This past year, my mother downsized from our six-bedroom family home into a two-bedroom condo in a senior development. Although she was nervous to cast aside her old life, now that the deed is done, she feels elated and free—and wishes she'd done it years earlier.
Now, my mom no longer worries about keeping her lawn mowed and driveway clear of snow, because maintenance staff does it for her. Rather than rattling around a huge house that took hours to clean, she has a manageable space she can easily tidy up herself. And, not incidentally, she has more money for whatever comes down the road.
Nonetheless, downsizing can still fill people with dread; experts say this is largely because they've heard horror stories from people who went about it all wrong. Here are the top six mistakes people make when downsizing, plus some ways to make the process easier and less intimidating.
1. Waiting too long to downsize
Are your kids gone? Is the mortgage paid off? Are you in reasonably good health? Think of it this way: It's better to move now—while you have the strength and energy—than later, when it will be harder.
“The biggest mistake we make on downsizing is that we wait too long,” says Jacquie Denny, co-founder and chief development officer of estate sale marketplace, Everything But the House.
Typically people wait until an illness, or even when one spouse dies. That means we’re downsizing while we’re grieving or struggling through poor health, which are far from ideal circumstances.
Instead, Denny says, “we should actually plan ahead to downsize so that it is a lifestyle choice"—e.g., exchanging onerous yardwork for fun activities such as golf games or long hikes. Don't mistake this, however, for rushing the process; Denny suggests giving yourself a full six months to prepare for your move.
2. Giving your kids too long a leash
Odds are, your kids can help you downsize by grabbing some furniture you won't have room for, or a few mementos that are meaningful to them.
“Have your children over and ask them which pieces, if any, they would like to incorporate in their home,” says Denny.
The one caveat: Give them a time limit. None of this “I may want that dresser, but give me a couple of months to figure out where I’d put it.” This is a time for tough love. State a date by which they need to remove anything they want to keep.
3. Tackling your whole home all at once
Downsizing your whole home at once will likely be overwhelming—so instead, focus on thinning out yard tools and kitchens first, since “people are usually going to a leaner lifestyle in these areas," says Denny.
If you’re moving to a home where outdoor spaces are maintained by the condo association, you can just get rid of all your yard gear. (OK, maybe keep a spade and gardening gloves if you have houseplants.)
Downsizing the kitchen will take more work. Start with what you want to keep and set that aside. Make sure it’s really going to fit in a smaller space, that it’s all worth the bother of moving, and that you’ll actually use the stuff regularly in your new home.
4. Tossing all your possessions in the trash
Feeling guilty about hauling everything to a dumpster? There are other options.
My mom, for instance, didn’t want to deal with the hassle of a yard sale, so she put out the word to friends and neighbors that she had a house full of furniture for the taking. She also scheduled a pickup from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, which accepts donated furniture and more, with the proceeds of any sales going toward building houses for those in need.
5. Assuming your furniture will fit in your new digs
So how much furniture should you keep? First, measure each room in your new home. Then measure the pieces you’d like to take with you and make sure they’ll actually fit. You may want to try a virtual room online tool to figure out how you’ll configure your furniture in your new home. Planner 5d, Roomstyler 3D Planner, and HomeByMe are all free.
6. Focusing on how you're losing all your 'stuff'
So many memories to leave behind. How do you do it? Take photos of what’s hardest to leave. I like what Suzanne Stavert, author of The Empty Nesters blog, says: “It is so refreshing to realize ‘what we really need’ is our family and friends. The ‘stuff’ is so secondary.”