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Downsizing, Decluttering, or Ridding Out: Whatever the Name, It’s Time to Do It

Category: Retirement Planning

August 6, 2018 — In addition to death and taxes, you can add one more to the list of things you can’t avoid. Whether you call it decluttering, ridding out, or downsizing – the job has to be done, sooner or later. Sooner…. if you plan on moving to a different home in retirement. Later… even if you die without emptying out your basement, attic, garage, overflowing closets, and countless drawers – your children or heirs are going to have the thankless task of getting rid of everything you managed to hoard all these years. And the job is even harder if you plan on moving to a tiny home, boat, or RV.

Last year we surveyed our Members to find out how they are doing at downsizing. The answer is, they are making limited progress. Although 70% say they have done something about it, only 32% had either made good progress or completed their decluttering operations.

Because almost everybody talks about decluttering but finds it hard to complete the job, this article will provide you with eight of the best tips we have heard on how to successfully downsize. The end of the article will refer you to a bunch of related articles with even more ideas.

1. Start now. It takes a long time to divest yourself of a lifetime of stuff, so you might as well start now. If you work at it slowly and systematically, with a set of goals and a timetable, you can do it. One good reason to start right now is that you never know what your target date will be – if you find yourself buying a new home and having to move out sooner than you thought, you will be glad you had a head start.

2. Determine a timetable – and stick to it. Like most projects, a step by step approach with milestones along the way (clear out the attic by ?, get rid of the old books by ?) is the best way to get a job done. Start with the places where the stuff you don’t use is stored. If you know where you are going to move and how big it is, then you can move on to phase 2. That’s when you start to rid out all of the furniture that won’t fit, either size-wise or stylistically, in your new home.

3. Determine how you are going to distribute your stuff to your loved ones. Start by thinking that there are probably very few things you have that your children might actually want. As far as the things they would appreciate getting, there are a variety of interesting approaches. A point or bidding system can be useful when many people might be interested in the same items. Another is to consider what you think each person might want from your home, based on their interest or requests. Sometimes a lot of the clutter in baby boomer homes is caused by the toys, clothes, and furniture you have saved for your kids. Unfortunately, even with the slim chance they actually want what you have so carefully squirreled away in every corner of your attic, they might not be ready for it yet.


4. Face reality about values. Most of your stuff, particularly furniture, is worth very little on the used market – 10 cents on the dollar, maybe. It’s usually far better to liquidate it early than hang on for top dollar. (See Further References at end)

5. Choose how to get rid of the stuff you are not taking. You might use a combination of methods – tag sale, consignment shop, donate to a charity like the Salvation Army. Craigslist can be good, but there are any number of scammers looking to take advantage of you – be careful, and use the email alias service they provide. In many towns there is an estate sale company who will quote you a price or % for getting rid of everything in your home, minus what you want to take with you. What doesn’t sell, they throw out or donate for you. Get references, of course, but this service could be well worth it. Some new services that might help are Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp (app), and Close5 (app). One of the best we learned of is Givebackbox.com. With that one you put the stuff you want to give away in a box, choose a local charity from their site, and then print and ship with a pre-paid shipping label.

6. Hire a professional. In most areas there is someone you can hire to help you with your downsizing. Having a disinterested person in the process makes it a lot easier and less painful. If you have a friend who is organized, entice them to help.

7. Let it go! If you haven’t looked at it or used it in 2 years – out it goes!

8. Don’t leave downsizing to your surviving spouse or children. It’s just not fair. One couple we know jokingly say they have a pact – she has to go first, because he’s the pack rat. Give your kids a break – they have lives to live, and they won’t know what your intentions were about your precious stuff.

Bottom line
The biggest disadvantage of downsizing is the work – it takes a lot of labor and angst to go through the process. You might lose something in the process, or wish you had kept something you didn’t. But on the other hand, you will be ready to move into your next home without lugging truckloads of stuff around the country that you never will use. Moving or not, the people we know who have completed their decluttering all say the same thing – it was so liberating to clear everything out! Your kids will thank you to, as they won’t have to waste time from their busy lives someday trying to sort out decades of your old bills, clothes, broken stuff, and knicknacks. Enjoy!

Further reading:
A Tale of 3 Downsizings
Retirement Planning: Our Members Are on the Move
Downsizing Checklist and Tips
Topretirements Members Getting Ready for Big Moves
A Sad Surprise: Nobody Wants Your Stuff
eDivvyup – a Web-based tool for dividing property
How to Run an Estate Sale
Lucy Burdette: The Mysteries of Decluttering
About Home Downsizing (eHow)
Downsizing Advice from Here and There
Downsizing Baby Boomers Looking to Sell Their Stuff (Smart Money)
Why Aunt Betty’s Silver Won’t Pay the Bills
AARP: Donate, Sell, or Get Rid of Your Stuff

Comments: Please share your tips and experiences for downsizing in the Comments section below. We all want to know how it worked for you!

Posted by Admin on August 5th, 2018

15 Comments »

  1. Check local charities to see if they have an annual auction you can donate things to. Such as animal welfare, fire departments, historical societies. Call churches to see if there are families in need of furniture and household items. Contact a local picker to see if they will take your stuff and sell it. They usually make 40% and you get 60%. If it doesn’t sell, most times you have the option of taking it back or they will dispose of it. Vietnam Veterans will come to your house and pick up stuff. Call them to find out what they will not take. Typically if it is too heavy they won’t take it. They usually only send one person out to pick up. They will take small furniture. Goodwill is a good option too. My local GW has friendly people who help unload your vehicle and takes only minutes. Selling on ebay or other ways is very time consuming but worth it if you have valuable items. I have sold a lot of stuff on ebay and mostly mail it but I have also done local pick up where people pay then come to the house and load up the big item. I have heard a lot of bad things about Craigslist and people coming to your home, but some people meet with the buyer at a public place to make an exchange of money. There are online companies that you can mail your photos to and they will put them on a CD and or Thumbdrive. If possible, I would sell or give away most of my furniture and buy all new stuff if I were to move into a new to me home or condo. Not everyone can afford to do so but if you can that would eliminate the worry of hiring a moving company and damage to furniture.

    by Louise — August 6, 2018

  2. I had a bad experience with Craigslist and quickly pulled the item that was for sale. I would not recommend using it. Check to see if your community has a local online garage sale group on Facebook. I have had good success with that.

    by Linda — August 6, 2018

  3. Consider selling your home turnkey–many people do this in Florida, then you do not have to move it. Also, many churches have Thrift Shops and they are worth using. Call ahead and see what their restrictions are. We never let a huge truck of stuff into our store due to the size of the shop. Cookbooks, Books that were/or are Best sellers, dishes and glassware as well as items like small kitchen equipment were always welcome. They also accept clothes (in season and dry cleaned or launder only and on hangers). Paintings of good quality and art work. Our Church is an Episcopal one in Georgetown.

    We do not take electronic items of any kind including sound speakers and a BIG no-no is car seats–they can be dangerous. We also did not take baby beds of any kind or large pieces of furniture or upholstered furniture. Jewelry was OK as well as hats scarves, and table linens. All these places know what they can take and what they can sell. Consider what you would buy if it were used. No tears or stains and no strange smells like moth balls. A good thrift shop is discriminating, but then people want to buy there because it feels like they are buying almost new items.

    Good Luck and be sure to get a receipt type up a list of all the items you have donated and get there current value from Goodwill or used items websites.

    by Jennifer Lee — August 6, 2018

  4. Getting rid of furniture and buying new sounds like a solution, but just be aware of all the cheap imports. I for one am glad I kept most of my furniture (better quality) in spite of all of the nicks and dings incurred in moving. I attempted to buy new light fixtures – what a joke, shoddy workmanship – sent everything back and bought fixtures made in the US. I paid more but it was worth it!

    by Fionna — August 7, 2018

  5. We downsized from a 5 bedroom, to a 2 bedroom apartment while our home was being built and finally to our 2 bedroom home. The children didn’t take many things and the rest went to charities, friends or trashed. Like Fionnna mentioned we bought new for the house. What we discovered, once we started to unpack, we should have done a round two downsize, found many items we really didn’t need or want once we got to our new house and location. It is a long process. Electronics, mattresses, and large furniture the most difficult to get rid of.

    by Bruce — August 7, 2018

  6. We had an excellent experience with Habitat for Humanity. All one has to do is check and see if they have a store in your area.

    by ella — August 8, 2018

  7. Another great place online to try and sell unwanted items is NextDoor ….see if your community has a NextDoor website and newsletter. This is a privately ‘controlled’ group access that has an administrator. You have to live in the neighborhood to have access and when registering to join, the administrator checks public records to make sure you do live there. So it’s a great place to not only get neighborhood news, but to sell items as well. BTW this is not part of Facebook…google NextDoor for more info.

    by Coelle Baskel — August 8, 2018

  8. We downsized before moving to Florida and still found we should have left most
    all the furniture and started new. The lifestyle and weather and decor are so different that we regret paying $&& to move large items we are now replacing.

    We’ve had success with house sales, garage sales, Craigslist (and we only respond vis their email and find only those who call us are serious), & NextDoor.

    As hard as it is to part with things, you’ll feel very liberated once you do!!

    by Jeanne — August 8, 2018

  9. We started this process years ago. We are now moving to a slightly smaller home. One that is within walking distance to everything! What a relief. We can now downsize to one car. I started earlier than most people. I wanted to offer things that I knew my children loved before they already bought things. They’ve take pieces of furniture that were special to them and now have years to enjoy it. I, too, have found Habitat a wonderful organization. I save of our particularly nice things for the Humanine Society thrift store. While I only sold a few things I look at the donations we’ve made worth quite a bit for these organizations. I’ve never donated any junk. It can be difficult but really so much of the baking supplies and things of that nature I’m not going to use again. It’s true it is very liberating. My mother left a huge mess twice in her lifetime. Once when she moved to Florida then when she was old and moved back north. I swore I would never do that to my children.

    by Kate — August 8, 2018

  10. I finally moved from AZ to AR. I downsized from a 5 acre horse rancherita to a 1/3 acre place. My house is slightly larger, but I did not want to bring all the SW style stuff with me, so I donated or gave away or sold it. I also want a more spare home, easier to clean, with only exactly what I want to live with at this time. Most of my outdoor stuff I gave to my goddaughter, including horse panels, gates, tin roofing, saddle/bridle, t-posts, fencing, flagstone, saltillo tile, my paint mare, vintage patio furniture, just a lot. Heavy furniture was sold to a friend for cheap – I didn’t even bring my bed. I did move my washer/dryer, which were newish, and I am so glad I did. I gave away a lot to people on the reservation where I worked. I kept thinking, do I want to pay to move this? I moved via Pods, so I had better control over the move. Two useful measurements were, 1) Will this fit into my new place, stylistically or in size? and, 2) Is this item just so-so? I had already pared down the junque years ago, so this was selecting what to bring 1200 miles out of what I already use or like/love. Anything so-so went into the Goodwill box, which was became more as the departure date got closer. I must disagree that there is an end to the declutter process. I do not believe one ever finishes. It is a lifelong continuing process as we go through life. We are always letting go of things, always paring down, refining our lives. Yet, I agree that the “heavy lifting” of the declutter process should be done early enough so that one’s later years are for fun, not for dealing with stuff. And I am not infallible. I am decluttering even as I unpack and settle in to my new home.

    by Elaine C. — August 9, 2018

  11. Do not forget an organization called “A Wider Circle” . They are in the DC metro area and many parts of the3 country. They will pick up used furniture and items and distribute them to those in need. They will not take junk only gently used well cared for used pieces. They were a godsend to a woman I know here who downsized from a large home in Georgetown to a small new one bedroom apartment. She told me she would even like to go smaller–to a studio!

    by Jennifer — August 9, 2018

  12. As someone who has just packed a POD + shipped 5 extra boxes of “stuff” and is traveling with a loaded car from upstate NY to St Petersburg FL, I will give this advice. It was given to me by many people that have relocated and now I agree 110% with them!! Please note I loved all my stuff I put in that POD!!! However I am finding in the aftermath that I wished I had done one of these options: hire professional packers and get out of the way OR sell everything and start over. Except for my journals and art and photos, the other stuff can be replaced. I did not want to shop for new furniture once relocated, however now would have liked to have been more flexible with that. If you are as hardheaded and stubborn as I am, please read this message 3-4 times!!! Relocation is stressful, doing it solo is a huge job. Push the easier button!!!

    by Brenda — August 10, 2018

  13. Just moved from Michigan to Florida. Did not bring furniture with us. Still glad we did it but should have come down earlier to order furniture. Unfortunately, everything we picked out needed to be ordered. We have a few items from when we were snowbirds in Florida. We are “camping” and have been since late June. Bedroom set is being delivered Thursday. Progress!

    by Sandy — August 11, 2018

  14. Another way to bridge the gap between leaving everything behind and buying new: renting furniture.

    by Laney Humphrey — August 11, 2018

  15. Laney…… we rented a furnished home for a month. That gave us time to pick out furniture, washer and dryer. Having them delivered after we had sealed the floors and painted some of the rooms. Was nice and less stress painting and sealing the tile and not having to move furniture. Was also able to have the garage floors sealed and racks put up. Of course this was for a new build.

    by Bruce — August 11, 2018

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