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.
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!
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!