While some real estate agents might think that Always Be Closing is a mantra for their professional lives, everybody (some more than others) should partake at least a little bit in Always Be Downsizing. The human experience is one of endlessly acquiring more stuff and then rarely disposing of that stuff, especially the stuff that doesn’t mean anything. But there may come a time when the simpler life makes more sense to you.
Whether it’s because of retirement, kids leaving home, a change in job status, divorce, saving up for a long excursion, or another reason like just wanting to cut down on stuff, it often makes good financial and practical sense to find a smaller and more economical place to live.
Tips on how to downsize:
When to start
If it wasn’t clear before, you should start downsizing yesterday. However, today will work. Or even tomorrow. But you should definitely start to downsize as soon as possible. Start early and start small. There are a number of reasons for starting now, but three of the best are:
You’re moving soon, later, eventually in 10 years or 20 years. You probably have a lot of stuff, and it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about how much you would need to move, if you tried moving all the stuff you have – do you need it all?
You’re moving to a smaller place
Subset, but different. Picture what would be in each room of your new place. If it’s a lot less space than what you have now, then you’ll need to make some changes.
You’re a senior
It may be time to start thinking about downsizing because you may eventually wish to cut costs, simplify your lifestyle, move closer to family, or for medical reasons.
It’s never too early to start planning for the downsize. It’s easier to keep your downsizing project to a manageable level no matter when you move if you’re able to plan it out and be methodical, but it’s especially important if you’re moving soon. Think about it in terms of beginning the process of getting rid of the stuff you don’t use, want, or need anymore. And everybody has that kind of stuff, so starting now is always the best idea.
Where to start
If you’re not used to getting rid of stuff in your house in general, then take it slow and try starting with one room at a time.
Try starting in a room that has low emotional investment, like a laundry room or a bathroom. Make sure you have materials to assist – boxes, garbage bags, recycle bins, gloves, whatever might be necessary.
Take a general inventory of the room you start in. Label everything “Yes” or “No,” either in your head or on the actual items themselves.. Don’t label things as “maybe,” since that just means you’ll end up with a huge “maybe” pile, and you’ll end up keeping all of that.
Plan your time to throw stuff out, move stuff to box up and get rid of, etc. Schedule it on a calendar, so you’ll for sure do it – start slow with maybe 15-30 minutes on a few days a week.
Once you start getting momentum at working on different rooms, it will get much easier, and you’ll be a pro at this.
How to decide what to take and what to throw away
First things first, keep the things you want and use – If you’ve used it or appreciated it in the last year, then keep it, if it’s in good shape. If it’s chipped, worn out, beat up, then get rid of it and use something else.
Paper – Get rid of it, most of it anyway.
Save financial records for 3 years, but it’s not necessary to go beyond that, unless you want to digitize them, and then it’s easy. But old financial records, you can get rid of.
Save the important documents that you may still need obviously like mortgage documents, property tax payments, closing paperwork, or the sentimental stuff like your college diploma or your marriage license.
Save the old cards and letters that mean the most to you. But don’t save all of them. Get rid of the stuff you don’t look at anymore – letters from the ex, letters or graduation cards from the relatives you never see,, blank birthday cards you never sent.
Big items – Pare down what you need and use.
If you’re moving to a smaller house or apartment, again make sure you’re matching the heavy furniture you’re taking to the place you’re moving. If it doesn’t fit into the plan, then set it aside in the No pile.
It is much better to make these big item decisions before you move, since then you likely won’t need to pay as much to a mover or sweat it out yourself hauling the couch you didn’t need or want to a truck and into a new house.
And again, based on the size and rooms in your new place, this could be tricky. You may have the same living room/family room/kitchen set up, but you have less bedrooms, or you could have more bedrooms but perhaps your living room and family room are smaller and squeezed together.
Small items – Again, pare down what you need and use.
Although smaller items are easier to hold onto than big items, these add up too, so only keep what you cherish and use. If there are baby clothes or WWII photographs that you haven’t digitized yet, then keep them. Go ahead and keep the items that have sentimental value for you, even if you don’t use them often.
Smaller items require less intense decision making, and they won’t be as difficult to move to a new place, but it’s still a good time to think about what you need and why you need it.
With smaller items, there’s no reason to rush to judgment as quickly either. You may find you’ll use that carving knife after all at your new place, even though you didn’t use it at your old place. You have time with the smaller stuff. Keep it in the Yes pile if you’re not ready yet.
Additional important things to consider
Here are some further sensible tips and advice that you can pick and choose from, as the case may be for your particular downsizing needs.
Ask your family if they want items you have
They may not, and they may think it’s dumb for them to receive back their old child artwork, but on the other hand, they may want it. Feel out this situation with your family before tossing the old dresser or the old painting that you don’t want anymore, as maybe your grandchild wants it.
Don’t save unnecessary stuff for your family that they may not want – Don’t just put things in storage for a later day when somebody grows up and might want it. If they don’t want it now, then get rid of it. You can always get them something later, if you need to.
Go through everything thoroughly – You’ll be surprised what you might find in the bottom of a box of old paperwork. Then again, if you don’t check the box and just keep it anyway, you won’t know to throw away all the old paperwork but keep the cigar box at the bottom of the box that has your grandfather’s gold pocket watches in it.
Stick to the one year rule
If you haven’t used a particular item in the last year, you’re unlikely to use it in the next year. And if you’re unlikely to use something in the next year, then you’re unlikely to use it at all or ever again. Be a realist when separating the Yes pile from the No pile.. Be realistic and ask yourself what you use and what you need, both now and in the future.
Be prudent with your collections
If you’re holding on to shot glasses, baseball caps, 117 porcelain dolls, baseball cards, stamps, old coins, or a menagerie of glass holiday ornaments, it might be time to work on reducing those collections. You don’t need all that at your new place.
Be patient with yourself
It’s okay to enjoy a keepsake you haven’t seen in years. But be prudent on whether it ultimately merits either you keeping or giving it to somebody else in your family that will use it.
Digitize your photographs
You may have thousands of photographs you’ve collected over the years. These may be multi-generational. If you have the time, it might be worth investing in a scanner to digitize all of these photographs for easier sorting, storage and labeling down the road.
Become possession neutral
If you add something new, get rid of something. Don’t add more stuff anymore without considering the repercussions of possibly needing to move again after this next move.
Consider how the No pile will be disbursed. Will it be put in storage? Will it be given away? Will it be thrown away? Or perhaps you could consider a yard sale.
How to host a yard sale
- Pick a date. Is it a Saturday and Sunday morning event? Many people do Friday too, oddly.
- Gather your goods and put everything in one place and pick your location: your house, your friend’s house, your garage, your actual yard. Maybe do this with friends or relatives so you have more stuff.
- Check on permits. Some cities have regulations for holding yard sales.
- Advertise by getting your yard sale up on Craigslist or any other number of yard sale advertising places. Make yard sale signs for the more traditional approach too
- Get supplies to make change, sit and have tables for smaller items.
- Sort everything to make it easier for people to find the stuff they want
- Price your items fairly so that you can actually sell the stuff. Don’t overprice things because you are too enamored of the item to let it go for cheap. If you don’t really want to sell it, then put it back in the Yes pile.
- Be prepared to do something with the remainder of all the items you didn’t sell. Will you throw those out now? Will you give them away to charity?
How to pack
Now that you’ve gotten rid of the sell, donate, or trash items in your prelude to moving, you’ll need to:
- Label first on and first off items – Whether you’re moving yourself or using a service, it’s good to know what you’ll need first at your new house and what you won’t.
- Pack the easy stuff first before moving to the harder rooms – Start with the least used areas in your home and work your way to the more commonly used areas, like bathrooms and the kitchen.
- Pack one room at a time before moving to the next room – This will keep you focused, and you can concentrate on how that next kitchen will look like the previous kitchen and ensure you have all the right items for it.
- Keep downsizing as you go – Even though you’ve already downsized a bunch, you’ll still wonder how and why you have so much stuff still. Don’t be afraid to make a new No Pile to donate or throw away. Better yet, invite your friends and family over to help you pack, and encourage them to take away items you don’t need anymore.
- Make a packing inventory – Label everything and track it. A place for everything and everything in its place so you won’t lose it all when you get to your new house and so things won’t mysteriously disappear on you, especially if you need to make a claim with the movers.
Moving after you pack
Depending on the size of your home, the labor you have to help, the distance, your budget, and your time, there are several ways to make this move happen.
Do it yourself
Rent your own truck or use your own truck. Make sure you know where to drive, so you don’t need to drive fast, if it’s a local move. If it’s a long distance, make sure you have your truck on lock down when you stop for the night and that you pack everything tightly so things aren’t bouncing around when you’re getting on, getting off the highway. Also make sure you have plenty of helpers on both ends of the move so you don’t have to do all the work yourself.
You pack and load (and unload), they drive
Some services deliver a trailer or a van to your house, and you pack it up. Then they give you a driver to drive it to your next house. Sometimes you’ll share the space on the truck with other customers, if you don’t need all of the space. This has the convenience of obviously not needing or driving your own truck and is less expensive than a full-service mover.
This is a good bet if you don’t have time, if you don’t have the manpower, etc, although it will be more expensive. But many of these companies will do everything for you. Just make sure you’re labeled and have first on, first off understanding with the movers.