Why downsizing and moving to a retirement home could be the best move you make

There are two kinds of moves that occur when you’re older. Ailing seniors enter a nursing home, while healthy retirees may decide to relocate to an assisted-living facility or continuing care retirement community.

For those going into a nursing home, there’s little to celebrate. But many in the other group actually look forward to enjoying a clean, well-tended environment with easy access to meals and a full calendar of events.

Let’s assume you’re in that second category of vibrant retirees heading to an active, attractive community of your peers. Even if you’re excited about starting a new phase of life, you’ll still face a period of adjustment as you get acclimated to your new digs.

The process gets easier if you plan your move with care and take steps to hit the ground running as you get settled. Your frame of mind will largely determine whether your transition goes smoothly.

Follow the three Ps to increase the odds of a successful move: proactive, positive and prepared.

Proactive. Adopting a proactive mind-set helps you gain a sense of control over the situation. Rather than wait for your new neighbors to approach you, initiate conversations with them.

Challenge yourself to ask at least one question whenever you meet a resident. Show curiosity so that you’re constantly learning about the community and soliciting tips on activities and resources at your disposal.

If you’re shy, it’s understandable to remain guarded and observe from a distance. But too much passivity early on can leave you feeling isolated rather than engaged in your surroundings.

Positive. A positive frame of mind works to your advantage. If you’re happy about the move, your enthusiasm will radiate outward and draw people to you. But if you’re a grudging newcomer—and repeatedly express doubts or dismay at having to be there—you risk driving away potential friends.

Prepared. Preparation reduces anxiety. Many senior communities distribute checklists to help new arrivals manage the logistics of the move.

“Most of our residents have spent one to one-and-a-half years planning their move with our team,” said Kim O’Keefe, executive director of RiverWoods Durham, a continuing care retirement community in Durham, N.H. “For some of that time, the focus is on helping them downsize” due to the smaller living quarters they’re moving into.

Before the move, RiverWoods sends a downsizing expert to the resident’s home to help disburse contents by selling or donating some items. A “move-in coordinator” visits as well, to offer packing tips, temporary storage options and other guidance.

“[Our coordinator] may also go over how to move their pets,” O’Keefe said. “Pets are a big part of their life” and can help provide comfort and continuity as seniors adjust to an unfamiliar environment.

In the months before your move, keep a running list of every bill or delivery you receive and every service provider you use. That way, you can notify all of them of your change of address in a systematic way.

A common worry is lack of space in the new place. If you’re accustomed to living in a spacious home, cutting your square footage by half or more can prove jolting.

“A resident told me, ‘I’m moving into a smaller apartment so that I can live a bigger life,’” O’Keefe said. “That’s the essence of what this is. The entire community is their space—the salon, spa, library, creative arts studio.”

To ease the transition, maintain meaningful links to your past. Ideally, you want to step into your new life without entirely erasing the old one.

“Don’t fill your rooms with all new furniture,” said Amie Clark, co-founder of the Senior List, an online resource for older adults. “Put up lots of familiar things like family photos” and other mementos.

The memories of these keepsakes will give you comfort, and these items can serve double duty as an icebreaker when neighbors visit.

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