rules for downsizing

One of the biggest contributors to downsizing overwhelm is all of the decisions that need to be made.  While there are no set rules for downsizing  that apply to every situation, most people will benefit from a strategic approach to the sorting process. 

In my mind, the sorting stage of the process has one primary goal that should take precedence over all others: You need to select what is going with you to your next residence.  To accomplish this goal, it may not (necessarily!) be necessary to handle everything you own.  If you keep the focus on just what you will want and need in the future, you can actually get through this phase with relatively few decisions.

Many of my clients are faced with emptying large homes that contains decades’ worth of belongings, and for many, they will need to reduce their belongings by 80%.  It’s very common for people to begin their downsizing process by digging into boxes and bags that have gathered dust for years.  

While those items will need to be dealt with eventually, it’s highly unlikely that whatever is in those boxes will make it into the rowboat.  It may be necessary to sort through buried boxes to find artifacts of personal or family history that should be preserved, but in general, most people keep their truly valuable items within close reach.

If piles of stuff are stressing you out, it’s a good idea to keep the focus on the 20% that you currently and regularly use instead. 

To help guide that process, I employ a thought exercise to help my clients get a handle what they want to take with them. I call it the Rowboat Rules for Downsizing.

The Rowboat Rules for Downsizing

Imagine your next residence is on a private island, and your means of transportation there is a one-way trip on your own personal rowboat.

In this thought exercise, you’ve arranged shipment of your furniture and necessary housewares, but your discretionary items, collections, decorative wares and keepsakes will need to go with you on your rowboat.

There are many benefits to this approach:

  • A concrete idea of how much space you’ll have to fill with optional items
  • A method of focusing on the belongings that mean the most to you
  • Freedom from the perceived need to sort through each and every item in your house
  • Lower costs for packing and moving

Plan ahead to free up space on your rowboat

Advancements in technology have made digital storage much easier to achieve, even for those who aren’t technologically savvy.  Whether you can manage it yourself, or if you need a little help, you will definitely want to use technology to your advantage to preserve your collections in a digital format. 

Easy ways to use technology to free up space in your rowboat include:

  • Eliminate old technology (slide carousels, old laptops, cameras etc.) 
  • Scan or photograph letters and handwritten cards. 
  • Figure out how to access to digital books.
  • Take photos of beloved possessions

Other ways to save memories and space too:

  • Give yourself permission to split up your collections. It’s OK to take four place settings of your wedding china, for instance. 
  • Combine bits and pieces of memorable items into a scrapbook, quilt, or collage.    
  • Plan ahead. Consult with an interior designer to determine a strategy for what will fit and look great in your new space.  Plan wall space, and know where decorative items will be placed.

If you are thoughtful and strategic in packing your proverbial rowboat, you’ll find that you’ve eliminated hundreds of potential decisions.  For some people, after separating out their most treasured possessions and doing the work of digital preservation, the job feels almost over.  And, it actually can be. If you can give yourself permission to leave everything else behind, your downsizing project can proceed with little intervention from you. 

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