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Downsizing or Moving-- Step 2: "Where Do I Start?"

The following is the second in a series of articles designed to assist those who are planning a move with a particular focus on moves that involve downsizing. The series is written by Janan Archibald, owner of Mind Your Manors, who is a certified move manager working with seniors and other clients with specialized moving needs. Janan is also a certified appraiser of arts and antiques.

I often walk into a client’s home for a consultation and find a stack of books about downsizing on the coffee table. Let’s face it, downsizing is simply about thinning out stuff you don’t need.

Sounds like it should be simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s not easy at all. I guess that’s why there are so many books written on the subject and all with different approaches! Maybe you read a book or two and it clicked with you but, chances are if you are reading this article, you still have the lingering question that most of my clients face — where do I start?

In my last article, I mentioned getting your head in the game. That is always Step 1. You have to be ready to move forward. Accepting and embracing the changes are paramount to your success. This doesn’t mean you can’t be intimidated or confused, it just means you are ready to make the move, embrace logic – sounds like simple advice, but I have more than my fair share of clients who want to keep everything from their 4000 sq ft home and cram it into 1500 feet. You have to be ready to accept that some things are going to have to be let go.

Once you are ready for this change, the rest falls into place – honest!!

The methodology for downsizing changes based upon each client’s circumstances. There really is not a “one size fits all approach.” A client who has sold their home and has two weeks to move is going to experience a much different process than a client who is just beginning to think about downsizing and has a few years left in their current residence. Of course, there are many other scenarios– multiple homes that require contents to be moved around, temporary housing situations, international moves, moving in with family members.

It will be impossible to cover all of that in this series but, if you are reading this, I will make the assumption that you are a planner (yay you!!) and I will start off by addressing the planner’s most common scenario:

You are thinking about downsizing sometime in the next couple of years and are still living in your primary residence (no secondary residences).

In this situation, I recommend starting with a floor plan for your new space and listing items in two lists: items you plan to take and those you no longer want. During this process, think about exactly what the space will look like. It’s more about thinking about the square footage you are moving into. Start identifying large furniture pieces, rugs and large decorative items (sculptures, artwork) then move on to the rest. Chances are that you will quickly have more on your ‘take’ list than you actually fit in your new space, but that is OK. The goal here is to identify the pieces that you now know you do not want and get down to a more manageable list of decision that must be made.

If possible, go ahead and donate or dispose of those well-loved items that aren’t in a condition to sell or have no significant value. This clears up the space and makes the move process seem less overwhelming.

I do recommend holding onto everything that can be sold at this point. Often it works out better to sell your home as an estate, rather than selling pieces individually. I also highly suggest getting multiple professional opinions on how to sell your belongings before deciding on an approach.

After finishing with decisions on furniture and other larger items, I like to start on the cleanout of items to be discarded and donated. Hard to recycle items, such as household hazardous chemicals, paints and items in basements, garages and sheds are a good first target. Get rid of old building materials, siding, carpet remnants, etc.

Once you are able to get through these items, I suggest looking through your linen closets, dining room drawers, bookcases and seasonal items. If you have old towels, sheets, decorations, excess placemats and mismatched pieces, now is a good time to donate or discard these items. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the back of your closets and dining room hutches. If you wait until you move to rediscover your property, it becomes harder to part with. Start looking through your possessions now so you can have the time to make a decision on what you want to keep. It will also give you time to ask your relatives if they may want anything. I am always surprised by the items that family members are attached to. It’s not usually the most expensive piece in the house, but rather a coffee mug or some other small item that holds sentimental value. I always suggest asking your family before making any assumptions about what they might want.

As you work through the above, make sure to work at a pace that is manageable. If you have the luxury of time, don’t feel you have to squander every day on this task…unless you find enjoyable, like I do!!

One of the most difficult tasks about downsizing is tackling the photographs and paperwork. From experience I can tell you that, if this is left to the last minute, the photo albums usually end up in the garbage which causes significant emotional distress to the client and their families. When I am working with clients, I will take a few photo albums off the shelf and put it next to their kitchen table or living room chairs and assign them the homework of looking through the books before I return the following week. Take a small amount of time each week to remove the photos you want, ask your children, siblings, parents if they would like the photographs and then make the decision on whether to keep or dump.

These tasks above should give you a good starting point and jump start your downsize. Getting started is often the hardest part and once you get rolling, you will find it much easier to keep up the momentum to start tackling clothes, dishes, decorative items and the myriad of junk drawers that we all have!

Good luck on your journey!!

Next Up: What to do with all the things I don’t want.

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