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5 Tips to Downsize Your Home Painlessly

Advice from two experts on how to make the transition


(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)

If your kids are all grown up with families of their own, you may find yourself looking around your house thinking: "Do I really need all this space?"
 
It’s a simple question, but not necessarily easy to face. After all, downsizing to a smaller place can be daunting process. Yet, many older Americans are doing just that, says Susan B. Danick, owner of TAD Relocation, a company in Gaithersburg, Md. that specializes in helping seniors transition into “rightsize” housing.
 
(MORE: The Upside to Downsizing)
 
“We’re seeing an increase in downsizing because many people delayed moving due to the recession and the fall of the housing market, and these people have aged in place but now find their health and ability to care for the house have become more difficult," Danick says. "We are also seeing baby boomers who are ready to spend their time traveling and enjoying life and do not want the burden of a house and all its possessions.”
 

How do you know that it’s time to move on?

We asked Danick, as well as Moreen Torpy, a professional organizer and author of Going Forward: Downsizing, Moving and Settling In, the key questions to ask yourself. Here's what they said:
 
Do I spend most of my time in just a few rooms of my house? 
 
Is home maintenance taking up a lot of my time and becoming more and more difficult? 
 
Would I like to spend more time on things I want to do rather than on things I have to do, like chores around the house?
 
Do I seldom entertain anymore, so that I rarely use all the space, china, cookware, etc., that I have?

 
If you answered yes to most of these, it’s time to consider downsizing.
 

5 steps to make it as painless as possible

 
Here, Danick and Torpy’s must-follow advice for downsizing: 
 

Step 1: See What Fits

Once you’ve decided where you want to live, take a look at the floor plan to see how much of your current furniture can fit. Compare the floor plan of your current home to that of your new home and figure out where your furniture and other items will go.
 
Don’t forget closet space, built-ins and cabinets. How much of your clothing will fit in your new closets? If you have built-ins now, where will those items go in your new place? Planning things out in as much detail as you can on paper will make the actual job of packing and moving much easier.
 

Step 2: Start Purging

Start in the room you use the least or in your closets or filing cabinets, and sort things into three categories: “must have,” “would like to have” and “ready to let go.” Do a little at a time; trying to go through an entire room in one day is overwhelming.
 
(MORE: Take the 30-Day Declutter Challenge)
 
If you have a lot of time before your move, spend a half hour a day sorting. If your move date is coming up, you’ll have to do more each day, and having a partner or friend help can make it much more productive.
 
When Danick helps clients go through their things, she does it in four-hour stretches, side-by-side with her client.

“This works well and we can get so much accomplished working together, helping them stay focused as we do the heavy lifting and packing and, of course, cheerleading as they do the decision-making,” Danick says. “Having a partner work with you helps to keep you on task and much more can get accomplished.”
 

Step 3: Be Tough

When you’re assessing what to keep and what to toss, you have to be ruthless. If you love the item, use it regularly or need it, then it’s a keeper. If you've got multiples of something, or are on the fence about it, toss it and don't look back.
 
If it’s just too hard to toss anything? Make a list of all the things you always use, then focus on getting rid of the rest. If you’re on the fence about an item, put it in a box. If you use it over the next few months before your move, take it with you. If not, toss or donate it. Another option is to put such items in storage; just be careful not to leave them there forever.
 

Step 4: Avoid Awkward Moments

If you're giving items to family and friends, have them make a list of requests and assign items accordingly. If there is a conflict, resolve it with a simple contest like picking a number.
 

Step 5: Look Up Charities to Donate To

Organizations such as Goodwill or Salvation Army generally take most donations and sometimes offer pick-up. Just keep in mind that items must be in working order (no broken TVs) and in good shape (no wear or fading on upholstered furniture).
 
You can also try local churches, group homes or nonprofits. Libraries often take used books. For hard-to-donate items such as large appliances like stoves and refrigerators, Torpy suggests listing them online at Craigslist or Freecycle. Other items that may be hard to donate: textbooks, exercise equipment, mattresses, pillows and oversized desks.
 
Of course, the most difficult part of the move might have nothing to do with the packing. “If they’ve lived in the same place where their children were little and grew up, the memories of all those years can be emotional and difficult to get past,” says Torpy of the downsizing process.
 
(MORE: Emptying the Family Home Without Battling Siblings)
 
Danick suggests taking the time to reminisce and talk about your memories. You could also take pictures and create digital albums of your favorite things. As the move gets closer, try to stay focused on the positives and make plans for getting together often with family and friends after the move until your new place feels more like home, says Torpy.
 
If you live too far? Make a point to call often or use Skype. When the day comes, doing a walk-through of the old house to say goodbye may help you find closure and make it easier for you to embrace the next exciting stage in your life.
 
After all, change can be liberating. “Some people are thrilled to let it all go to begin a new life without feeling encumbered,” says Torpy.
 
Danick agrees: “After the move many clients have said, ‘I should have moved five years ago!’ or ‘My place never looked so good!’”

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