Downsizing: A How-to Guide

small house on grass

A friend of mine and his wife recently arrived at a crossroads in their lives. Their adult children had finally moved out of the house (much too late, he said), and now it was just the two of them in a rather large house with a half-acre of yard to take care of. So, they made the decision to put the house on the market and “downsize” into a smaller, more manageable townhouse.

He went on to say they were really have a difficult time trying to figure out what they should bring to their new place. He said they really didn’t even know where to start. I gave him some advice that I’ll share with you here.

Have a Heart-to-Heart with Yourself

I told him that the first thing he needed to do was take as much emotion out of the equation as possible. This is easier said than done. He and his wife had spent 30 years in that home. Everywhere they looked there was a memory attached to it, from the living room furniture they sat on to open Christmas presents, to the many wonderful family meals in the dining room, to the games of backgammon and chess in the family room.

Experts suggest starting the process by creating a list of all the items you can’t live without. This forces you to be judicious in your decision-making process about what is kept and what goes. A question you might ask yourself is “what would I replace if everything were gone tomorrow?”

If you’re lucky enough to have your adult children living in the area, let them come over and pick out things that hold fond memories for them. You’ll be lightening the load of items you take or donate, and they’ll have items they can cherish from their time growing up.

You might also want to consider enlisting the services of a trusted friend—one that is particularly organized—to help you sort through all the items. This person can look at things much more objectively than you might be able to. To avoid any resentment, you might consider agreeing to give this person a deciding vote after hearing from each side.

One other option is to enlist professional help. The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) is a great resource for finding local experts in the art organization. You can do a search on their site for a professional organizer in your area that specializes in moving.

blueprintRoom by Room

Tackling a downsize can seem an impossible task when you look at your whole house. But by going from room to room, you can compartmentalize the decisions only to that room, thus making it easier to envision what you need and what you don’t.

Living Room, Family Room & Bedroom

Small space living requires some good, old-fashioned math. Knowing how big your new living room and bedrooms are will determine if your old furniture can still fit. Measure your bed frame, dressers, sofa, loveseat, and any other large item that you intend on taking. Draw a map of each room in your new place, marking the lines with their length. Now loosely draw each furniture piece onto the map and mark its length and width. This will give you a good representation of what’s going to making the moving cut and what won’t.

Kitchen

How many kitchen items you plan on bringing depends on the situation you’re moving into. If you plan on moving into an apartment in the city, do you plan to eat out more? Try to think of how much cooking you’ll do. If you only bake once a year, maybe it’s a good time to give away that classic kitchen-aid mixer you’ve got.

Closets

You know we have to say it—the old adage about getting rid of items that you haven’t worn in a year. Only this time, it really holds up. Chances are, if you’re downsizing, you will not have that luxurious walk-in closet you had before. Get real about the chance for wearing that sequin-studded cocktail dress or that funny plaid sports jacket that works so well on St. Patrick’s Day. One-time a year isn’t enough to keep items of clothing. An option in your new life is to rent specific items of clothing.

Tools and Yard Equipment

This again depends on the type of home you’re moving into. If it’s a smaller house with a yard, you may still need the lawnmower but may not need 4 rakes and 3 hoes.  For guys, it’s hard to get rid of all the tools, nuts, and bolts you’ve accumulated.  Again, honesty is the best policy. My friend said he had kept some old door hinges for 25 years with the idea that he’d eventually use them for something. Time to let all the rainy-day project materials go to a new hoarder.

Old donations boxGive Away, Sell or Scrap

Now that you’ve figured out what you want to take with you, you’ll have to do something with the rest. Many people believe that their possessions are worth something and figure they can sell them on Craigslist or eBay. While this might work, you have to consider how much time it will take you to list the item, package it, transport it to the post office or meet with the potential buyer. Often, the time and effort spent doing this outweighs the cash you’ll receive from the sale. A better idea is to donate these items to Goodwill, Salvation Army or other local charity. You’ll get a tax deduction and be doing a good thing in the process.  If you’ve got items that don’t work right or are broken, throw them in the trash. You haven’t fixed them yet, so you’re most likely never going to!

Moving Important Documents

An absolute must is to gather all your important papers together and make a plan for putting them somewhere safe. I’m talking about items such as social security cards, medical records, insurance policies and the like. These can be stored a filing cabinet or, if your new place doesn’t have room for this kind of storage, consider renting a safe-deposit box. Just make sure your loved-ones know about it. You may also want to make note of it in your will.

Enjoy Your Smaller Footprint

By doing the hard work of going through your belongings with a critical eye to keeping just what’s needed, you’ll be able to enjoy living in your new, smaller space without the clutter.

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About the Author: Derek Hines

About the Author: Derek Hines

Internet Marketing Specialist

Derek is originally from the great state of Wisconsin (go Badgers), but is slowly becoming a Pacific Northwesterner. As part of the Internet Marketing team, he writes extensively on storage, moving and life for West Coast Self-Storage, based in Everett, Washington.