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9 Common Downsizing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

What to do to make the downsizing process less stressful

By Acts Retirement-Life Communities
January 8, 2020
Household clutter
Credit: Adobe Stock

(Editor’s note: This content is sponsored by Acts Retirement-Life Communities.)

Downsizing is a common experience among retirees. Still, it can be stressful, and errors may even be costly. To help, this article will show you how to avoid common downsizing mistakes and ensure a smooth transition. Here are the nine most common issues when it comes to downsizing:

1. Downsizing when you don’t have to (yet).
In some cases, rising expenses or decreasing mobility and independence can make downsizing a priority. But if there’s no urgent need to do it, ask yourself why you’re thinking about paring down your possessions and moving into a smaller house, condominium or apartment.

Is it because all your friends of a similar age are? Do you feel that because you’ve reached a certain age, it’s the right thing to do? The decision to downsize isn’t the same for everyone at a given age or stage in life. When you feel it’s right — when you think it’s better for your health and independence; when you realize it makes more financial sense; when you want the comfort of an all-inclusive community with easy access to hobbies, dining and social opportunities, then you should get started on the process. But the key is to want it and be ready for it.

2. Downsizing without a master plan.
Like doing a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what it’s supposed to look like when you’re done, downsizing without a master plan can leave you floundering. Are you looking to downsize to free up funds for travel, or have a home that’s easier to manage as you age or to move to a more desirable location near a beach or golf club or your grandkids (or all of the above or something else entirely)?

Make a plan of action before you begin. What’s your dream result? If you live with someone, do both of you share the same goals? Depending on your plan, you may need to line up a real estate agent, prepare your home to sell, decide where you want to look for a new home, decide if there is furniture you need to get rid of and more. You need to know your intended end result so you can begin planning how to get here.

Click here to read 8 tips for downsizing your home.

3. Failing to consider your lifestyle.
You may have decided it’s time to move to a townhome out of the city and closer to your kids. In the process, do you lose easy access to your city’s cultural events or your regular socializing opportunities? Maybe you want to give up the big house in the suburbs for a small city apartment on the bus line, but realize you miss having a backyard for gardening and entertaining. You need to take your lifestyle into account. If you love the theater, ensure your new home is near one. If you’re used to taking the bus everywhere, make sure you figure out any necessary new modes of transportation. If you still prefer to drive, ensure your new living area has a place for your car.

As you make plans, it’s important to think beyond dollars and cents. What do you want your daily life to look like? What do you need to make you happy? A short list of things to consider might be yard space, off-street parking, sidewalks, parks, golf courses, cultural amenities, access to friends and family and the like.

4. Putting it off. 
For some, downsizing isn’t a question of if but when. And if that’s you, putting it off can make it harder, emotionally and physically. It can leave you rushing to complete tasks before your house sells or finding a new place to live. That can lead to hasty decisions like getting rid of items you really wanted to keep, or panicking and refusing to get rid of anything, meaning you now have no place to store it all.

For some, waiting too long means going through boxes and paring down your possessions becomes too difficult physically to do without someone else to help lift and carry boxes. For others, the longer they wait and begin to feel their age, the less they want to emotionally part with anything from the home where they raised a family, making it impossible to move anywhere else even when moving is a necessity.

Therefore, when possible, start the process of downsizing before you have to. Even if you aren’t moving for months or years, use the extra time to emotionally prepare yourself. Without feeling rushed, you can take the time to truly consider whether you need to keep the now 40-year-old bed your daughter slept on when she was a child. You also give your loved ones a chance to see if there are any items they’d like to take for themselves.

5. Throwing it all away.
It might feel like downsizing is just another word for getting rid of everything, from kid’s bikes to extra pots and pans, books, china and holiday decorations. But having to replace certain things you parted with won’t save you anything in the long run; if anything, it will cause more stress. When considering what to do with an item, think about whether it does or doesn’t fit into your new lifestyle. If it does, keep it. If you’re not sure, you can always keep it for now and change your mind later. Point is: don’t just automatically start purging everything.

6. Giving in to help that isn’t helpful.
Your grown children may want to aid you in downsizing, but their priorities (such as limited time or lack of perspective) can make it harder for you, leaving you feeling rushed or anxious.

Make your needs and expectations clear to your kids, and then stick to them. It’s never too early to talk to your adult children about your hopes, plans and expectations for your future. These conversations can be enlightening for all of you; perhaps one of your grandchildren is interested in buying the house; or maybe the dining room set you love but won’t fit in your new home is something one of your children wants, making it easier for you to give up because it will still remain in the family. Help is essential, and can be cathartic, but always remember you’re the one in charge of this process.


7. Working on the whole house at one time.
Downsizing itself is stressful. And having an entire house torn up because you’re trying to work through the clutter in all the rooms makes it worse because there’s no escape from it.

Instead, work one room at a time. It took decades to accumulate everything, it will take more than a few weeks to un-accumulate it. And take breaks, too. It can be emotionally draining to do nothing but work your way through boxes of things you own, deciding what to keep and what to toss. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Do it in stages, when you’re ready. This is the benefit of starting ahead of time.

Click here to read 5 tips for staying sane when downsizing your home for retirement.

8. Only seeing the loss instead of the gain.
Dwelling on all the things you’re giving up is a sure-fire way to feel down about the prospect of downsizing. Getting wrapped up in the negatives can keep you from seeing any positive. Even if this isn’t the path you would have chosen for yourself, there are numerous benefits to appreciate.

You may find joy in passing on items that are needed by others, such as kids’ clothes, bikes, housewares, furniture and yard tools. Let’s not forget the incredible sense of warmth that comes with passing a family heirloom to the next generation of family. Think of the immense pride you’ll feel when you realize your daughter loves your prized china as much as you do and can’t wait to serve it when she takes over Thanksgiving. Plus, there are more practical benefits, like moving to a smaller home with less taxes and utility costs can free your bank account for more travel or hobbies, or moving to an apartment with less stairs can return your independence back to you. There are many wonderful benefits to downsizing — don’t let the stress of deciding what to get rid of sour the positive results.

Click here to learn how to celebrate "rightsizing" and read 13 tips for downsizing your living space.

9. Rushing the process.
Some of the items you’ve kept for years have strong sentimental value. Think about how you want to part with them when it’s time to cut down on what you own. Instead of putting things in the trash, what can you donate to organizations helping others? Instead of signing a lease on the first apartment you see, consider taking your time to research available options, weighing the pros and cons, and thinking about how your next step aligns with your master plan.

When done right, downsizing can make it possible for you to live the future you’ve always dreamed of. Whether your ultimate goal is to sell your house and move closer to children and grandchildren, free up money to travel more frequently or simply embrace a minimalist lifestyle, downsizing can be the answer. But it’s important to approach the process with a good plan and the right frame of mind. By avoiding these common problems, you’ll be better prepared to step into the next phase of your life with confidence.

For more information on retirement, read these articles by Acts Retirement-Life Communities:

Acts Retirement-Life Communities
By Acts Retirement-Life Communities

Acts Retirement-Life Communities is the largest not-for-profit owner, operator and developer of continuing care retirement communities in the United States. Headquartered in suburban Philadelphia, Acts has a family of 23 retirement communities that serve approximately 8,500 residents and employ 6,200 in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. For more information about Acts visit

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