Next Avenue Logo

Using Business Principles to Downsize a Home

This boss got the job done using a few ideas from work

By Terry O'Reilly

After my wife passed away, there were five of us left sharing our family home: me, my two sons and a pair of dogs who had come to believe that they were in charge of the house.

In the two years that have gone by, life has assumed a new normal. And in that time, we’ve had the growing realization that our home of 17 years isn’t right for us anymore. It isn’t that the house is a little tattered around the edges — who among us isn’t? It’s the inescapable fact that it is simply too big, far more home than we need.

Once we had this realization, we all (except maybe the dogs) knew what we needed to do: Downsize.

The dictionary definition makes it seem easy:  Down·size  (doun′sīz′) (v.) To reduce in number or size. To simplify (one's life, for instance), as by reducing the number of one's possessions. To become smaller in size by reductions in personnel or assets.

But for us, “downsize” meant a logistical and emotional challenge, the likes of which I had not expected. And with the process now well underway, I’ve come to understand that downsizing isn’t just about getting rid of physical things: it’s also about releasing the emotional burden that comes with them.

Going through this process has taught me that no one should underestimate the amount of work — management, really, of things, people and feelings — involved.

As I thought about this, I realized I could turn to principles I use every day on the job (as Chief Content Officer of Twin Cities Public Television, which produces Next Avenue) to get me through.

If you find yourself ready to downsize, I offer my tips:


If you’re really bad at something, find someone who is good at it and get him or her to do the job for you!

I may be a lousy housekeeper, but I am a terrific delegator. Just ask anyone who works for me. I am generous in giving others the opportunity to do my work for me. So when the reality of needing to downsize my stuff finally settled in, I immediately realized that I was definitely not the person for the job. I turned to an expert, in this case an expert business.

Terry O'Reilly Garage Clean Up
One huge part of the author’s downsizing: the garage. Before.

I had heard about a company where I live called Sort, Toss, Pack that specializes in helping to clear out homes for all sorts of reasons. But they also help find new homes for your stuff — either through a resale shop they operate or through donations to local nonprofits. For everything else, they arrange to have it hauled away. Easy peasy!

Use Your Time Management Skills

Don’t assume you can downsize in your spare time.

I figured the best way to downsize was to make it a marathon, and not a sprint.  Boy, was that a bad decision — at least for me. Working on this task a little bit every weekend only made it seem more daunting and seemingly more endless.

For me, the right decision was to do the downsizing fast. Book a few days, put together a team and concentrate on getting it done quickly. That made for a long, grueling weekend…but the sense of relief when it was done was remarkable.

Set a Clear Goal

As you work through your things, it’s easy to slip into a “well, maybe I will need that someday, so I’m going to hang onto it” mentality. Don’t do it.

Your goal is to get rid of your stuff. Embrace your inner downsizer and let your mantra be: “When in Doubt, Throw it Out.”

Terry O'Reilly Garage Clean Up

For things other than family photos and additional irreplaceable possessions, you should start with the assumption that if you haven’t used something in the past six months, you probably don’t need itand if in the future you do, you can always borrow one from a friend who hasn’t downsized yet!


Create a Measurable Formula to Guide You

From collectibles to crystal, tools to toys, I assumed that among all my possessions there were bound to be treasures that, when resold, would fatten the family coffers nicely (and maybe even buy me a nice vacation someplace warm — a not insignificant thing when you live in Minnesota!).

Wrong again. Here’s the difference, in a simple-to-use formula:

Value to Me = (Original cost) x (Importance to Me)

Value to Others = (How Badly Do They Want It) – (Huge Discount)

So it’s easy to see how a possession that you value and prize would mean little to someone else and that another person would certainly pay less for it that you think it’s worth.

Don’t get hung up being disappointed that the world isn’t beating a path to your door to pay top dollar for your stuff. And don’t lose sight of the goal you set: it’s to downsize, not to spend the rest of your life running a personal thrift shop.

Celebrate Your Success

Downsizing is an achievement. Celebrate it.

Terry O'Reilly Garage Clean Up

As we worked through our downsizing this past weekend it felt — for a while — like we weren’t making progress.  Stuff was moving around, but not going away. As we got a couple of days into it, however, there was a palpable change. It felt like the place was getting lighter — as if there was more air in the room. And when we were done, the feeling was one of unexpected relief: as if a heavy burden that I hadn’t noticed before had suddenly been lifted off my shoulders.

So go for it. Embrace your inner downsizer.

Last week, when I looked around my house, I saw stuff.

This week, I see possibilities.

Terry O'ReillyO’Reilly is Senior Vice President and Chief Content Officer at Twin Cities Public Television (the parent company of Next Avenue).  He is an EMMY® Award-winning producer and journalist. Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2024 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo