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7 tips for downsizing

Portrait of happy senior couple packing cardboard boxes while mo

For most of us, there will come a day when downsizing from a large, high-value family home makes sense. Perhaps the decision is prompted to simplify your life, or maybe you want to cut costs or increase your retirement nest egg? Or maybe you’d like to move closer to kids and grandkids or be in close proximity to medical and social facilities. Whatever the reason, the prospect and act of downsizing can be stressful — but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  

Here are 7 tips to make you’re downsizing decision easier:

#1: Take stock of your priorities

This is key. No one should make a decision to downsize based on the size of their home. Instead, consider what’s important to you. Do you need to free up money to help fund your retirement? Then selling a large presumably more expensive property and move to a presumably cheaper, smaller home. Or perhaps the downsize decision is prompted by a desire to move closer to family or friends or to a better-serviced community (perhaps with an active community centre or medical facilities).

#2: Start the process early

Inevitably the process of downsizing always takes longer. To reduce stress, remember to start the process early and to pace yourself. It will take you weeks maybe months to go through and sort out a lifetime in your house. Give yourself this time, remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.

#3: Use a process

Decluttering and reducing your stuff is a major part of downsizing — and it can often cause the most distress. To make it easier and smoother, consider adopting a process. Having a process means you don’t have to stress over how to perform and complete the process of downsizing your stuff — and allows you to concentrate on the more emotionally taxing decisions on what to keep.
Whether it’s working with a professional organizer, perhaps one who utilizes the KonMari approach, or following one of the many websites dedicated to decluttering, or starting in a room that won’t be in your new home (say a den or fourth bedroom) the process will guide you through this emotionally charged part of downsizing.

#4: Gift those special items, now 

Over the years we often collect antiques or heirlooms that we plan to leave to family members. Rather than waiting and cluttering up your new place with these items, consider gifting those special items now. There are two benefits to this: you’ll get the items out of our way and you can feel good knowing that people you love can enjoy that special piece now.

#5: Allow some time to reminisce 

There will be days when you will want to stop emptying the kids’ bedrooms and just look through their kindergarten drawings, soccer trophies, and once-prized stuffed animals. Allow yourself the time to reminisce. Pausing and experiencing this nostalgia — even having a bit of a cry — is part of this process and should be honoured, not rushed.

#6: Use the downsizing process as a chance to bond

Want to spend time, but get things done? Invite the kids and grandkids over for the weekend for a little family-downsizing time. Ask them to help you go through each item. As the memories come up, share them. Talk to the young ones about where you bought your favourite trinkets. Tell them about your family’s heirlooms. Let them ask questions, pack up items, even ask them to help them post items you no longer need for sale. This not only helps you get to your end-goal — a decluttered, downsized life — but allows you to spend time your family talking about meaningful and important things.

#7: Test out your new place 

If you get a chance, during the downsizing process, see if you can test out your new downsized life. Find a short-term rental and take a “vacation” near the new, downsized home. If you’re moving into a senior living community ask if you can spend a few nights on site to get an idea of what it would be like to live there. Doing a test run helps build excitement for the new and helps diminish the fear and anxiety associated with something new. Just remember to focus on the positives and appreciate how much simpler life will be once you downsize. with fewer surfaces to dust, rooms to vacuum, or towels to wash.

Throughout this process, keep in mind that change is hard for anyone — but the older we get, the more accustomed we are to our surroundings and our stuff. While downsizing can be a tough process, just remember that your family is the reason you cherish those memories not the stuff around you.

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Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards.