Signs It’s time to Rightsize

And tips on how to do it!

By Lisa Iannucci

Take a look around your home. Are the kids grown and moved out and now you have more house than you need? Maybe your elderly parents are ready to sell your childhood home and move to a senior center? It might be time to consider downsizing.

“Sometimes downsizing is voluntary, sometimes it’s forced,” said Sonya Myers, author of Downsize Your Home Rightsize Your Life: How To Cash In Your Home Equity & Jumpstart Your Happy, Healthy Retirement. “If it’s your call, you know it’s time to downsize when your stuff is preventing you from living the kind of life you want.”

Getting ready for the next chapter of your life can be exciting, but it also can mean going through years, and sometimes decades, of stuff and memories, which can be a huge emotional and physical undertaking. It doesn’t have to be.

“Start by re-framing the word to rightsizing, because downsizing implies a sense of loss, while rightsizing implies a sense of correctness and freedom,” said Marni Jameson, a nationally syndicated home columnist and author of Downsizing The Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go and the upcoming Downsizing the Blended Home, When Two Households Become One (December, 2019). “Just say ‘I have too much house, and now it’s time to correct that so I can have what I need and no more.’”

How do you know when it’s the right time to downsize? “This happens for people at different times in their lives,” said Jameson.

It’s hard to maintain your home: “Are you too old to maintain your own home?” said Jameson. “Maybe you, or your parents, are ready to go to a retirement home or assisted living.” Taking care of a home takes money, time and energy. There’s gardening and mowing and just even cleaning rooms you may not even be using. There’s also a cost factor involved too.

You’re empty nesters now: Your youngest child has just graduated college and is moving to the big city to follow a career of her own. You’re excited and perhaps have waited for this day for a long time and now it’s here. “You’re footloose and fancy free and don’t need to have five bedrooms, said Jameson. “You might be thinking that if you downsize you can make life simple, go away on trips and not worry, not look back.”

You divorced: Jameson calls this ‘transitional design.’ “Whenever you’re going through a major life transition and it’s time to reframe and reshape your home, it should reflect who you are and who you are becoming,” she said. “It’s a really healthy way to evolve through life.”

Making the decision to downsize is hard enough, but deciding what to do with a lifetime of things is difficult too. What do you do with the desk your great grandmother gave you, the stuffed animals you won at the carnival, drawings your children did when they were little or all of the blankets you’ve accumulated over the years?

“This is not a simple task, it’s a rite of passage, and it is hard, profound, and difficult and it’s why a lot of people put it off,” said Jameson who understands the emotional and physical struggles of downsizing all too well. “I flew in to take care of my parents’ home that I had grown up in as a child and that they had lived in for nearly 50 years. I thought it would be so simple, but I stood in the doorway and felt absolutely paralyzed, but I had to slog through because I had a limited amount of time.”

Myers suggests anticipating the emotional toll and having a plan to cope. “Depending on your personality, you might call a friend for support, roll with the feelings, they only last a few minutes then you can get back to the work at hand or, my favorite, document the process.”

She suggests photographing something you value but need to let go. “Print the photo, add it to a file or journal and include details such as how it came into your life, what it means to you, and why you’re reluctant to part with it,” she said. “That way, you can revisit the treasured item anytime you like.”

A new chapter may be closing and you don’t know what’s coming ahead. “But don’t forget that you’re making room for a really cool new future,” said Jameson.

Rightsizing Tips

Books, furniture, clothing, toys and souvenirs are just some of the things you’ll come across when downsizing, but what do you do with it all? Here are some tips

  • Make a weekly date. “If you have the luxury of time, block off 30 minutes and choose one area of your home, or one category of possessions,” suggests Sonya Myers, author of Downsize Your Home Rightsize Your Life: How To Cash In Your Home Equity & Jumpstart Your Happy, Healthy Retirement. “If you’re a procrastinator, start with short sessions. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish in 30 minutes. If you’re on a deadline, choose things you value most and pack those first. Continue to “triage” your possessions until you’ve met your goal then get rid of whatever remains.”
  • Start with the big stuff. Getting rid of a dresser or couch can quickly show progress. “Then tackle it one room or one closet at a time,” said Marni Jameson, a nationally syndicated home columnist and author of Downsizing The Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go and the upcoming Downsizing the Blended Home, When Two Households Become One (December, 2019).
  • Sell, donate or give away the rest. “You can move furniture on Craigslist and then what doesn’t go there you can donate to the Salvation Army, Goodwill or your favorite donation center,” said Jameson. “There’s very little paperwork that you really need to hang on to. Scan what you do need to keep, including photos.” Jameson suggests uploading them to scanmyphotos.com, putting them on a flash drive or a CD, and putting copies in a safe deposit box or giving copies to your family.”
  • Don’t save for family. “Don’t assume your kids want your stuff, so ask them if they want your stuff and if they say no, believe them,” said Jameson.
  • Need, use, love. “Remember your stuff is about need, use, love,” said Jameson. “Do I need this? Will I use it? Do I love it? And not, ‘it was expensive, so-and-so gave it to me,’ or ‘I might need it someday,’ or ‘it’s a good backup in case the first one breaks.’”
  • Get help. “Always remember, there are people and services that specialize in downsizing,” said Myers. “Your mantra should be ‘It’s just stuff. I can always call in the pros and walk away.’”

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