Meeting the Downsizing Challenge

Whether you’re an empty nester starting anew or simply want to economize, downsizing is a daunting prospect. But it doesn’t have to be.

The mistake most people make when moving to a smaller home is confusing the  “cleaning up” needed to sell with the “clearing out” needed to downsize.  When we sold our home of over 25+ years, I thought I had done a good job in getting ready for the move.   I’d tackled the obvious tasks like cleaning the garage (twice!) and my grown kids’ rooms.  Gone were all the school-papers, books and long-forgotten toys and games.  It wasn’t until the last few weeks before the move, while heavily in the midst of packing, did I realize how much more needed to go and how much more I could have done long before the sales contract had been signed.  Here are some tips on how you can make your transition less stressful and a lot more productive.

The first thing to do is have a plan.

Begin by setting up a central file to record things like turning off the telephone and electricity, stopping lawn services and finding a mover.  Something you can easily refer to.  Martha Stewart and the Real Simple web sites have readymade lists mapping out general timelines for planning the major steps.  A more detailed, comprehensive guide outlining everything you’ll ever need to know about moving out, packing and moving in, is the Moving.Kit by Button Up ($24.95).   Organized in six logical sections it is chocked full with helpful tools like pre-formatted estimate sheets, checklists, delegation sheets and even offers advice on those dreaded tasks like “how to choose a mover.”

Sort:  Start early and think big

Even though you need a house full of furniture for showings, that doesn’t mean you can’t decide ahead of time what you’ll want to keep.  “Sorting through possessions can be overwhelming but is a necessity to accomplish a downsizing move, “ advises Janet Nusbaum, an Organizing Consultant and President of Simplified Spaces & The Simplified Home. If you wait to “sort through,” until you’re actually packing boxes,  you’ll  waste countless hours making decisions instead of what you should be doing which is packing.  As Janet Nusbaum says, “Starting early allows you to find the right home for items that are not going with you.”    Beginning with the furniture, go through every room of your house noting what you absolutely must keep and what you can part with.    Do the same for closets, bookshelves and pantries.  And don’t forget the attic and basement for hidden boxes under old paint cans and dusty suitcases.   If you don’t plan to store anything, this is the time to be scrupulous in deciding what will go.    Once you’ve that done (be sure to check everything – no cheating!), you’re ready to move to the next step.

Sell, donate or toss.


If you haven’t already used E Bay or Craig’s List, now is the time to start.   I took my son’s advice and set up one email address for both accounts and was glad that I did.   It made monitoring sales easier and, the separation from my personal email account, gave me a greater sense of security and privacy.   Then take pictures of what you want to sell.  Most likely you’ll have to post an item three or four times before you get your price so being prepared to place the ad the minute you’re ready to sell is key.

Donate or Toss: 

Call the charities in your area to find out what they will or will not take.  “Don’t assume for example, that the local Goodwill wants your old exercise equipment (they don’t.”)  says Janet Nusbaum.  Some groups like Purple Heart and Big Brothers Big Sisters do pick ups and welcome items like small lamps, clothing, linens, VCR tapes but will not take larger pieces like old televisions, couches, computers.  And those that do like the Salvation Army have strict rules about what they’ll take.  I learned that the hard way when the day before the move, they refused my donations:  unless your pieces have no scratches, chipped paint or missing pulls, don’t assume they’ll be taken.   A good source for giveaways is Freecycle.org, a non- profit grass roots network of over 5,000 groups worldwide dedicated to reusing items through local postings.  Membership is free and you can post just about anything (as long as it’s legal.)  And at this site, furniture, computers, appliances and play equipment, are not only accepted but are welcomed.

If being able to make donating and trash removal a one-step process sounds just like what the doctor ordered, you need to call The Junkluggers, an eco-friendly company committed to saving you work while helping the environment.   For a fee, they’ll come to your home, help you sort through your stuff and remove both your charity donations (you’ll get tax receipts) as well as your trash.   Their claim that approximately 60% of what they take away is recycled and not thrown into our overburdened landfills, makes this a convenient and earth friendly way to go.

Don’t try to do it alone --- look for help

We all turn to friends and relatives when it’s time to move. But now-a-days adult children are often too busy working and raising their own families to manage the downsizing and relocation of older relatives. The National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) can help. NASMM provides a group of professionally trained organizers to help seniors and their families meet the physical and emotional challenges that leaving a home of many years can present.

Embrace the "Upside" of Downsizing:

Consider this move an opportunity to renew and simplify your life.  As Dr. Mark Lachs, a leading gerontologist points out in his article Want To Live To 100?  Try To Bounce Back From Stress, his oldest and healthiest   patients all score high on having  “adaptive competence:” the ability  “to keep moving forward” and adjust to the setbacks and changes life throws our way.   When talking about the effects of her family’s downsizing move Jen Smith, “The Millionaire Mommy Next Door,” says “less space gives us more of everything we most value – we have more time and energy to consume experiences rather than things … and enjoy more of life.” You can too.

Resources to Help You Meet the Challenge


  1. www. MarthaStewart.com/274838/moving-checklists
  2. www.Realsimple.com/move
  3. www.getbuttonedup.com  -  Moving.Kit by Buttoned Up.


Internet Selling:  YouTube has videos such as Craig’s Account Setup and How to Set Up an eBay Account detailing step-by-step instructions.

Local sources:  newspaper ads, consignment shops

Moving Managers

  •  The National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) www.nasmm.org/,
  • The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO)(www.napo.net)

Charity and/or Trash Removal

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

paul d. June 19, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Nice suggestions... one more: buy an auto feed scanner (about $200-$500) if you have lots of documents or files just sitting around in the basement that you can't throw out. Just scan them into one big file initially. You will be amazed at how fast you can search (and organize) scanned documents, if you have to. Odds are, you won't. And if you don't have a shredder, time to get one.
maddi winkles June 19, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Agreed. maddi
Nancy G June 20, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Great point about the difference between cleaning up to sell a house and clearing out to actually move! This article is getting printed and tacked up to my magnet board as my guide to a move I will probably make in the next year or so. Thanks for providing all those resources and a step by step plan!
Stevie Strauss June 21, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Your article contains some very valuable information. It is easy to read with step by step suggestions. After downsizing multiple times myself, your resources are invaluable. I wish I would have had some of these ideas prior to my many moves! Great article!
Aidan June 21, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Great advice. When I moved I trucked a lot of junk to the new place ... only to have it all tossed. Not smart.


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