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5 expert tips to help organize small homes for seniors

Tiny homes can be safe, smart, and functional

On left, gray Flip-Back Accent Chair with throw blanket hanging out. On right, colorful collapsible colanders on top of clear acrylic 3-tier rolling rack. Credit: Mission Hills Furniture / Zulay Kitchen / The Container Store

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Granny pods, elder cottages, echo housing, tiny houses, or accessory dwelling units. Call them what you will, but tiny homes for seniors aging in place in the backyards of adult family members or loved ones require serious downsizing and organization. Despite the effort, the process can also be extremely worth it financially, says Henry Moseley, president of Home Care Suites in Tampa.

The return on investment for the starting price for his 450-square foot Floridian model, for example, is realized at two and a half years based on the typical cost of long-term care: $3,000 monthly. Such cottages offer a unique way to maintain long-term privacy and proximity, he says. Many prefab granny pods are designed on one floor, with wide doorways and low-threshold showers to accommodate wheelchairs. Others, like Elder Cottages, offer residents with mobility challenges elevated toilets and reinforced bathroom walls for optional grab bars.

No matter whether you’re a senior researching tiny homes, downsizing to a smaller house, or even moving into a loft apartment, here are some tips and hints on the best values from top home organizers who frequently work with retirees.

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1. Cook up storage solutions

On left, colorful collapsible colanders. On right, 3-piece of stainless pots with lids.
Credit: Joseph Joseph / Camco / Reviewed

The concept of nesting is a major space saver if you have a small area to work with.

Kitchen remodeling is one of the easiest ways to downsize, says organization and productivity coach Caroline Gunter, CEO of The Swedish Organizer. The whole idea is that seniors spend more time with their families in the main living space, so they aren’t spending as much time cooking meals for themselves. That means there’s less need for bulky cake pans and cumbersome appliances.

“Nesting everything is amazing, especially things you may need a lot of in a home, like bowls, mugs, and cookware,” she says. Gunter is a fan of stackables like this set of RV-friendly pots and pans ($144).

Julie Coraccio, a professional organizer and certified life coach in West Virginia, raves about collapsible colanders and anything stackable and colorful from Joseph Joseph. Not only are the bright tones suitable for aging eyes, but this set ($50) offers a mixing bowl, measuring spoons, and a strainer that all fit into each other for storage in small spaces. Coraccio suggests storing smaller kitchen items in this foldable desk with shelves that serves a dual purpose for eating and working.

With her Swedish roots, it’s no surprise Gunter is a fan of IKEA’s minimalist design. She recommends the Norden drop-leaf table to make storage, shelving, and dining easier.

$50 at Williams Sonoma

$144 at Amazon

2. Invest in foldable or multi-purpose furniture

On left, gray Flip-Back Accent Chair with throw blanket hanging out. On right, green velvet round ottoman.
Credit: Mission Hills Furniture / Etta Avenue / Reviewed

The Mission Hills Furniture Flip-Back Accent Chair has soft suede material paired with a padded seat cushion.

There’s no way to do ‘tiny living’ without creative ways to store things,” says Coraccio. Luckily, there are more ways than ever to squirrel away books and blankets thanks to furniture with storage.

She’s a fan of ottomans ($122) that can double as seating for guests. And an upholstered, compact storage and seating bench near the door is ideal for seniors who may need a space to sit when taking off shoes or when transporting groceries inside. Another favorite is this accent chair ($200) with a pop-up storage cabin and a back that flips down so it can be easily stored itself.

With zero home remodeling required, this convertible upholstered folding sleeper collapses into a large ottoman. But for seniors who may have mobility issues, a wall bed with storage and more back support is Coraccio’s choice. The made-to-order Breda Bed Urban Murphy model with hutches is her favorite model for compact spaces.

$122 at Wayfair

$200 at Amazon

3. Buy multi-use bathroom tools

On left, pink bottle of Philosophy shower gel and shampoo. On right, silver shower bar.
Credit: Philosophy / Moen / Reviewed

Make your shower experience a luxurious one with a quality shower gel and shampoo.

It’s all about “multi-purpose” in the bathroom, says Coraccio. She suggests streamlining multiple cleaning products into an all-in-one, like shower gel that doubles as shampoo ($22); and those from Simple Green. A collapsible bucket is easy to store, and also easy to expand when it comes time to sponge or mop, she says.

Any aging-in-place bathroom requires safety features like grab bars, but those with shelving are essential for tiny homes. Moen offers two bars that include storage options—a traditional model and a handy corner model ($54).

$22 at Philosophy

$54 at Build.com

4. Get creative storage and shelves

On left, clear storage container. On right, clear acrylic 3-tier rolling cart.
Credit: The Container Store / Reviewed

Keep your valuable items where they're visible and easily accessible in these storage containers.

Gunter loves modular shelving and storage, including this rolling cart ($100) that can be moved around easily. Coraccio’s pick is a bed stand organizer with three sizes of open-front bins that can be switched around for entryway storage, for instance. Since seniors are often taking several medications, streamlining storage of multiple bottles is often one of her first approaches, Coraccio says. This 28-day model with lights and alarms is among her favorites.

For granny pods, Gunter suggests asking the owner of the larger home on site to clear out some attic or garage space to store seasonal items or “memories.” Many of Coraccio’s clients opt to digitize decades of photos onto a frame meant for those with limited wall space that allows images to rotate. Lightweight, clear totes ($20) make it easy for those with limited grip strength and sight considerations to see what they’ve put in storage, says Gunter.

$100 at The Container Store

$20 at The Container Store

5. Consider accessories and apps

Inexpensive folding hooks ($9) are among Gunter’s favorite low-cost hacks to tiny living without major home modifications or remodeling projects, while Coraccio often uses—or suggests that her clients download—two apps. For those wondering what furniture will fit into their tiny home, Magicplan (free trial) creates 3D floor plans. When photos of the home are uploaded, the app calculates dimensions of the spaces so that any new furniture purchases fit in easily.

And for those trying to decide what to keep and what to part with, Sortly (free trial) creates a visual inventory of a home. The app helps seniors keep track of items with QR labels and searchable tags.

$9 at IKEA

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