Spokesman Review Feature Story

Downsizing Matters
Senior Resource Panel shares wisdom, advice on difficult choices for seniors and their families

Tyler Tjomsland photo

Vince McPhail, an Edward Jones financial advisor and member of the Senior Resource Panel, speaks to seniors Thursday at Rockwood South Hill in Spokane.

April 20, 2015
Erica Curless The Spokesman-Review

As people age, they often are “frozen” in place because the idea of downsizing is overwhelming and unimaginable. Spokane Realtor Kathy Bryant said that’s the biggest mistake seniors can make.

“There’s such a fear,” she said. “They don’t do anything for fear of doing the wrong thing.”
Educating people about downsizing and replacing the fear with proactive options is the mission of the Senior Resource Panel, a handful of local professionals who make presentations across the region in an effort to empower not just seniors but their children and families.

Earlier this month, Bryant, along with DeAnne Wilfong of Smooth Transitions and Vince McPhail of Edward Jones, put on a lunchtime panel at Rockwood South Hill focusing on downsizing – the ins and outs of assessing if your home is too big and unsafe, how to get rid of a lifetime of possessions and how to finance such a move. Nearly 75 people attended and others were turned away, so the group put on an encore presentation the following week.

Eowyn Sallis, Rockwood’s marketing director, said this is the second year for the Art of Downsizing presentation and it’s always popular, with more than 140 participants.

“I think partly it’s the real estate market becoming so successful that it’s really urging people to go ahead and decide to list their home and downsize to a more simplified life,” Sallis said.

Wilfong said another reason is the large baby boom population. She estimates that in Spokane about 50 people turn age 65 daily, and most of them have no idea about downsizing resources or what type of senior communities are available. She added that about 50 percent of her clients don’t have wills or any medical directives and that many don’t have a handle on their finances or benefits such as Veterans Affairs benefits.

Wilfong had given free seminars on downsizing, aka “what do I do with all this stuff,” for years. Then she got the idea to bring in other professionals who shared the philosophy of ensuring seniors are in control and proactive about their future. Along with McPhail, they polled people about what kind of information was needed in the community.

Now the panel does free presentations at senior communities, churches, large companies and for any other groupthat has an interest. Although downsizing is often the main topic, the panel can customize presentations and invite professionals who can provide information on how to write obituaries and plan funerals, craft memory books with old family photos, computer and Internet services and elder law topics.

Wilfong said about 80 percent of people want to stay in their homes until they die, hence the popular buzzword of “aging-in-place.” In reality, she said, only about 10 percent actually stay in their homes. She said that doesn’t always mean going to a retirement community or assisted living. Often it’s moving closer to children.
She said it’s important for people to make these plans before a crisis, such as a fall, illness or dementia. Not only does it give the person options and control of where they want to live, it also gives them time to make new friends and social networks that are important as people age.

“We move people who are in their 90s and are recluses,” Wilfong said. “They have an injury and can no longer go home. Now they have no social structure built.”

Bryant said it’s so important for people to do the research up front and keep families involved and do things on the senior’s terms while they can still make their own decisions.

“If you are in control of where you move, the transition is always so much brighter,” she said.