11 Essential Downsizing Tips from People Who’ve Been There

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“I can do this and I know my life will be better at the end of my move,” Michelle Crocker repeated to herself during her recent downsizing experience. Crocker and her family of four were tasked with downsizing from their 7,000 square foot estate in Encinitas, California to a 3,000 square foot multi-story on the beach. While their new home was just six miles down the road, the big challenge was selecting just half of their belongings to fit the downsized, seaside lifestyle.

Downsizing your home is daunting. Take the stress of moving and compound it with the emotional challenge of going through years (in some cases decades) worth of stuff. For some, downsizing comes with the third difficulty of dealing with loss, whether it be loss of a loved one, loss of the kids moving out, or loss of the physical ability to go up and down stairs.

Whatever challenges you’re facing, we’ve gathered invaluable tips from people who’ve been there to help you through the process. Crocker shares her experiences along with Gary Moore, another recent Californian downsizer who gave up half his square footage in Villa Park so he and his wife could enjoy living in the lively city of Newport Beach. Top Visalia, California, real estate agent Simon Guy also joins our conversation, lending us his professional advice from his 12 years experience of helping clients downsize their homes.

A man that has time to follow downsizing tips.
Source: (Matthew Henry/ Burst)

Tip #1: Give yourself time

Downsizing should be a process—not an event—so start early.

“Most people wait too long until they have to downsize in a state of trauma or emergency or challenge versus doing it preemptively and actually enjoying it,” Guy relays. Taking your time with the downsize will make the event less stressful, allowing you a bigger window to evaluate which items you really need before moving into your new home.

When the first thought of downsizing crosses your mind, set the intention to reduce your items with three boxes in your garage labeled: donation, give to family, and e-waste. These boxes will allow you to reduce your belongings in a gradual, eco-friendly way. As you come across unneeded items during your normal routine, simply put them in the appropriate box and continue on with your day.

By donating and handing down items, your unwanted stuff can be appreciated by new owners instead of wasting away in a landfill. Separating electronics from you general waste is crucial since many devices contain toxic substances such as lead, mercury and cadmium which can cause environmental and human harm. Make sure to recycle e-waste properly so professionals can dissemble parts safely and reuse materials for new devices.

At the latest, you should finish decluttering before you list your home. Our Top Agent Insights Report for Q1 2019 reveals you’ll recoup a 432% ROI for decluttering; it’s one of the easiest, most effective ways to increase resale value.

When in doubt, consult HomeLight’s guide featuring 13 steps for downsizing your home in a truly organized fashion.

Tip #2: Measure your new space and evaluate your storage options

Before moving, measure your new space and scope out opportunities to increase storage so you know exactly how much space you’ll have for your belongings.

“We measured our new rooms and penciled out where our furniture would go,” Crocker says, explaining this step was key to deciding which pieces her family would bring from their old home. Follow this measuring guide to make sure you’ve sized up your space accurately.

The number one trick for adding storage is to take advantage of vertical space. Get creative with floor-to-ceiling shelving units, hanging pot racks, door organizers, and furniture with hidden storage. In the garage, install hooks and shelves to hang sporting equipment and garden tools.

If you need a little more space, consider adding a shed to the back yard. Crocker’s husband built one on the side of their new home for the family’s seasonal extras; “I have so many boxes for different holiday decorations. I just love decorating!” she shares.

Follow these DIY instructions to build your own or buy one like this Suncast Tremont Storage Shed from Target.

Source: (Anthony Tran/ Unsplash)

Tip #3: Use a set of evaluation questions to help you declutter

Start by writing a list of questions to help you evaluate what stays and what goes. In Marie Kondo’s best selling decluttering book The Magic of Tidying Up, she encourages readers to evaluate their belongings with one simple question, “does it spark joy?”

While the question is a thought-provoking challenge, you may need a few more questions to really hone in on your belongings’ value.

We love the below question list that blogger June of This Simple Balance (a detailed blog dedicated to simplifying the home, home business and parenting) created after regretted tossing too much under the Kondo creed:

  • Have I used this in the last six months?
  • Is it something that I actually use or something that I want to use?
  • Can I replace this item easily and inexpensively if I change my mind?
  • Is the time I spend maintaining this item and the space it takes up worth the joy it brings me?
  • Does this item propel me to my goals?

Question list in hand, start decluttering from the least-used to the most-used areas of your home. It will be easier to get rid of items in your excess storage spaces since you use them less frequently. If you’re feeling reluctant to get rid of your stuff, try starting with areas of little emotional attachment such as the linen cabinets to ease into the process.

Tip #4: Sell your furniture to the new buyers

The easiest way to get rid of existing furniture you don’t want to haul to your next place is to sell it to the future owners of your home. Moore sold his workout equipment, pool table, and shuffleboard table to the buyers inheriting his home gym and game room.

In most cases, it’s better to offer furniture after negotiations for the home have finished. Guy shares that “buyers will negotiate to a certain price within their budget for the house first and if we include the furniture or extra appliances in that negotiation, the seller won’t necessarily get any more money.”

Source: (Anthony Tran/ Unsplash)

Tip #5: Digitize documents and pictures

It’s amazing how much space paper-thin documents and photos can take up once accumulated. Convert your photos, carousel slides, and negatives to digital copies using a digitizing service for roughly 30 cents a photo. Once converted, display your memories on digital picture frames.  Each frame can hold thousands of photos playing on rotation, easily managed with a flash drive or frame specific app.

Similar services exist for digitizing documents such as Docufree that will pick up, scan, and organize for you. Alternatively, consider scanning the documents yourself following these best digital archiving practices.

If you need help, reach out to a digital native; young relatives and local college students are great candidates to tackle this project for some cash-in-hand. Hold onto hard copies of these important documents including birth certificates, medical records, and social security cards.

Tip #6: Pare down clothes and linens

“Why have I held onto this so long?,” Crocker asked herself when sorting through winter coats and purses she bought in London before moving to California 20 years ago. She advises to take a deep breath and get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the past two years.

If you’re saying farewell to designer items, sell them on Poshmark, an apparel focused Ebay which boasts 5 million users. Take good photos and price items competitively for your best sale. Poshmark will take 20% commission, but you’re still likely to make more than you would by taking them to a local consignment store.

When tackling the linen cabinet, keep two sets of sheets per bed and four towels per person. Compact your seasonal duvets and blankets with Space Bags (yes, these are still a thing!) so you can store them under the beds in your new place. You can donate the rest to a charity like Goodwill who offers a pickup service or to a local animal shelter.

Tip #7: Keep your favorite sentimental items and give the rest to family

One of the hardest parts of downsizing is deciding what to do with sentimental items.

Instead of dreading it, embrace it as a time for reflection you can share with your loved ones. Go through your daughter’s old school projects and baby shoes with her. You’ll share a laugh when you find the macaroni decorated popsicle frame she made for you in kindergarten, but neither of you need to keep it.

Remember, you can ditch the item without ditching the memory, just snap a picture for future reminiscing and let it go.

When it comes to family heirlooms, go through your evaluation questions again: do you truly love this item? Will you display it in your new house or will it end up in a tucked away box again? Hold on to the dearest and pass down the rest to family—maybe you can still enjoy seeing the object at a family member’s home during the holidays.

Source: (Stefan Schweihofer/ Pixabay)

Tip #8: Get free moving boxes from almost anywhere

“I was able to get all my boxes for free from my restoration company,” Moore shares, suggesting you ask your workplace if they have any boxes first.

You can easily source additional free boxes online from the free section of Craigslist and Freecycle, an entire website for people giving away free stuff. Asking retailers for boxes is another great option as most stores have a regular supply from weekly shipments. Bookstores, grocery stores, liquor shops, and large retailers like Costco, Target, Office Depot, Petsmart, and Ulta are safe bets.

Tip #9: Do a test run to truly know if you can live without it

Tucking away the “maybes” is the best way to trial if you truly can go without them. Before you move, pack up any items you’re unsure about keeping in a labeled box and only take out which you discover you need.

If your maybe pile is still stacked when the moving process commences, Guy recommends renting a storage unit for the remaining items and follow the same rule.

You can use Move.org’s guide to compare the big self-storage companies; expect to pay around $1.01 per square foot a month. You can save money by skipping out on insurance for the unit if your homeowners insurance covers off-premise possessions. Set a strict deadline for emptying the unit so it doesn’t turn into a costly second garage; take everything out for reevaluation in six months time.

Tip #10: Partner up with a real estate agent who’s well-versed in the downsizing process

Working with an agent who has proven success helping clients downsize will make the entire process smoother. To start, a top agent will ensure you get the most money out of your current house by suggesting effective home improvements, assisting with staging, and targeting the best listing price for the market. When it’s time to buy, your agent can help you find and negotiate a win for a home you love so your downsize doesn’t feel like a downgrade. Find the agent with the strongest downsizing background in your area with Homelight’s agent finder.

If you’re a senior, you may benefit from hiring a certified Seniors Real Estate Specialist. These agents are specially trained to help with both the physical and psychological challenges of downsizing and can help demystify relevant concerns like affording household costs post-retirement, choosing a home with improved accessibility, and exploring retirement communities.

A balcony view of a home that was downsized.
Source: (Donald Tong/ Pexels)

Tip #11: Focus on the positives of moving

It’s OK to feel emotional during the downsizing process. Letting go of excess belongings and extra rooms is difficult, but remember you’ll still hold the memories associated with them.

Instead of focusing on loss, focus on what you are gaining from the move: a more accessible floor plan, lower utility bills, left over income for travel, or in Crocker and Moore’s case, a better location and lifestyle. A year into her downsized home, Crocker encourages,

“I feel so much lighter and happier with less stuff and have appreciated the things we kept more. I love living in our smaller home. It’s more intimate, easy to clean, and feels so homely. It’s well worth it!”

Header Image Source: (Lesly Juarez/ Unsplash)