Decision Fatigue & Downsizing

In this video we discuss decision fatigue in the downsizing process and how to avoid it.

The concept of decision fatigue has been widely studied in both the areas of healthcare and financial services, but the popular press hasn’t had much to say about how decision fatigue affects those contemplating downsizing. 

This is unfortunate because choosing to make a residential change following retirement involves a variety of decisions surrounding possible future healthcare needs, as well as the financial consequences of these decisions. 

What is decision fatigue? 

Decision fatigue, also referred to by researchers as “ego depletion,” is a psychological phenomenon surrounding a person’s capacity to make multiple and complex decisions effectively. Essentially, when someone is faced with making multiple decisions in a short span of time they may become overwhelmed. This overwhelm may result in poor decision-making, refusal to make further decisions, or complete abdication of decision-making to others. 

“We have all experienced decision fatigue,” says Nikki Buckelew, Certified Senior Downsizing Coach and Founder of Seniors Real Estate Institute. “At the end of a long or particularly stressful workday, when you can’t decide what to have or where to go for dinner, you’re likely experiencing decision fatigue.” 

While the consequences of selecting a spot for an evening meal may be trivial, the stakes are higher when it comes to selecting a new home or retirement community and what to do with long held personal belongings.

What causes decision fatigue?

Most of us make multiple decisions from the time we wake to the time we fall asleep. Many of those decisions are routine and require little thought. Adding more complex or frequent choices, however, requires more thought and effort which can drain our energy stores.  As we deplete our energy and tax our working memory, we begin to feel the effects of decision fatigue.

Stress, illness, disability, grief, and pain can all exacerbate decision fatigue. When our focus is on feeling better, recovering from injury, or managing emotional or physical pain, we simply don’t have as much energy to give to decision-making in lower-priority areas. 

“There came a point after my husband died that I told my kids to just deal with things. I didn’t have it in me to make another decision,” said Joan Wilkins. “They found my new apartment and moved my things. I do have a few regrets, but at the end of the day it all had to get done and I simply couldn’t do it.” 

Signs of decision fatigue

Those experiencing decision fatigue may become tired, short tempered, distracted, anxious, or simply overwhelmed. Some might obsess over seemingly simple tasks, while others may withdraw and become isolated. 

Effects of decision fatigue on downsizing 

Illness: Depleted mental and emotional stores can lead to decreased immune responses and a higher risk for illness or disease. 

Decision avoidance and procrastination: Putting off decisions until deadlines are looming may result in later regrets due to rushed decisions. 

Increased costs: Studies show that financial decision making is poorer for those experiencing decision fatigue. 

Ways to avoid decision fatigue

Plan ahead

Making important decisions early in the process can not only help with decision fatigue, but it may result in fewer regrets in the end. 

“We encourage people to familiarize themselves with real estate contracts and estimates for moving expenses, as well as any retirement community leases, before trying to tackle space planning or other downsizing tasks,” says Buckelew. “Legal documents are complex and require a clear head to fully understand their implications.” 

Take breaks

Create a schedule and if decision fatigue begins to set in, take a break. Sometimes a short break will do, although a day or two to rest and restore mental energy may be necessary. 

“A mistake we often see people make is trying to deal with too many rooms or spaces in one setting,” said Jake Stover, Relocation Director with OKC Mature Moves, a professional move management firm based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. “Powering through isn’t always the best strategy. Biting off small chunks over longer periods can help curb overwhelm.”

Recruit support

Whether it’s a trusted family member, friend, or move management professional, relying on those more experienced with downsizing can be helpful.

“It’s not that people aren’t capable. In most situations they are perfectly capable of managing things,” says Buckelew. “The moving process, however, especially having lived in the same place for decades, is complex and taxes emotional, physical, and cognitive reserves. A little help is a good thing no matter your age. When the helpers have experience, that’s even better.

If you or someone you know is struggling with decision fatigue and would like to talk to a downsizing specialist, give us a call at 512-818-0988 or email at