Making a complicated move from a well-loved (and often stuffed-full!) home requires planning. In our downsizing businesses, we encourage our clients to start as early as two years out to allow ample time to process their belongings and make deliberate decisions about what to do with their stuff.
While a lot of people have that kind of time, others find themselves suddenly facing the need to downsize in a hurry. A combination of unexpected life changes, new flexibility, or financial decisions (like a hot real estate market!) can create what we in the business refer to as a “Hair on Fire” downsizing move or estate clear out.
How to Downsize in a Hurry
1) Involve your Realtor®.
We can’t stress this enough. If you have a property to sell, you’ll need an experienced Realtor® who understands your challenges and can anticipate potential roadblocks.
A skilled Realtor® will:
- Honor a realistic timeline to accommodate the sorting, moving and hauling that will be necessary to vacate the property.
- Negotiate as much time as possible for you to empty your home. You may consider asking for concessions, like a rent-back period, to buy yourself extra time if you need it.
- Communicate clearly about all settlement milestones and deadlines so that you can schedule services A.S.A.P.
- Help minimize repairs or improvements that will distract you from your downsizing tasks.
- Refer you to qualified local transition services as appropriate.
2) Work from the top-down.
If you have limited time to sort your belongings, you’ll want to prioritize your energy and efforts to make sure you have the absolute necessities taken care of before you move on to less critical items.
We recommend that you create a staging area for your most valued and necessary possessions. A recommended order for prioritization includes:
- Vital Documents (download our free checklist)
- Prescription Medications
- Irreplaceable photos, videos, letters or other family history items (see our guide for preserving family history)
- Fine Jewelry or other Valuables
Once you have these items secure, then you can move on identifying the household and personal items that you are currently using on a daily basis.
- Your current wardrobe, footwear, and accessories. Focus on what you’ve worn in the past year.
- Computers and electronics that you use regularly, with their cords and chargers
- Any household equipment that plays a big role in your daily life.
3) Bring on Strategic Partners
Once you’ve skimmed the top layer to pull out your essential and most used items, you’ll need to assess what’s left and determine a plan of action. Most people will require some extra hands to do the sorting, donations and clearing out that needs to happen when you downsize in a hurry.
Experienced home transition professionals will help you plan a strategy that may include any combination of these time-saving tactics:
Employ a “One Call” Service.
Most Senior Move Managers® or Professional Organizers have established systems for emptying a home efficiently. The sooner you involve a professional to take on the entire project, the better your outcome will be.
Consider Strategic Use of Short Term Storage.
Sometimes it’s better to pay for short term storage if you don’t have time to sort through important documents, photos, etc. That way, you can close on your house on time without subjecting yourself or your loved ones to extreme stress or losing items that truly mean something to you.
Involve Family and Friends.
Give away everything you can, but make strict deadlines for acceptance and/or pickup. Go around the house and take photos of everything you don’t plan to take. If you have time, upload into an inventory software (like our favorite FairSplit) or at the minimum make a shared album on your phone to help you stay organized.
Get Used to the Idea of Donations.
While still a popular option, estate sales and auctions generally require 2-3 weeks to plan and execute. If you’re truly in a bind, the easiest and most cost effective solution to downsize in a hurry is to donate ordinary household items. Many junk removal companies will arrange for donation drop-offs and will give you a receipt for your taxes.
Schedule a Cleaning Crew to do your Final Cleaning.
The mess revealed when a home has been emptied of its contents can be shocking, even to the tidiest homemakers. In a last-minute move, the cleaning typically needs to be completed at the eleventh hour (when you are absolutely worn out!). Just trust us on this one and plan ahead for the help you’ll need.
If you need to downsize in a hurry, don’t despair! There are professionals available who will know exactly what to do. With a little planning and a strategic team in place, you can meet your deadlines and get on with your life.