downsizing: 6 Months & Counting

by Margit Novack, Founding President of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM). The following article, Downsizing: 6 Months & Counting, originally appeared on Gilbert Guide and is re-printed courtesy of Gilbert Guide, Inc. Copyright © 2009, Gilbert Guide, Inc.

For thousands of people, moving to smaller quarters is “out there”—meaning some time in the future. But for many of us, “I’m not ready yet,” really means, “I can’t stand the thought of getting ready to move.”

On the other hand, for most people, their home is their single largest asset, so maximizing what it will sell for is important. There are many things we can’t control. We can’t control what the mortgage interest rates will be when we sell our home. We can’t control what the real estate market will be like when we sell our home as many is known by senior homeowners in the current economy. But we can control how ready our home is to go on the market, and the best investment is starting now—even if your move is months or years away.

The key is “working smart”—that is, doing work once and benefiting from it twice. Working smart means downsizing before listing your home for sale, so it sells quickly and at the highest price, which will reduce your stress, and save on packing and moving costs.

For many of us, belongings that once brought us pleasure now seem like a burden, extra weight we would rather not have. But sorting through a lifetime of accumulations and deciding to part with them is hard.

Think of downsizing from your home of decades as losing 100 pounds. You didn’t gain the weight overnight, and you can’t lose it overnight, either. Your belongings are like those pounds. It took years to accumulate them, and sorting through them will take time. Just as each pound, taken individually, doesn’t appear to make a difference, there may not seem to be a lot of improvement from each sorting session. But losing 100 pounds is accomplished by losing one pound one hundred times, and with planning, patience and perseverance, you can get ready to move and maximize your home’s marketability, one bag at a time.

Top 8 Ways to Downsize

Here are some proven tips and techniques that you can begin implementing today, even if your move is years away. Remember that the key to losing 100 pounds is not losing the 100th pound; it’s losing the first one. The key to downsizing is not finishing the process; it’s starting it.

  1. Stop warehousing your kids’ stuff. Do they visit their things but not take them home? If so, put them in a box and place it by the door so your kids can take the carton with them the next time they visit. (If they don’t want their college textbooks and tennis trophies, you don’t need to keep them either).
  2. Decide on what “go” means. It may sound silly, but “this goes” can mean you are getting rid of it or taking it with you. To avoid confusion, decide what “go” means and use it consistently. Better yet, use removable color-coded dots to separate what you are keeping and what you are getting rid of. You can find these dots in the school-supply section of your local grocery or drugstore.
  3. Be clear. If you plan on temporarily storing things in trash bags, use clear bags for items being stored and opaque bags for regular trash. We once stored all our winter gloves and hats in a white kitchen trash bag, only to discover we had accidentally thrown them out!
  4. Throw a downsizing party. Cover your dining room table with items you no longer need and invite friends over for coffee, with the caveat that they must take one thing away with them. It’s fun, and since each person selects what she wants, everyone leaves thinking that they found a “treasure.”
  5. Develop a kitchen tracker. A kitchen tracker is simply a form that helps you track how often you use certain items in your kitchen. List the items that you don’t use frequently—like the ice bucket, Cuisinart, electric mixer, blender, bundt pan, 30-cup coffee urn, heating tray, turkey roaster, dutch oven...the list could go on, right? Keep the list on your refrigerator. Whenever you use an item on the list, make a checkmark next to it. At the end of six months, look at the items without checkmarks. You may be surprised to find that you don’t use some of those items after all.
  6. Keep sorting sessions short. By that I mean two hours at most, and start with the simplest room first. Starting with the most complicated area means you may get discouraged, throw up your hands and quit. Starting with a simple room helps build the confidence to say, “I can do this.”
  7. Once you start working, don’t leave the room. It’s human nature to get distracted—especially from something we don’t want to do in the first place.
  8. And finally: DON’T PACK! Remember, you are months or even years away from moving. If you can pack something away knowing that you won’t need it until you move, you probably don’t need it now.