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The time is right! You’ve decided your home is too big for your current needs, or you want to be free of maintenance and upkeep. Maybe you’re moving to be closer to family, or moving into a more manageable space so you can age in place. Downsizing works for people of all ages, and for many reasons. This type of change can give you a fresh outlook on life and even inspire lifestyle changes.
Of course, as with any change, there is a flipside. Downsizing can be overwhelming and emotional. It can bring up bittersweet memories, lead to distracting trips down memory lane, and cause stress or even guilt at the thought of getting rid of family mementos or heirlooms. It can be even more challenging if an adult child or siblings are helping their parent. Grown children may disagree over who gets what—or may not want anything.
The challenges and distractions of downsizing can prolong the process and the stress. To avoid living in a permanent state of disarray and indecision, it’s good to make a plan and stick to it. Here are some tips.
Be Realistic When Downsizing
The best way to start your downsizing project is to simply acknowledge that yes, this is a big challenge that will require lots of planning and perhaps discussion (for example, with your adult children). If the topic is emotional or stressful enough for you to need an outlet, talk to a friend. You might even consider talking to a therapist—you’re going through a big change, and a therapist can teach you how to cope with your emotions.
Being realistic also applies to how long downsizing can take. You may have only a couple of closets to clear out, or an entire lifetime of belongings. Downsizing a family home can take six months to one year (or more!). Once you start, you may discover you have a lot more “stuff” than you thought.
Allow yourself plenty of time, and do the same for family members or others you’re giving things to. Set a deadline for yourself, and start well in advance.
Make a Plan to Age in Place
This project can get hectic pretty quickly. Once you decide on a deadline, make a plan that moves you along efficiently. Your plan might include these steps:
- Take inventory. It sounds daunting, but many downsizing and moving experts recommend this first step. You might want to focus on furniture and other large items. The goal is to decide which items will fit into your new home and lifestyle.
- Take pictures. Taking pictures of your belongings “can be a way to help you select what to take with you,” suggests moving expert Karen Shinn. If you have artwork from your children or grandchildren, consider photographing that, too—if you need to discard the item, you’ll still have a lasting image.
- Go one room at a time. Sorting items in more than one room at a time will only add to your stress. Start in a room that will be relatively easy—even if it’s not a room, but a closet or junk drawer instead. That will give you an early boost.
- Sort, sort, sort. This is a common tactic because it works so well. Decide on your sorting categories and sort every item. Categories might include keep, toss, donate, give away, and sell.
- Get appraisals on specialty items. Understanding an item’s market value may help you make decisions. Figurines or other collectibles may not carry the value you expected, or you may have hidden treasure in your attic. Work with well-recommended appraisers or estate companies.
- Decide what you want to sell, and how. There are many options here, including online marketplaces and estate sales. Here’s a fresh idea: Host a live online giveaway or selling party. “Set aside your unwanted items and share them with friends and family on Zoom to see if someone else would like them,” suggested moving company executive Laura McHolm in an article for ApartmentTherapy.com. “This is a great way to reunite with friends, find your unwanted things a good home, and declutter for your move all at the same time.”
Our “stuff” means a lot to us, especially if it’s accumulated over decades. David Ekerdt, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of Kansas, calls this our “material convoy.” “There’s always a convoy of things following us around” through our lives and moves, Ekerdt said in an article for the university. He interviewed over 100 people who were in the midst of downsizing for his book, “Downsizing: Confronting Our Possessions in Later Life.” “Many people assume it’s pretty easy to do,” he said. “But our participants claim it’s one of the hardest things they’ve ever done.”
So: Take a deep breath. Make a solid plan. You can do this!
Interested in learning more about aging in place? Download our free Aging-in-Place Guide for practical advice you can use yourself, or share with a loved one!
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