said he has no intention of moving from his Beacon Hill condo, yet he took the class to clear his clutter.

"There's no need for me to hang on to anything," Nakagawa said. "I'm consolidating things to make life simple."

For more information on downsizing or Smooth Move, contact Connie Walton at (206) 935-8795. Or for information on the Midori condominiums, contact Dale Kaneko at (206) 947-1223, or information about Nikkei Concerns call (206) 323-7100.

Johnathen McKernan may be reached at

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