Tips to Help You Downsize

Downsizing can be a stressful and tolling process, both emotionally and physically. This process is not just for seniors; some may make the choice to downsize for a number of reasons: simplify life, cut costs, be closer to family, address medical needs, live in an area with higher cost of living, and more.

Within the past year, I helped to downsize my elderly parents and moved them into my new home. It took much more work than my family anticipated, however, it was definitely worth it for our quality of life.

Here are some tips to make downsizing easier.

Start early

Give yourself plenty of time for this process, because it will inevitably take longer than you expect. Take your time, and don’t try to sort through your entire house in one day or weekend. A couple of weeks to a month is a more realistic timeline. Take it one room at a time.

It sometimes helps to start planning your furniture and other large items first. Understand your needs. If you know you’re moving from a three-bedroom home to a two-bedroom home, don’t move three beds, dressers, and bedside tables to your new place. It costs money to haul big furniture, and if there’s nowhere to put it, you’ll be forced to pay for a storage unit.

  • REALTOR TIP: In the event that an immediate home sale is needed, place items in multiple (short-term) storage units to divide and conquer. This will tidy up your space for buyers to see more of the property and give it an “uncluttered” feel. After a year (or even a few months), take inventory of items you haven’t looked for. What’s left can can be shared or donated.

Start small

You probably already things you want to get rid of in the kitchen or garage, but avoid diving into such a big room at the very beginning.

Start in an area with little emotional attachment. The laundry room or linen closet are good options. If you’re moving into a one-bedroom apartment, easy things to get rid of are excess bed sheets or even curtains. Some rooms or closets tend to accumulate all the old hobbies, boxes, old holiday decorations, and clutter.

  • REALTOR TIP: When was the last time you felt joy or spent time knitting or used craft items from a hobby? If they aren’t worth selling – find groups with these interests on Facebook in your area, list those items, box the up and opt for a no-contact porch pickup. Viola!

Eliminate rooms you won’t have in your new home

Look carefully at the floor plan of your new space or do a walk-through with a tape measure to really get a feel for where you can place your tables, chairs, and sofas. You may realize you can keep your sofa and a chair, but it’s time to give away your loveseat.

If you’re moving to an apartment or townhome, you might not have a garage or office space. Nearly everything in those spaces will need to be sold, donated, tossed, or relocated to other rooms. Working backwards is a great method. Pick out the stuff you don’t want and pack the rest.

Consider legacy gifts early.

Is there an antique clock in your foyer that you plan to one day leave to your son? Maybe a china collection your granddaughter adores? If there are certain heirlooms or pieces you plan to leave to your family in your will, consider giving those gifts now.

Your downsize doesn’t have to be stressful, sad, or scary. Stay positive and get excited about a simpler life in a new place with less clutter.

  • REALTOR TIP: Ask family members during the clean-out, what traditions did your parents and grandparents create or pass on to you? Items associated with these may hold sentimental value for others and they may take them off your hands – you may also recruit their help in the process.

Get rid of duplicates

You’ll find this is especially true in your kitchen. You have two or three spatulas and ladles, a couple of oversized stock pots, and four different sized cookie sheets.

If you’re feeling wary of handing off that second roasting pan because you use it every Christmas (but at no other time during the year), consider giving it to a child or grandchild who can bring it over for the holiday and take it home when they leave.

  • REALTOR TIP: Items that can be considered sentimental, can also be repurposed into unique décor. Your mother’s cracked or chipped wedding china can be turned into mosaic art, garden bird baths or outdoor planters.
    • DIY Art Instructions and Project Credit – Homelife
    • DIY Bird Bath Instructions and Project Credit – Patriciaspots

Only make ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ piles

Some things are going to tug at your heartstrings, and you’ll be tempted to make a third pile of things to keep if you have space. You could end up with a ‘Maybe’ pile that’s bigger than either of the other two.

When that happens, you haven’t really made any progress in sorting, just moved it across the room. If it’s placed in storage and you don’t find yourself looking for it, it’s just extra things you may not need.

  • REALTOR TIP: No one rents a storage unit thinking to themselves, “I plan to keep paying this rent for the next 10 years.” Yet that often happens. Remember the one-year rule: If you don’t use it over an entire year, you don’t really use it. That rule lets you keep seasonal clothes and decorations but doesn’t let you keep the fluff, the lint of life that slowly accumulates over time.

Don’t be afraid to sell things yourself.

With Facebook Marketplace, numerous smartphone apps, yard sales, and an abundance of consignment shops, selling your belongings is very simple. You probably won’t make a ton of money on most items, so consider how much time you want to invest. Yard sales are usually faster, but items won’t sell for as much.

  • REALTOR TIP: If you aren’t handy with a computer, identify a younger family member to help. If that all sounds like more than you care to deal with, hiring a firm to run an estate sale might be your best bet.

Maximize Vertical Space

50 pairs of shoes? These can be easily stacked vertically.  There are a lot of ways to maximize space. If you have a wide dresser, sell it and find a used tall, narrower bureau for the same amount. If you want to keep your wide dresser use it in other ways, for a substitute TV stand, where it doubles as storage space.

Old video cassettes, CDs, DVDs, photos, and crucial paper documents can be digitized and saved to the cloud or an external hard drive to free up space. You can fit your most important documents, such as birth certificates and social security cards, in a single folder.

The piece of paper a photo is printed on isn’t what’s valuable. It’s the photo itself, which doesn’t need to take up space collecting dust in an old album. Store it digitally to free up space without losing your fondest memories.

  • REALTOR TIP: It can be hard to let go of a lifetime collection of porcelain dolls or snow globes from all your vacations, but they will eat up a lot of space or end up stored in a box where you’ll never see them. Instead, pick a couple to keep and take high-resolution photos of the rest, then have them made into a photo book that can sit on your coffee table. You and guests will be able to enjoy them without the clutter.

Avoid Hidden Costs

When you downsize, don’t lose sight of the goal of saving money. It’s all too easy to go on a spending spree of new space-saving furniture. Aim to buy used whenever possible.

  • REALTOR TIP: If you move from a detached house into a condominium, beware of condo fees and assessments. A $250,000 condo may not be cheaper than a $300,000 house at the end of the year if the association hits you with hefty fees.
  • REALTOR TIP: Watch out for quaint little fixer-uppers, that could be a money pit if it needs new wiring, new plumbing, new fixtures, new appliances, or new anything (mechanical or structural).
  • REALTOR TIP: Don’t forget exterior maintenance and upkeep. A small house on a large plot could still need plenty of landscaping and grounds maintenance.
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