Complete Guide to Downsizing
Start The Process Ahead of Time
The decision to downsize, i.e. moving from a larger home to a smaller one, is often triggered after a life change, such as loss of a spouse, children leaving home, etc. It is often an emotional time and feelings of loss may be present, casting doubt on the decision to make this change at all. If you can work through these feelings, perhaps with the help of family and friends, you may join the ranks of those who have done it and are thrilled with their move. A reduction in expenses, less upkeep, and a simpler lifestyle have made some people wonder why they didn't do it sooner.
This guide focuses on some of the more practical aspects of downsizing, which may help you clarify how to move forward.
If you know well in advance that you will be downsizing, don’t wait. Start the process today.
By starting early, you’ll facilitate the process, you’ll also have more time to sell large, valuable items for a better price, and you’ll be less stressed out.
To begin, grab a notebook or note-taking app, and start taking inventory of ALL of your belongings.
As you take inventory, make sure you take lots of pictures too. Not only will these help you remember all the things you have around the house, but the pictures can also be used to preserve memories of precious items you may need to part with.
Once you’ve taken inventory, highlight those items that your friends and family members have “stored” in your home, as well as large heirloom items you planned on passing on to family members.
Next, start calling your friends and family members and ask them to pick up their possessions. And if you were planning on willing large and bulky heirlooms, such as a grandfather clock, consider gifting them now.
Next, start going through all of your archived documents. Store away important ones such as deeds, wills, power of attorneys, passports, military records, etc. Keep them safely stored away in a safe or secure file cabinet, and let a trusted family member know where they’re located.
Shred and/or burn documents you don’t need, such as old canceled checks, receipts, magazines, bank statements, etc. If you find a document you’re not sure whether you should get rid of, consult your tax attorney.
If you have more than one vehicle, consider keeping just one. Besides downsizing to a smaller home, getting rid of a vehicle (or all of them) could lead to large monetary savings.
In fact, according to AAA, if you factor in depreciation, fuel, insurance, and other car ownership expenses, it costs around $8,558 a year to own an average sedan in the US.
If you and your spouse are retired, you may be able to get by fine with just one car.
If getting rid of vehicles isn’t an option, consider downgrading to more affordable ones with better fuel efficiency.
Lastly, pay off your debt as quickly as possible (the waterfall payment method is a time tested strategy to get rid of credit cards and other bad debt).
And for ANY expense you need to have in the future (there will be many when it's time to actually move), live by this old school rule: if you can’t pay for it in full right now, you can’t afford it.
Keep in Mind Where You’re Going
Keeping your new home in mind is extremely important since it will determine how extensively you need to simplify your life.
For example, if your new place doesn’t have a yard, there’s no reason to keep any landscaping tools. Or if you’re downsizing from a 3-bedroom home to a 2-bedroom one, there’s no need to keep more than 4 or 5 sets of sheets and linens.
At the same time, focusing on your new home and thinking about all the new and exciting memories you will create will be of great psychological help. Moving is always a difficult experience, especially if you lived in your old place for decades, and you have tons of memories tied to it.
Start With the Easy Stuff
There are certain places in the home that accumulate more clutter than others. Places like the garage, the attic, and the basement.
However, don’t feel like these places need to be the first ones to be decluttered. Not only do these places tend to be very uncomfortable during the summer and winter, but these places tend to accumulate a plethora of items with emotional attachment.
From abandoned hobbies to holiday decorations, these places end up holding all the stuff that you just couldn’t bear to throw away in previous decluttering efforts.
Start with areas of the house with little to no emotional attachment, such as the laundry room, linen closet, yard or home gym.
Pro Tip: If your treadmill, Bowflex, or similar exercise equipment has become a glorified clothes rack, you probably won’t use them in your new home. Get rid of them. If you’re planning on staying physically active, join a gym instead!
By going through those rooms first, you’ll make immediate progress, and you’ll be more inspired to keep that momentum going.
Scale Up Your Effort
Now that you’ve gone through the easy(-er) stuff, it’s time to tackle the harder stuff.
Before you begin, it’s essential to define the difference between wants and needs.
Needs are things you cannot live without, like clothing, medical supplies, work tools, eating utensils, etc.
Certain items aren't TECHNICALLY needed but are very precious and irreplaceable. Items such as engagement rings, photo albums, deeds, diplomas, etc. you CANNOT afford to throw out.
Finally, there are other items you should keep because they make life A LOT EASIER, and get plenty of use. These could include toasters, blenders, coffee makers, crock pots, side tables, etc. If they are still in good shape and fit in your new home, it’s a good idea to keep them.
Anything else that doesn’t fall into these three categories could be considered “luxury” wants.
Pro Tip: If you’re helping elderly family members downsize, consider helping them move away early, so they don’t watch their beloved home being taken apart item by item.
While it’s important to know the difference between needs and wants, that doesn’t mean that you should be overly strict about it.
You want to simplify, not live like a monk.
However, if you want a successful downsizing, you do need to draw a line.
When deciding whether you should keep an item or not, try asking the following questions:
- Do I NEED to keep it, or do I just WANT to keep it?
- Does it hold sentimental value? Why? Is taking a photograph of it enough to keep its memory?
- How often do I use it? Has it been months or even years since I used it last?
- Do I have any other item that performs the same function, possibly even better?
And as William Morris says “Have nothing in your house you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
When answering these questions, be honest with yourself. Make sure you also include your spouse and family members in the decision process.
As you begin to separate items into items to keep and items to get rid of, you may be tempted to keep a “maybe pile”. Don’t give in.
More often than not, the maybe pile ends up getting larger than both the “yes” and “no” piles combined, and you actually end up slowing down or even stopping your downsizing efforts.
Find a new home for items you’re not keeping
Moving is expensive, especially if you hire a professional mover. The fewer items you take with you, the more affordable your move will be.
Once you know which items you will be getting rid of, you can find a new home for them.
Some ways of doing so include:
Hold a Yard Sale
The old-school yard sale still works. Not only does a yard sale help you get rid of clutter and make a bit of cash from your efforts, but it also places the burden of transporting the sold items on the buyer.
For best results, pick a yard-sale date that is convenient and likely to have pleasant weather.
Before planning your yard sale, make sure you check with your neighborhood association or city zoning regarding any yard sale requirements.
To draw the largest number of buyers as possible, invest in some signs. Place them around the neighborhood a few days in advance, and let everyone in your social media circles know about your yard sale.
Give Away Items to Friends and Family Members
Make a list of items that didn’t sell in your yard sale, and let your friends and family members know. They may be willing to take some of it.
Donate to Charities, Schools, Day Care Centers, Etc.
If you still have lots of items in great condition that you couldn’t sell and your loved ones had no use for, consider donating them.
Check on Google for charities, toy banks, and other places willing to accept them. Be sure to find one that will pick them up, if possible.
Say goodbye to your home
Take your time saying goodbye. It’s ok to bask in nostalgia or to even shed a tear or two. Take pictures if you must. Even creating a beautiful album of photos of the home throughout the seasons, holidays and special moments captured while you were there will make a great coffee table book for your new home while holding onto the memories of your last one.
It’s extremely important that the entire family supports each other during the downsizing process.
But once it’s time to say goodbye, the goodbye should be final. It’s ok to feel sad, but don’t lose focus on all the exciting things to come in the future. Focus on the fact that it’s a new and exciting beginning, not just the end of an era.
Make the transition
No matter how smoothly you managed to make the downsizing process, it won’t feel like home right away. Once you get to your new place, make sure you unpack those items that make your new home feel more comfortable and more familiar.
At the same time, the move-in day should be a happy event to share with friends and family, even if you’re getting help from professional movers.
Be sure to accept help from any family member or friend willing to help out, even if it’s just bringing food and snacks.
Try to keep the entire occasion happy and optimistic.
The adjustment process is, of course, a process. It takes time to adjust, and you can’t just rush it. Keep communication open with friends and family, but don’t overdo it either.
Downsizing is an excellent idea with lots of benefits. But it’s not a process that needs to be rushed. If you take the steps needed to make it as smooth as possible, you help make the process feel less painful.