How to Successfully Downsize

Downsizing offers many benefits, financially and otherwise. People who are nearing retirement age often consider it for funding their lifestyle or to retire early. It may bring the opportunity to live-mortgage-free and reduce other living costs like utility bills in addition to providing a simpler life, with fewer personal belongings, less clutter and more spare time, reduced cleaning and maintenance among countless other reasons.

The decision to downsize may be an easy one with so many benefits, but exactly how to successfully downsize is something that compounds many. With so much to think about, where do you even begin?

Plan In Advance

Downsizing is a process that shouldn’t be rushed. It almost always takes longer than you expect, so allow for extra time. Don’t try to do it all at once, in a day, weekend or even a week. Depending on how much you have, a month or even longer is usually more realistic.

Take Inventory

The first step to downsizing, well before you plan to move if possible, is to inventory all your belongings. What would you replace if everything was lost in a flood, fire or other disaster? That question is a good one to ask to determine what’s truly important and what isn’t. Go through one room at a time, and each item one by one, giving each everything you own at least a few seconds to consider.

You may want to make three lists, one that includes the things that can be replaced, another with must-haves and another with things you can live without. The live-without list includes the things you might get rid of by donating or selling, though you don’t have to do that just yet. If space starts to be a concern, they’ll be the first to go.

The list of items that can be replaced can include things that you could potentially replace with something smaller, perhaps a large sectional couch for one that saves more space, or a smaller television instead of that huge TV that’s taking up nearly an entire wall.

Giving Away Heirlooms and Other Items

If you’re well into retirement and have too many must-haves on your list, particularly pieces that you eventually plan to give to family and friends in your will, you might think about giving certain heirlooms or pieces away now. You’ll get them out of your way and can actually enjoy the feeling of giving too. You may also want to ask if your children or other family if there are items they’d like to have that you aren’t aware of to lighten your load.

Options For Selling Items You Don’t Need

Once you know which items you can easily live without, it’s time to sell them or give them away. Start with the things you plan to sell, as it’s a great way to earn both cash and space. You might host a yard sale to get rid of larger items such as appliances and heavy furniture or take advantage of a site like to easily get the word out to people who live nearby. For smaller items, sites like eBay or Craigslist can be a good way to reach buyers near and far. These days, there are multiple smartphone apps, consignment shops and other options for selling your belongings.

If your goal is to save money by downsizing, making as much as you can from things you don’t move with you is another great way to increase that nest egg and/or to buy things that are more size-appropriate for your new home.

Digitize Whenever and Wherever You Can

There are lots of items that can be digitized today so that they don’t take up precious space. That includes important documents, photos, DVDs, CDs, even old cassettes and so on. While you’ll want to save hard copies of important original personal documents like birth and marriage certificates, you can scan and save just about everything else, and transfer items like DVDs and CDs to digital files using free programs like WinX DVD Ripper and Movavi. The majority of documents can be scanned to a computer and uploaded in the Cloud by using services such as Google Drive or DropBox, or scanned to your computer and saved as PDF files.

If you aren’t computer savvy, ask a friend or family member to help, or take advantage of services like Nerds on Call or Geek Squad. AARP offers tech support for its members too through unlimited access to Geek Squad, online, by phone and in the store.

Still Too Much?

The first time you take inventory and go through all your items, you’re likely to be more liberal with what you decided to hang onto, which means you’re probably going to end up with too many things to move. While it can be difficult to part with things you once loved but no longer have a use for, with the thought you might still use them someday, the reality is, if you haven’t used it during the past year, you probably won’t use it next year or the year after.

The one-year rule is a good way to be more realistic when sorting all of your items, from clothing that you really thought you’d be able to fit into again someday to exercise equipment. Of course, if it does have a specific purpose, keep it. You don’t want to have to spend unnecessary money on new items you already had after you move. The bottom line is to be a realist, asking yourself what you truly have a use for now and in the future. If it brings happiness into your life, it should probably stay – the idea is to be surrounded by things you love in your new life.

Give Yourself Time to Reminisce

You don’t have to be all business when it comes to inventory and sorting all that you own. It can be an important part of the process to include some time to reminisce. It’s okay to pause, allowing nostalgia to take over, at least for a little while.

Look Forward to the Positives

Think about all the positives that will come with downsizing, appreciating a simpler life with fewer rooms to clean, fewer repairs to make and more cash in your pocket. It can go a long way in making the transition to your new home easier, and happier too.

Your New Home

When it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll furnish and organize your new home, there are a few things to consider.

Think quality over quantity. When it comes to furnishing, go for quality over quantity. Don’t try to squeeze too many pieces into one room. Ideally, you should have one great piece that is useful and perhaps makes a statement. When investing in new furniture, look for multipurpose pieces, like ottomans that open, offering space inside for extra pillows or blankets. Even if you’ve always had them, you don’t necessarily need a coffee table, end tables, four chairs, etc. Be selective, keeping things simple. Before you go shopping, you might even create a floor plan of your new place, arranging the furniture on paper to get an idea of how it will fit in each space (this can be helpful before you move as well in trying to make decisions about what to take).

Storage space. Once you’ve made the transition to your new home, take advantage of all available storage space. Wall-mounted shelving, storage boxes underneath beds, bookshelves built-in to what was a bare wall, vertical organization in closets, and so on, are all your best friend when moving to a smaller place. The important thing is to make use of walls to keep items off the floor and out of your immediate living space.

Take advantage of color. Repainting the interior is not only a fun way to personalize your home, but it can make a difference in how spacious it feels. While larger homes can usually support various color schemes in every room, a smaller abode with too many different colors can make it look more cluttered and busy. Try to choose a single-color palette, carrying it throughout the house to make it feel larger and provide more of a sense of flow. Lighter colors to tend make spaces feel more open, though darker hues can make good accent colors.

Avoid the temptation to accumulate more. Once you’ve furnished. decorated and are all settled in your new retreat, avoid the temptation to accumulate more “stuff.” Keeping clutter to a minimum not only prevents the house from feeling smaller than it is, experts say it offers benefits to one’s health and well-being. It can reduce anxiety, help you sleep better at night, boost your mood and the mood of those around you, and even enhance creativity. One good rule you may want to institute in your household is that if you purchase something new, another item must be given away to accommodate its space.

To avoid paper clutter, one of the biggest culprits, choose to “opt out,” reducing junk mail by using sites like, which will remove you from lists for offers like preapproved credit cards and loans. is another good site to take advantage of that will get you off many marketers’ lists.

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