Category: decluttering

The Upside of Downsizing

What is “downsizing? Webster defines it as “to make smaller.” The term is most familiar when related to business layoffs and making a company smaller. For the purpose of this discussion, it means engaging in a number of tasks, such as:

  • Reducing household good via gifts to family and friends, sales, donations, etc.
  • Organizing, sorting household items.
  • Preparing for developing an overall moving and/or “aging in place plan.”

Are you ready to boldly sail into your future, but are still clinging to all your cherished things? Downsizing is an opportunity to create a new life in a new space. Many of our clients tell us, “Getting rid of stuff was so liberating.”

20 Tips to Declutter Your Home

It’s only worth what people will pay for it.

When deciding what to get rid of, make three piles: toss; donate; and sell.

  1. Wedding dress

If no one is going to wear it again, have some nice pillows made out of it. Or save it to wrap bouquets in your daughter’s wedding. Or clip off a piece of fabric and display it in a frame with a photo of your wedding day.

  1. Love letters

Keep them if they’re yours. But if they’re your parents’, they’re part of a romance between your parents and never meant for you. Burn them ceremonially and send the love back into the universe.

  1. Boxes of photos

Throw out landscape shots. Pick three with people in them from each vacation or holiday. With the rest, pull out the great shots and scan them for safe keeping. If you don’t have scanning capabilities, send them to an online scanning service to store in the cloud or to make albums.

  1. China set

If you like it, use it. If you don’t, sell it through eBay. Be realistic, though. Not long ago, fine china commanded a nice price. But today’s consumers want fine tableware that’s safe in the microwave and the dishwasher.

  1. Antiques

We use an online auction service. You can also take high-end antiques to a local antiques dealer, who can take them to an auction house. Find out what the house’s take is upfront (typically 10 to 15 percent) as well as where it will place the starting bid.

  1. Greeting cards

Their job is to greet you over the holidays. They did that. Now you throw them away. Or put them in the recycle bin. If you saved the envelopes, you can go through them to update your address book.

  1. Old appliances

Like a yard sale online, Craigslist is a source for usable appliances. With local buyers, you skip shipping costs. Tip: Sell only to buyers who pay cash and will pick up the item. When they come, have someone with you.

  1. Your kids’ stuff

It’s not your job to save everything from your children’s lives. Box up what belongs to the kids, and send it to them. Or tell them to claim it now, with the date you plan to have the house cleared out.

  1. Books

If you’re going to read it, or it just feels too much like family, put it on your bookshelf. If not, give it away. You can drop books off at a library or donation center. Call around for a charity that will pick up.

  1. Luggage

Few use that old high end-leather luggage anymore. That graduation gift from your grandparents? If it’s in decent shape, try sell it at your own or a neighborhood garage sale. If not, donate it to a charity such as a women’s homeless shelter.

  1. Furniture

Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity great sources.

  1. Clothes

Questions: “Do I need it?” “Will I use it?” If not, out it goes. It doesn’t matter whether “I only wore it once,” “It’s in good condition” or “It was expensive.” Then make three piles: toss, donate or sell it. We donate to local thrift stores.

  1. Jewelry

Decide what to keep, then give family members their choice. Sell the rest on eBay. Polish the jewelry and light it well, then photograph items in high resolution from several angles. Include a close-up of any label or stamp.

  1. Art

Appraising fine art is an art in itself, so you might need an appraiser. You don’t want to give away that ugly painting or sculpture only to find out it later sold for $50,000 at an auction.

  1. Old tennis racket

They’re heavy wood and outmoded. Toss it or sell it on Craigslist to a collector of old rackets.

  1. Curio collection

Select three pieces to keep, then photograph the rest, and put the photos in an album alongside the display. eBay is the place to sell smaller, more valuable items like collectibles.

  1. Musical instruments

Craigslist is already flooded with dead musical dreams. Spread the word around your neighborhood; ask your kids’ former music teacher. Even if you sell at a loss, it will fill a home with music. Just not your home.

  1. Stuffed Closets

Rather than fishing through and deciding what to eliminate, take everything out, down to the bare walls. Then physically put back items. Choosing to keep, rather than choosing to let go, will net in clinging to fewer things.

  1. Important Papers

Organize the originals and store them in your bank’s safety deposit box. For those that you use periodically, like birth and marriage certificates, school records, wills and other legal documents, scan them electronically and back them up on your hard drive.

  1. Household junk

Got Junk and similar sources will pick it up. Hold a garage sale. Put price tags on items: $5, $50, make an offer. Post signs in the neighborhood, and advertise on Craigslist and other online estate sales sources.

Downsizing Offers a Fresh Start for Older Adults

Kaye Appleman and her husband at the home they have owned for more than 30 years in Bethesda, Md. They are moving to a condominium nearby. The New York Times

By Harriet Edleson

For Dianne Welsh, 63, downsizing from her 3,400-square-foot home to a nearby two-bedroom bungalow did not happen instantly. It was at least 30 months from start to finish.

“I’m a very organized person,” said Ms. Welsh, a long-divorced government contractor who still works part time in health communications.

She started going through closets and drawers, getting rid of “quite a bit,” she said. But there was more. “Where did all this come from? It was way more than I thought.”

Like others at or near traditional retirement age — either retired or thinking about it — Ms. Welsh wanted to simplify her life. An estimated 4.2 million retirees moved to a new home in 2014, according to a Merrill Lynch and Age Wave report, “Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices.” Over all, 64 percent of retirees expect to move at least once during retirement.

But after living in the same house for 35 years — the home where she had raised three sons — downsizing, she said, was “definitely a big stress.”

Deciding what to do with a lifetime of possessions poses a multitude of questions and typically triggers a range of emotions.

“It’s disruptive,” said Steven A. Sass, a research economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. It can mean moving away from “your life, your neighborhood,” he said.

“The earlier you do it the better, physically, socially and financially,” Mr. Sass said. “It’s giving up something today for something you want or need.” The payoff is often a fresh start, lower living expenses, less house-related work, a different lifestyle with more amenities and more freedom to travel.

One of the first things to think about, experts say, is how you would like to live the next part of your life. It’s an opportunity to reflect on where you have been and where you are going.

Downsizing is more than a physical change. For some people, it’s an opportunity to create a new life in a new space. “Getting rid of stuff was so liberating,” Ms. Welsh said.

The actual process usually takes longer than expected. Possessions can be difficult to throw away, donate or sell. The best strategy is to plan well ahead. Even before you put your home on the market, “inventory your existing furniture, art and accessories and determine their use in the redesigned space,” said Dana Tydings, owner of Tydings Design in Laytonsville, Md.

Consider having your possessions appraised to determine their value. Be prepared for appraisals that may be far less than you expected. This is especially important for antique furniture, silver and accessories. Many prized items of an earlier era are almost worthless these days.

Parting with possessions is easier for some than others. “It’s the memories and the life that we lived there,” Ms. Tydings said. “I tell them, ‘You will create new wonderful memories in your new space,’ and that seems to make them happy.”

Kaye Appleman and Edward Mopsik are moving from their home of almost 33 years in Bethesda, Md., to a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium just two miles away. They are trading a house with a yard for “communal living,” no longer worrying about things like stairs and mowing the lawn in exchange for a place with lots of amenities, including indoor and outdoor pools.

Though a number of their friends have moved to the golf haven of Pinehurst, N.C., the couple said they didn’t want to uproot themselves. “I didn’t want to move to a new location,” Ms. Appleman said. “There’s a familiarity.”

How do you pare down your possessions? “You do it step by step by step,” said Ms. Appleman, a clinical social worker in her 60s who retired about 10 years ago. For her husband, 72, an oral surgeon who retired in August, parting with most medical books was practical since he can read much of what he needs online.

Many things they found in the attic, like high school yearbooks, also had to go. “We didn’t know they were there; we didn’t want to keep them,” Dr. Mopsik said. “They were gone out of our life close to 30 years.”

But they decided not to part with some antiques inherited from Ms. Appleman’s mother. They are also keeping several clocks for their new home.

“You’re empowering yourself because you’re enabling yourself to make the decision about things,” said Gary W. Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and president of the American Society for Geriatric Psychiatry. “It frees us up when we discard things.”

But don’t discount the pain involved. The difficulty in discarding things can be rooted in mortality and the realization that no one lives forever. At a certain point in life, there is more past than future, and that, in itself, can be daunting.

“We’re all mortal,” Dr. Small said. “The issue is balance.”

Older people want to keep in touch with the past, yet “you can’t hold onto all things,” he said. “One of the upsides to downsizing is it allows us to live more in the present.”

Going through a lifetime of possessions may require professional assistance. Not everyone is comfortable, for example, with selling items on eBay. Figure out which pieces family members might want and which to sell, donate or keep. Consider archiving children’s drawings and photographs digitally. Some opt for an “estate” sale, garage sale or yard sale, depending on what they have.

“It brings up all kinds of emotional issues,” said Susan Levin, who’s move management company that helps older adults and others with relocation and downsizing. “It’s not just moving things but the emotional letting go.”

Older people want to keep in touch with the past, yet “you can’t hold onto all things,” he said. “One of the upsides to downsizing is it allows us to live more in the present.”

Going through a lifetime of possessions may require professional assistance. Not everyone is comfortable, for example, with selling items on eBay. Figure out which pieces family members might want and which to sell, donate or keep. Consider archiving children’s drawings and photographs digitally. Some opt for an “estate” sale, garage sale or yard sale, depending on what they have.

Many people hang on to more possessions than they ultimately desire. “People think they want the stuff initially but later on they don’t care,” said Deborah Heiser, an applied development psychologist in Great Neck, N.Y., and co-editor of the book “Spiritual Assessment and Intervention with Older Adults: Current Directions and Applications.” They might store things for three months, she said, then decide they don’t want them. Once they have found a “new life,” she said, they usually want to dispose of them one way or another.

And for many people, the move is ultimately liberating. “It’s a new adventure,” Dr. Mopsik said. “This is far more positive than negative.”