My Mom just moved from her home to a senior living facility. She cut her space by two-thirds, and she does not plan to move back to something larger. So, her downsizing was extreme and permanent. However, many of us have downsized over the years as we became empty nesters, moved from the suburbs to town, divorced, or tired of dealing with the yard. In many of these cases the change will not be “permanent.” However, in all these situations, there are steps to make the process more agreeable and successful. Broadly, those steps are:
Storage facility – For many, getting a storage facility is a first step. If you are going to attempt a new lifestyle that you are concerned you may regret (e.g., moving to a smaller space in town) or if you have furniture you are saving for your children’s homes, storing the extra furniture and china may make sense for a short period. However, after a relatively short period you will want to reconsider the storage facility and the extra items.
Start at least ninety or more days ahead of the move – Although not always possible, planning and working on the project over 3 to 6 months will help you make it a more successful move.
Think about your new lifestyle – Are you moving to town to be closer to social activities like restaurants and plays? If so, you may not need as much social gear as you had by your former pool or bar. Will you really need a bed in all the bedrooms or could one become office and TV space?
Involving your spouse or partner and others – The old sports gear you now want to trash may be your partner’s most sentimental item. And, an old Teddy Bear or baseball card collection may be something your kids want. Obviously, you and your spouse or partner and family members will have to be involved in the process. Also, make sure the furniture you want to save for the kids is something they will want.
Make a floor plan of your new space – Measure your new space and your major pieces of furniture. Envision where everything will go and map it on a floor plan. All you really need is a tape measure, and a ruler or straight edge. Determine if you will have enough space to add book shelves or other storage pieces.
Only take what fits – This may seem obvious. But, you do not want to create unhappiness with your new space because you are too cramped. If you love your books, but you only have room for one bookcase that will hold 100 books: limit yourself to 100 books. If you have half the cabinets, only take half of what your current cabinets hold.
Start making lists or piles – You will want to start with one closet or one room or one cabinet at a time. To the extent it is possible, go ahead and make it physical. If you can take your extra clothes from one closet to a local charity now: do it. But, if it is too difficult, such as thinking through the furniture in a bedroom, start making lists of where it will go.
Assignment of the items – The types or categories of piles or lists will be gifts to a relative, moving to new house, giving to charity, etc. Very little should go in a trash pile. Somebody will want it or someone needs it.
Sentimental items – Some items have a sentimental value but cannot be moved. Maybe others involved will also find it sentimental or can use it. Certainly other relatives or friends may also find the items sentimental or possibly they need them. However, be careful in offering items as others may not find it as sentimental as you do. I have a friend who became a widow. Her husband had collected books, too many to take to her new home. Although she had no desire to sell them, she found selling them individually on eBay made her feel the new owners would love them like her husband had. I find donating items to charity always makes me feel better than putting it in the trash. Even if it creates more work, a solution may be much more satisfying. And, keeping a photograph of the item may be just as satisfying as keeping the item.
Do you really need it? – Empty-nesters moving from a suburban home to a patio home no longer need a mower or all the tools taking up space in the garage. Many people have 3 kinds of pots, 2 kinds of china, and 3 sets of knives. Over the period you are going through this downsizing process track what you actually use and get rid of the rest. Even if you think you are going to use something, can you borrow it or rent it later?
Decluttering – I have way too many files related to tax returns that are past the audit period, paperback books that I think I may read again, boxes of work documents from years ago, old electronics equipment, etc. that I would need to shred, give away and throw away. This may take longer than some of the other steps.
At your new home – Does the space work as you planned or do you need to “downsize” and “declutter” more? It probably makes sense to make one last try at your new home. If you have collections, it may make sense to store them under your bed and rotate a few pieces for showing. For kitchens and bathrooms, it may help to have shoe boxes or larger plastic containers to hold the items that used to cover the counters. The containers can be moved into and out of the cabinets when needed.
Multiple use furniture – In your new home, it may be beneficial to have a couch that makes into a bed, a coffee table that has drawers or other storage, and eating arrangements that can also work as office space.
We all have too much. Even if you are not downsizing to a new home, some of these steps may help you live a more comfortably. Best wishes for your new life.