I frequently hear from exhausted downsizers. Whether their home is on the market, or they are simply clearing out clutter, they’ve usually jumped into their downsizing project by tackling old boxes and bins, peeking into the dark corners of rarely-opened closets, attics and basements. Unfortunately, those particular tasks quickly become overwhelming, and many run out of both mental and physical energy. For the best experience, we coach our clients how to downsize in 5 steps.
Each decision leads to another:
- What is this?
- Why did I hold on to it?
- Does it have value?
- Is it useful?
- Does someone else want it?
- How am I going to lift it?
- Is it part of a set?
- Does it work? Can it be fixed?
- Should I ask the kids?
- How are we going to get this thing out of here?
Instead of clearing clutter, the home seems even more cluttered than it did before. They feel stuck.
It doesn’t need to be this way! I encourage downsizers to step back for a few minutes and take account of the entire project ahead. Don’t dive down to the basement. Instead, sit down and map out the five main phases of the Downsizing Process.
How to Downsize in 5 Steps
Step One: Plan
Everything starts here, with a solid plan for how to downsize. You’ll prioritize your tasks and determine the order of operations that makes the most sense. You aren’t going to finish this tomorrow or next week. So draft a reasonable schedule and decide which tasks to tackle first. Your personal approach will depend on whether you are a do-it-yourselfer, or whether you like to make one call and have it all handled for you. You may procrastinate or require extra time to process your belongings, but that’s fine as long as you factor that into your plan. The end result of the planning process will be an overall approach that works for you, your timeline, your budget, and your work style.
Step Two: Sort
For many people, sorting through the contents of the household is the biggest task by far. Others are happy to take the top 20% of their belongings and walk away from the rest. Either way, start by asking yourself: What do you really care about?
When professional organizers or Senior Move Managers® help with sorting, we encourage our clients to focus on two categories:
Furnishings and belongings: the everyday items you need to be comfortable and do the activities you love.
- Collections and artifacts: these are the things that tell your personal story.
Identify the stuff you’re using every day.
Fight the urge to rush up to the attic. Chances are, the items that you currently love and use regularly aren’t there. Look around at what you’re using every day, and assess the appropriateness of your furnishings for your new place. Once you’ve selected your favorite furnishings, you’ll probably realize that there is plenty of stuff you’re ready to leave behind. Plus, most people end up accepting that mentally letting go of things is easier than unearthing belongings you forgot you own.
Take time to preserve your personal history.
Obviously there are some boxes that will need to be sorted and preserved. If you have ample time before your move, we encourage you to do the work of organizing and digitizing family photos, videos, and other memorabilia. If you don’t have time to process these sentimental items before you move, this is one category of “stuff” that we encourage you to hold onto until you have the time (but also commit to doing it after your move!).
The other key to sorting is to give yourself permission to do it your way.
There’s no “one way” to downsize. For a handful of people, sorting through all of their belongings is cathartic and necessary. That’s fine if you’re 1) one of those people and 2) have time to do it. If not, give yourself permission to take what you want and walk away from the rest. A well connected local professional will make sure that everything gets re-homed as efficiently and profitably as possible.
Step Three: Divest
How will you handle the things you are not taking? This includes giving things away, pursuing an estate sale or auction, hiring a company to clear out the entire property; whatever it may take to empty the house. In our experience, this part of the process is the most worrying to people.
There are lots of emotions and decisions that come into play, but keeping your eye on the final outcome is the trick to getting through it.
You’ve already identified the things that are important and are coming with you. That immediately makes everything else less important. Why lose sleep over less important things? Instead, try turning to a seasoned Senior Move Manager®, estate sale expert or professional organizer to make your life easier. Most experts will help you approach your belongings from the top down. First, you’ll select things to offer to your friends and family. Then, the pros know how to look for high-value items that could be sold through specialty buyers. Finally, you may choose to sell ordinary household items through an auction or estate sale. Anything unsold would then go through a final round of donation and removal to empty the property completely.
Step Four: Move
There’s a truck on its way.
Picture the best possible outcome as you arrive at your new residence. Your belongings are safe and fit neatly into their intended space. By the end of the day, your bed is made and you can collapse into it. This level of service isn’t easy, but senior move experts will almost always recommend an efficient and purposeful unpack to get you into your routines as quickly as possible.
A quality moving company is worth its weight in gold. You don’t want to pack your home, unpack in your new home, and haul all those empty boxes to the recycling center. Use a Senior Move Manager® or professional organizer to work with the movers. This professional will see to the boxing and unboxing and can set up your new residence to your specifications and standards. You want to focus on settling in, not on unwrapping dishes and dealing with empty boxes.
Step Five: Sell
Your home is likely the biggest asset you’ll ever own. Your home has sheltered you for years, and hosted any number of important moments. Now, it will pay you back for your maintenance over the years. It’s the prize for a lifetime of hard work. Take it from us: you don’t want to trust this asset to an amateur or inattentive real estate agent.
Even the smoothest real estate transactions can be stressful. Choosing an unskilled or low-cost agent can result in skimpy marketing, poorly negotiated deals, or incomplete documents that may cost you thousands of dollars. An experienced Realtor® will be your advocate and ally in your goal to get top dollar for your property and get to closing on schedule. A local, experienced and active Realtor® is an absolute must to guide you through this process.
Still, while your agent may have advice for local resources, few are authorized to, insured for, or capable of providing the project management and hands-on help that most people need to navigate a complex downsizing effort or estate clear out. The best outcomes happen when there’s a strategic and collaborative effort among the move manager, the mover and the Realtor®. We recommend starting with an overall plan first, and developing a real estate strategy about 8-10 weeks before you want to put the house on the market.
Downsizing is a Relief to Many People
Downsizing should be a source of joy, not of stress. It’s an opportunity to share items with loved one, to relocate to a smaller, easier-to-manage space, and to earn financial security by divesting a valuable property. Let an experienced home transition professional walk with you through the five stages, and you’ll end up in a better place in less time, with less stress.