Tips For Downsizing Your House Without Downsizing Your Life

Downsizing Your House
Debbie Reslock

By Debbie Reslock | Jan 18th, 2023

“Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”

-Jalal Rumi

No one knows that sentiment better than a baby boomer staring at a lifetime of possessions. And anyone considering downsizing will soon find that those boxes storing photos and your kids’ grade school artwork were much easier to fill than they will be to empty.

There are several reasons why we move and if it’s into a smaller house, we most likely will need to minimize our possessions. But in the end, even those of us who stay put will need to come to terms with our accumulated stuff.

The Upside of Downsizing

Although many say they were surprised at how hard the process was, most are happy when it’s done and wonder why they waited so long. Sorting through a lifetime of keepsakes gives us the chance to let go of what doesn’t add to our lives, but there are many other benefits you might want to consider.

See Also: 6 Reasons To Embrace Minimalism In Retirement

9 suggestions for a successful downsize

When deciding what to keep, common advice is to ask yourself how long you’ve had each item, when was the last time it was used or enjoyed and could it be replaced if you discovered down the road that you’d like to have it back. Remember these questions as you go through each room along with these 9 other tips that can guide you in the process.

  1. Designate a room, or corner of a room as a central location to organize. Separate items according to what you want to keep, give away to family or friends, sell, donate or toss. There’s a great 8-week downsizing plan from you can use to help plan the move.
  2. Don’t rush. Give yourself enough time to go through all your possessions.
  3. Instead of looking at this as what you’re giving up, think in terms of what you’ll want most to take along.
  4. Start in the easier spaces, like attics or extra bedroom closets that typically store things you’re not using. Build up your downsizing muscles here.
  5. Measure your new space and the furniture you want to bring to make sure it will fit. And take note of your storage areas. There may not be enough cabinets to hold your holiday dishes or all your wine glasses.
  6. Remember that the physical object doesn’t hold the memory. Take pictures or write down the experiences you associate with an item if you’re afraid you’ll forget.
  7. Go paperless whenever you can. Digitize old photos, CDs, DVDs and any paper documents you need to keep that don’t require the originals.
  8. Finish the job. Don’t quit halfway through and rent a storage space. It’s better to remove the band aid with one swift yank.
  9. Don’t forget to check those unopened boxes that have moved with you. I once was surprised at discovering a box I thought held family memorabilia was actually filled with an old coffee pot and assorted small kitchen utensils we hadn’t used in 20 years.

What to do if you get stuck

When downsizing, you need to know there will be emotional pitfalls that can trip you up, which is partially what helped get you in this mess in the first place. But beyond losing your way down memory lane, beware of these psychological tricks our minds often like to play.

Regretting the future: This occurs when we come across clothes that don’t fit or shoes we never wear, but we convince ourselves that someday we might. The same goes for holding on to small kitchen appliances. Be honest. Are you really going to start making bread now? Or waffles?

Wasting our money: We’ve all paid for something that we never used. Or even liked. We cringe every time we see it and mentally add up the amount we squandered. But we need to accept that continuing to let it take up space won’t change our bank account.

Giving up on a dream: Were you going to learn how to knit, play the guitar or finally get into shape? It’s hard to admit that some plans will indeed go unfulfilled. But hanging clothes off of the treadmill in your bedroom doesn’t count as using it. Let it go.

Feeling the guilt: This can be the strongest snag because it’s hard to part with something given to us by someone we love. But remember, you’re not honoring their legacy by keeping your mother’s ring or your grandmother’s jewelry in a drawer. If they are not something you would ever wear, would someone else? Could you sell them and use the money in a more memorable way or on something that would truly make you happy, which is what they would most likely want?

4 Tips for Making Downsizing Into a Positive Experience

Find the Best Time to Sell- It might be tempting to wipe the slate clean now, but the fact is, it pays to wait. Regardless of the idea that home prices typically fluctuate, once a home is sold, the funds secured from the sale are likely going to be spent almost immediately. Assuming a strong real estate market, it might make more financial sense to delay the sale. Often, you will find that you can remain financially free to travel and enjoy your retirement without having to sell. Renting out your home is always a possibility and brings in passive income to support travel expenses and more.

Find Your Dream Destination – With more time and less worries, you can explore the world and look for a new destination to settle in – for days, months, even years. Whether your ambition is to hop around the globe or move out to a little cottage in the country, it’s all possible. Many retirees are choosing to move to metropolitan centers, for more exposure to culture, new experiences and the best food. It also helps that urban centers are great for travelers, with easy access to airports, trains and more.

Find the Right Agent When Selling – For an upcoming home sale as well as the inevitable home purchase following it, the right agent will make all the difference. If you have an old home that needs repairs, ask each agent you interview what they would do to minimize expensive pre-sale improvements and maximize the sticker price. What price will they put on your home and for what reasons? It’s important to field answers from several agencies, use the internet, and arrive at a smart number that will achieve a satisfying sale in record time.

When buying your next property, ensure that the utilities, taxes, maintenance, and insurance costs are within your budget. Ask each agent about incidental costs that you may not have considered. Keep in mind that switching climates, a common move for retirees, comes with extra costs as well. While cold places may bring more home expenses for things like snow removal and maintenance, warm places will require more energy to cool the home.

Budget From the Outset – Track your running expenses diligently, because blowing through a budget early in retirement might mean a bit of a squeeze later on. At the start and end of each month, sit down and go over your monthly costs one-by-one. You will find that there are areas where you want to spend more and areas where you don’t have to spend as much.

You don’t lose what’s still yours to keep

In the end, wherever we live is home. And no matter the size, the actual house doesn’t have possession of our most special memories. We do. And we take those with us. Downsizing just opens up room for all the new opportunities that await us.

I have a friend who sold their large family home to buy a smaller condo in a new city so they could be near their daughter and grandchildren. And have time to spend on the boat they dreamed about. She described the process to me one day, admitting that it wasn’t easy to let go of their things until they realized they wanted more adventures at this stage in life, not more stuff.

It’s true that downsizing may be overwhelming to contemplate and uncomfortable to begin, but the ending seems to pave the way for a fresh start. Maybe this is a lesson we all need to learn.

Because it looks like less may indeed be more.

Debbie Reslock

Debbie Reslock

Debbie Reslock writes about and for the baby boomer and 55+ market, including the amazing journey of aging itself. Her blog, The Third Act, can be found at


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