You are thinking about downsizing or maybe you have already committed to the move. Yay, you! How exciting!
Last fall my husband and I sold the house that we had lived in for the past twenty years. We are empty nesters now and that big old rambling house was much too big. I thought it would be difficult to leave. I loved that house, I did. It's true, I did have some tears and doubts that last week before the move and I must have had a dozen "just one more walkthrough" moments as I walked from room to room for the umpteenth time, trying to relive every memory but now, eight months later, I am thrilled to be in this smaller and more efficient home.
Looking back I am amazed at how much stuff I held on to for years and never used. I won't sugarcoat it. Moving isn't for the faint-of-heart and downsizing is moving on a whole different level but done right and methodically, it can be a lot easier than you think.
I've learned a lot on this journey and now I'd like to share the twelve steps to moving that worked for me and made the whole process more manageable.
1. Start Early
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I started preparing to move two years before we took the plunge and put our house on the market. Our move wasn't imminent but I knew that a downsizing move was in our future and it was obvious that moving from our cavernous home and its two decades of accumulation was going to be a monumental event. In a bigger house, it was easy to hold on to things and still not feel crowded. There were plenty of closets and dresser drawers and cupboards. There were tubs of children's books and more tubs of Christmas, Valentine, and Fourth of July decorations. I wouldn't call myself a hoarder but every once in a while I would look around and feel like I needed an intervention.
Even if you haven't listed your house yet, but you are thinking of downsizing, start now. I can not stress this enough. This is going to be bigger, harder, and more time-consuming than you think. I don't say that to discourage you but to motivate you to start early so you can spread the effort out over a longer period of time. Do not underestimate the effort that a downsizing move will require because by the time we get to this stage of our lives we have accumulated boatloads of crap ( yes, crap), and the more time you can give yourself to work through it, the easier the whole process will be. Even if you can give yourself two years to prepare as we did, that last week you will still be panic pitching, wondering where all this stuff came from and wishing you could have all the money back for these "treasures" you are now trying to get rid of.
2. Pitch. Pitch. Pitch.
On your first few rounds through your house concentrate on simply pitching. We all have our junk, things like broken rakes, one lone roller skate, yellowed T-shirts, tax returns from fifteen years ago. But now, as you are preparing to downsize, it is time to shred, pitch, and ditch. Go room by room, drawer by drawer, and cupboard by cupboard. You might consider renting a dumpster. It sounds drastic but depending on how long you have lived in your home and how much of a packrat you are, it might be easier than taking countless bags of garbage to the curb. As you go through your house this time look for the obvious items that aren't going to be of use to anyone and then... go back and do it all one more time.
3. Sell Seasonal Items Throughout the Year
Again, if you are looking ahead to downsizing and have the gift of time, this is one of the best suggestions. Selling items at the right time of the year will get you top dollar. Think about it. Nobody is going to want your cute Easter decor in October.
After my first intense swath of purging and pitching items from every room of our house, I moved on to selling some of the things I knew wouldn't be going with us. I did NOT want to sell furniture at this time because I wanted the house to show well when we put it on the market and statistics prove that a staged or furnished house will sell faster and for more money. I did, though, have a lot of accessories, dishes, and retired pieces of furniture tucked away in various parts of the house that I could start moving out. Again, because I had the luxury of time, I sold seasonal items when they were in the most demand. For example, I would post Halloween decor in early September and as a result, things moved quickly and easily. When it came to Christmas items, rather than selling each item individually, I would group them according to color or theme and sell them as a package.
It was easy and hugely successful. I sold a few pieces on eBay but some things were too heavy or quite fragile and the easiest way for me to sell those items was through Facebook Marketplace. This also seemed to be a relatively safe option since most of my items went to various Facebook friends.
4. Make Monthly Drop Offs to Goodwill A Habit
I made it a monthly priority to drop off a carload of gently worn items to the Goodwill. These were things that were too useful to pitch but were either not worth the trouble to try and sell or I had already tried but wasn't able to sell them.
Start in the attic, garage, or basement. These are the places that house "baggage" goes to die. Really, what are you holding onto it for? I can almost promise you your kids WILL NOT WANT IT. Let it go. It is not going to be back in style in your lifetime, and if you spent more on it than you should have, holding onto it is not going to make you eventually love it more.
You might tell yourself that you have already gone through your home and pulled the things you are ready to part with but trust me, every time you make the effort to edit and edit once again, you will continue to discover even more things that you no longer need. It sometimes takes a while to get into this mindset but once you are in it the whole process becomes easier. I probably took at least two dozen carloads to the Goodwill over an eighteen-month period and in that final week before the move, I was grateful for every single load and item that was out of the house.
5. Scout Your Look
So far you have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting so give yourself a break and start thinking about your new home. What look are you going for? Get inspired by scouting out design and decor ideas on Pinterest, Houzz, and Instagram. Save some of your favorites so you can go back and look at them again. Usually, a pattern will begin to emerge. You might discover that your style lean is changing, that you really do like a more minimalist or maybe Boho look. Maybe the downsizing that you are looking forward to is a reflection of the lifestyle changes you have made or are getting ready to make. Will you even need a formal dining room set? Maybe just a large but more casual kitchen table and chairs will suffice. If it is something you can afford to do, this could be the time to embrace that new direction and let go of even more of the things that don't fit into the vision for your new space. This is a new beginning, that fresh start you've been waiting for. Think about it. Maybe you live without a coffee table or floor lamp for a couple of months. Why pay to move something that you will undoubtedly be letting go anyway? Now is the time to shed these less inspiring items. Somebody will love them and you will have the fun and excitement looking for and creating a new home with things that reflect who you are today.
Photo by Dura Supreme Cabinetry - Search kitchen design ideas
6. Thirty Day Edit
Two of our kids were doing this in their homes last year and I was having a bit of FOMO, so I joined in this exercise too. The idea is that you do a bit of decluttering of your home every day for a month. On the first day of the month, you get rid of one item. On day two, you get rid of two items and so on, and so on as you work your way through the month. The first week will be easy. That last week will push you out of your comfort zone. Thirty things on Day 30 can be challenging. There were days I was desperate and would have to get creative to come up with enough objects. One day I had to consider a set of eight napkins as eight things. I put things in piles of Pitch, Donate, and Sell. I threw out the things that were stained or broken that I had missed in earlier sweeps through the house and I donated some items. Then I created a photo album of downsizing items from my Thirty Day Edit that I wanted to sell and then I shared the album on my Facebook page. I would post the album and direct people to tag themselves in the photos of items they wanted. I asked everyone to pick up their items within the next day or two which worked quite well.
7. Plan For Storage
As you are thinking about which pieces to keep, plan for storage. What do I mean by that? Obviously, consider how much storage space will you have in your next home. Will you have a basement? A garage? Maybe you will still have a dedicated storage room but also think about furniture as storage. I made a conscientious effort to keep or look for end tables, night tables, buffets, and cabinets that had drawers or shelves. I knew that I would have less garage and closet space so using furniture to nest away things like light bulbs, extension cords, and off-season accessories just made sense. For example, in our bedroom, I opted for a small dresser on each side of the bed to handle more clothing storage along with the usual hand creams, books, and reading glasses.
8. Be Realistic - The 95/2 Rule
The closer you get to your move the harsher you will probably have to become when it comes to editing out furniture and miscellaneous items. the fairy tale seems to be visions of the whole family gathered together and the kids coming home at the same time for the holidays. The reality is they have jobs and in-laws. Realistically, how often will this getting together really be happening? Our realtor gave us a good formula to consider that he referred to as the 95/2 rule. Simply put, ninety-five percent of the time it is usually just the two of us. I reflected back on that rule when we were trying to efficiently design our new space. The same rule can also work for you. Will you need a dining room? Maybe going forward, most of your dinner parties will be buffet style. How often will you be entertaining? Maybe that space would serve you better as a home office. What about guest bedrooms? You might need them for grandchildren or maybe using one of them as a workout room or sewing room would better suit your new lifestyle. Instead of dedicated rooms, a downsized house will often have multi-purpose spaces such as a Murphy bed in the home office.
Also, look at the items in your kitchen. How often do you use that panini maker or rice cooker? Will you have the same amount of cupboard space in your new home? Probably not.
Think about that exercise equipment and be honest with yourself. What about all those scrapbook supplies you bought ten or twelve years ago? Are you still scrapbooking? It might still be important to you, but if not, now is the time to pass these things on to someone who will embrace them and put them to good use. Editing is an emotional process but it does get easier and a year from now these are things you will most likely not even miss.
9. Edit Closets
This is where I had to get serious. I was spoiled. I'm still spoiled, but in our big house, I had converted a small bedroom into my walk-in closet, an entire room! It was great but having that much space made me a bit of a hoarder. Looking forward, though, chances are that when you are downsizing in square footage, you might also be downsizing your closet space.
The concepts for this part of the move aren't new. You have probably heard them all before but it is true if you don't love something in your closet or you are holding onto an outfit only because of what you paid for it, then it is time to let it go.
Be harsh. Unless you are currently on a new lifestyle eating plan and have already seen success with it, those sweaters, dresses, and shorts that are too small need to be moved on out.
What about party clothes? The pandemic can't last forever. There will, someday, be parties again but how much of this kind of stuff do you need in your wardrobe. I don't know about you, but my lifestyle has become much more casual and I have fewer places to wear these dressier pieces. There is also something about formal occasions that makes us think we need to wear something new. So when the next party comes along will you even want to wear that cocktail dress or sequined top again? If not, then donate or sell these types of clothing now. You will be grateful for the extra hanging space.
Beyond considering your lifestyle needs and editing out things that don't fit, are showing wear, or you don't care for anymore, the third and what was for me the most challenging part of paring down is just the cut-throat act of eliminating excess. I still have too many black pants, black jackets, and Lilly Pulitzer dresses but I did eliminate maybe twenty-five per-cent of my wardrobe. Now, when I look in my closet I like what's in there and I am getting my money's worth from the pieces I have.
10. Deal With Sentimentality
This is another area of downsizing that can be challenging. I saved this chapter of editing for later in the process. As I was getting closer and closer to the move date I could see that I still had too much stuff. That one carload a month to Goodwill hadn't been aggressive enough. I was noticing a definite correlation between days until the move and the number of items I was deciding to part with. By the time the move was less than thirty days away I had some brutal choices to make regarding things I had inherited from my grandma, things my dad had given me, baby items that had belonged to my kids, and volumes of photo albums.
I had some great pieces from my grandma including dishes and a high chair that had been my grandpa's. These were things that I had been thrilled to receive at the time but now I had to consider how they would fit into my life going forward. As for the high chair, it would never meet today's safety regulations, my kids didn't want it, and I wasn't willing to give it the storage space it would require. Ultimately, it was donated.
The dishes were something I had coveted for years but in the fifteen years that they occupied an entire drawer in my kitchen, I never used them once. It was time to get them to a better home. I sold them on Marketplace.
As for the boxes upon boxes of photos, it was like ripping off a bandaid. Fortunately, I had them pretty well organized by year so I would sit down to a couple of years of photos at a time, and without giving myself the time to rethink my choices I started discarding some that were faded or over-exposed. How many pictures of our two-year-old daughter coloring Easter eggs did I need? Certainly not a dozen. I would pick out the best, scan them into my computer for a backup, and I pitched the rest.
It is almost a year later and I'm a little bit surprised but I don't have any regrets parting with any of those sentimental treasures.
11. Plan. Plan. Plan.
Planning ahead and thinking of how you anticipate placing your furniture in your new home will help you avoid spending the time and money to move any items that will not fit the space or the look you are going for. Make drawings of each room and measure each wall. You might discover before you move it that your desk doesn't fit or that you will be needing different counter stools. Think about what you are going to put on the walls and floor. Will your current rugs work? If not, now is the time to sell or donate them. But don't stop with the furniture. One of the areas where I found this planning ahead exercise especially helpful was in the kitchen. I drew out a diagram of the new kitchen and then I looked at our current kitchen and made a categorical list of my kitchen items such as Pyrex, wine glasses, and serving trays. Then I would label each cupboard on my drawing with the type of items that I thought would work best in that space. I took it all a step further and while standing in the new kitchen, I put post-it notes on each cupboard door and drawer with the type of items that I was planning to put in them. Actually looking at the cupboard would either confirm that I was on the right track or make me aware that I was going to have to rethink my kitchen organization. This planned layout made moving the kitchen so much faster and easier.
Some things, like our china, didn't make the cut. I couldn't even remember the last time we had used it. I still have a couple sets of casual dishes so this was an easy thing to part with. I put it on Facebook and sold it that day.
12. Finish The Purge And Replace
As I mentioned before, the closer you get to the big move-in day the more manic you and your pitching arm will become. If you are fortunate like we were and you have access to the new house before closing on the old one, then you will be able to slowly move in the things that have made the cut and you will be able to judge how you are doing for space. Maybe you add a few more things back into the move pile or perhaps you will see you are going to have to circle back and edit some more. Regardless, after the move is behind you or even right before, is when the real fun begins. Now you get to replace some of the things you decided to part with. Maybe it is a new set of kitchen glasses or bedroom lamps. We had the unusual experience in that the people that purchased our old home also purchased most of the furniture and accessories that were in it. I was starting almost entirely fresh. I needed everything. I felt like a new bride. But as my husband likes to remind me, " It doesn't have to be done this week. This isn't a sprint. It's a marathon". I hate it when he's right. LOL. But this is the exciting part. You've downsized and life is simpler and now that you aren't bogged down with all the excess you can really relax and appreciate how much easier your life has become.
Enjoy and Happy Downsizing.
I will be sharing my post today with the readers over at The Dedicated House. Please check out more inspiring influencers over there.