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  • Writer's pictureKate Pawlicki Bourne

5 Tips For Downsizing: How to Decide What’s Worth Keeping

Updated: May 16

Excerpts via Seattle Times; WSJ You don’t have to be a minimalist to appreciate the benefits of downsizing. Whether you’re moving to a smaller space, slashing your household budget, or simply trying to streamline your life, here are a few ways to begin and make the most of the downsizing process. 1. Take, toss and store. The crucial and most painful step of downsizing is going through your possessions and separating them into three groups: take, toss and store. Understandably, the task itself can be overwhelming when emotion is involved, and it’s a good idea to take a practical approach by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. Would I replace it? There are certain things you probably love, use regularly and would miss if they went away. Irreplaceable items belong in the “take” pile.

  2. Have I used it in the last 12 months? This question is usually reserved for a pair of pants from 2008 or a juicer you bought for an ill-fated cleanse. Unused items equal clutter. Move these neglected pieces into the “toss” pile.

  3. Does it have long-term value? Some things don’t fit in your life at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. Family heirlooms, overstuffed photo albums, childhood artwork, etc., carry intrinsic value, and it’s okay to hold onto them elsewhere. 2. Look for duplicates. Living with too much stuff usually means overlooking repeat purchases. For instance, how many hair dryers do you own? What about old electronics like laptops and cellphones? As you’re sifting, take stock of the duplicates in your home to determine what you can reasonably part with if you have a newer, working model of the same item. 3. Prioritize quality. Downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean skimping on quality. In fact, buying higher quality, longer lasting products can help you buy less over time. Huffington Post reports the average American discards 81 pounds of clothing each year. Buying quality items in clothing, décor, appliances, and other household necessities means that your possessions will last longer, and the slow-creeping clutter won’t return. Consider reworking your budget to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to shopping. 4. Set an earnings goal. Speaking of budgeting, downsizing presents the perfect opportunity to earn some extra cash. While some of the items in the “toss” pile are likely destined for the trash or donation, others might have significant value. For clothing and other wearables, take advantage of digital resale shops like PoshMark. For furniture, tech, and everything in between, online options like Facebook Marketplace and the LetGo app are worthwhile options. Set an earnings goal during the decluttering process; $250 or $500, for example. Attaching a monetary value to your efforts can make things fun and help you move more quickly. This is also a good time to take a new inventory of your belongings and speak with your home or renters insurance company to see if any adjustments should be made to your policy. 5. Rely on a professional. You’re not alone if downsizing feels easier said than done. A significant lifestyle change can be tough, especially if you’re having trouble assigning value to your things. The good news is that you don’t have to take a solo approach. Seek help if you can’t make sense of the clutter. A fresh perspective could make all the difference. We can help you with this process.

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed downsizing experts. Their advice is below:

Does It Stay or Does it Go?In his upcoming book, “Downsizing: Confronting Our Possessions in Later Life,” David Ekerdt, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of Kansas, offers points that downsizers can consider to speed their decision-making.

  1. Will it fit in the new place I am moving to? “That ends up making a lot of the decisions,” he says.

  2. Will it be useful in the new place (e.g., taking yard equipment to an apartment or condo)?

  3. Is it compatible with my “self story” at this time in my life? Is it “me” (e.g., my deceased spouse’s books)?

  4. For the things that I’m not keeping, should I open my home and let others decide what they could use?

  5. Can I pass this on to family members who will honor its ties to kin?

  6. Am I running out of time as the moving deadline looms? “That’s a big one that pushes them to do things. The moving truck is coming.”Pinny Randall, owner and founder of The Settler in Darien, Conn., takes these measures when dispersing items that the homeowner won’t be taking to the smaller space.

  7. To keep heirlooms and items with provenance in the family, first ask children, grandchildren and even and extended family members what they would like to have.

  8. Bring in an auction house and, when necessary, a specialty auction house for distinctive collections like artwork, furniture and jewelry.

  9. Donate items to charities and thrift shops, especially those that benefit a local cause, such as a hospital or animal shelter. But know in advance that many of them are fussy about what they’ll take. In Ms. Randall’s area, she says many charities “won’t take anything with a tiny stain or tiny tear or out-of-date furniture.”

  10. Some of the hardest things to get rid of include oversized sectional sofas, pianos and exercise equipment. She has identified schools that will take pianos and even found firehouses that would take exercise equipment.

  11. Pack item destined for the Dumpster into black trash bags and dispose of them immediately. That makes it less tempting to retrieve things later.One side note, however. “We don’t encourage estate sales,” Ms. Randall says. A garage or tag sale in Fairfield County isn’t a good use of our clients’ time. The proceeds aren’t enough to make it worth it.”

Smart Packing and UnpackingGreg Gunderson, president and owner of Gentle Transitions, offers this advice to downsizers.

  1. Use masking tape or templates to mark out furniture placement and gauge what will fit in the new home. This will avert needlessly moving furniture that exceeds the available space.

  2. When sorting through the home, start with the tip of the iceberg–things that you can see in the room. Results can be seen quickly, which helps people move forward on the harder things.

  3. Ask the move manager or another independent third party to help mediate family squabbles, when necessary. They can use a “draft” to distribute items equitably.

  4. Unpack boxes with “undecided” items last. When there’s no available space remaining in the new home, those boxes can be disposed of more easily.

Optimizing a Smaller HomeSheri Koones, author of “Downsize: Living Large in a Small House (2019, Taunton Press), offers these tips on adapting to a smaller home.

  1. Create multi-purpose spaces. An office can be a bedroom and a hobby room.

  2. Deploy multi-purpose furniture. A tiny kitchen table can be expanded to acommodate dinner guests

  3. Look for creative storage areas. When not in use, chairs can be hung on wall pegs.

  4. Make rooms look larger. Well-positioned windows, high ceilings and light wall colors can add visual volume to a space.

  5. If designing a home, limit hallways. They cost money to build and require heating a cooling. Fewer hallways gives you more livable space.

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