When we hear the word “downsize”, unappealing images are often conjured of older adults sadly emptying our homes of their possessions, their memories, and reluctantly preparing to move to a smaller “easier-to-manage” home. We think of seniors, shuffling through old musty dimly lit basements, making decisions about what to pitch, what to donate, and trying to figure out what to do with the rest. We might envision the family members, coming in to help in their own way, but maybe causing more stress and tension than what we had ever bargained for, as they pick through a life’s collection of furnishings, photographs, and trinkets. The parents yield to their adult children or siblings, but mostly out of exhaustion and coercion fatigue. Boxes are gathered and built, things are wrapped in paper and they are loaded on trucks, to go to the new place, or to be auctioned or given to a charity.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I am middle-aged. I have been “downsizing” for many years of my life, through all of my moves and life changes, always trying to find more happiness by having less, by building memories up in my life rather than more possessions. As a Certified Professional Organizer® and Senior Move Manager, I have assisted many of my clients work through tedium, make arrangements for things to leave their homes and find a better place to exist, as well as packed and unpacked the treasures that they choose to surround themselves with as they cross into their next part of their lives. If I had a nickel for every time I heard “OH JILL!!! I wish I would have done this sooner!!!”, I would at least have a couple of dollars in my pocket to remind me, to now remind YOU, that now is the time. Now is the time to start taking a good look around at any age of your life, at any stage of where you are in your time in that house or apartment of yours - and make some decisions about the things that really matter. Is that too vague? Ok. Here is how to tell what things you really need to hold onto, for YOUR own sake.
Note: If you have been struggling with hoarding behaviors, this article may not be as helpful as you wish, but it might still help you.
Here is a really helpful exercise you can do to help you prioritize your belongings:
Imagine that you have exactly 3 hours to leave your home*, and a very small car to transport the items - we shall say a Mini Cooper - to a safe place. You will never have the chance to go back to your home, so what are you taking with you?
Now imagine that I just lied a little, and that you have 12 hours to leave your home, a Ford Explorer, and a helper or two that can load the REST of your things in the SUV. The items from the previous scenario are already in the vehicle. You will not be able to return to your home. What are you taking with you NOW?
Ok. I lied a little more, but that was the last time. Now you have 24 hours, a 20-foot box truck, and two very strong people that can help you load and unload to your new beautiful home that has at least one bedroom, a small kitchen, a full bath, and a living room and small dining room. The items that you loaded into your SUV with your helper are already loaded magically into your 20-foot box truck. Does that help? See what I did there?
Let me tell you what most people put on their lists when I do this exercise during my downsizing workshops:
1. Photos (yep, number one answer)
2. Money (wallet, purse)
3. Devices (phone, tablet, computer)
7. Heirlooms of all sizes
8. Clothes and Shoes, Outerwear
10. Hobby Items
*In all of these scenarios, your loved ones and pets are safe.
Prioritization is the name of the game. Writing down the items and categories of things that mean the world to you will make a very large difference in your downsizing journey, especially if you record all of those thoughts BEFORE YOU EVEN BEGIN. It is a not-so-good idea to start by going room by room, writing down or putting sticky notes on furniture and art you want to keep, because I promise you that list will be very very large. The emotions will derail you, and five hours after you have entered your guest room, you will still be there, sorting out that closet full of memories, clothing you don’t like anymore (but might need!) and odds and ends that you put there years ago.
Put your intentions down on paper, then honor them. Once you have done that, then go room by room with an accountability partner of any kind (we recommend non-judgmental friends or family members if a Professional Organizer or Senior Move Manager is not on your radar yet).
The point here is that you can be in charge of your decisions. The items that go to your next new place are YOURS, and if you are part of a couple, you can decide about your possessions that you both own together by compromising and voting on what is the most meaningful and useful.
We all know how challenging it is to make changes to our routines, to our lives, and to our homes. This process of downsizing and simplifying does not have to be painful. It can actually be fun to plan out what your next space will look like and feel like!
- Jill Yesko, CPO®, CPPO