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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

How to Downsize the Right Way

Whether you’re moving across the country or into a local senior center, follow these suggestions for a smoother transition.  

Downsizing sounds like a great idea … until you begin to wrap your head around the massive task of moving. The thought of leaving a longtime home, with all of its associations — the height chart on the laundry room doorframe, the grave of a beloved pet, even the chip in the sink from your oldest child learning to do the dishes — can be wrenching. Add to that the cost of moving, the burden of offloading half (or more!) of your possessions, and the project can quickly overwhelm even the most capable older adult.


The best way to tackle downsizing, according to the experts, is by breaking the process down into smaller, more manageable bits that you can accomplish in a matter of hours or days. Professional organizer Susan Santoro recommends taking photos of your home before you dig into decluttering. “These photos will help you if you have any moments of regret over items you've let go," says Santoro. "You should also take photos of individual items that are special to you that you will be letting go.”

Choosing a Moving Company 

Scams happen, but you can avoid them with a little due diligence. There are people who will pose as movers who will pack your belongings into a van … and never be seen again. More often, your mover may not take good care of your things, orthings or may fail to replace them. Check movers out ahead of time so this doesn’t happen to you.

Your moving company should be licensed and insured, and willingly present proof of insurance upon your request. Beyond that, local movers are only regulated by the state, each of which has its own licensing regulations. Check with your Better Business Bureau (BBB) if the company has a good track record.

National movers must register with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) system, and by law must offer two types of liability to the customer:
  1. Full Value Protection makes your mover liable for the replacement value of lost or damaged goods in your entire shipment. The cost varies by shipper. Be sure to talk about how replacement value is determined on very expensive items.
  2. Released Value Protection is free, but the protection it offers is limited to no more than 60 cents per pound per article. Go here for more information about these options and to check for complaints about national companies.

Check around for reviews and referrals as well. The site can provide reviews from neighbors, or use the government site that registers complaints. Private sites like can offer useful tips and information. 

You may also elect to use a mover such as Senior Move Masters that specializes in moves for older adults. This company will pack and unpack, help with space planning, and even donate your unwanted items. Another such choice is Senior Move Managers, accredited by NASMM. They can help you downsize and organize, and will even use an app to show you how the furniture you are bringing will fit into your new space. Use their website to find NASMM-approved movers by geographic location.

Then, start with drawers that hold unsentimental items, such as leftover electronics, and work up from there. Put a limit on the amount of time or number of spaces to go through each day. If you feel like doing more, great, but if not, you’ve still accomplished that day’s goal. 

Divide Into Piles

There are many ways to tackle cleaning out your home, from the KonMari method of keeping only that which sparks joy, to Project 333 which advocates keeping only 33 pieces of clothing and accessories. One trick that works for most people is to completely empty the drawer, closet, box, or whatever space you’re working on and divide items into three piles.
  1. The keep pile is for items you are sure you want to hold on to. 
  2. The donate pile is for things that have useful life left, but that you don’t need anymore.
  3. The trash pile is for possessions that, upon reflection, no one will find value in. You can make a separate pile for trash items with sensitive information that need to go through a shredder before getting discarded.

Another way to pare down is to keep only one of the items where you have multiples. One winter scarf, one spatula, one bird identification book will do you just fine. You could even ditch the bird ID book and download the Merlin Bird App to your smartphone. 

Kids Don’t Want It All

Don’t make the mistake of keeping numerous items for children or grandchildren without asking them. "Talk with children and family to determine what items they would like to keep and what they are not interested in," suggests Santoro. "This information will make it easier for you to make decisions.”

Younger generations are more interested in experiences than stuff. "Understand that your children may want very few items, regardless of how special those items are to you," says Santoro. Besides, one of them may be thrilled to inherit Uncle Otto’s dinosaur book collection when you would have sworn he would much prefer your Cuisinart and bread maker. And sadly, it’s unlikely anyone wants your china. But it can be put to good use by checking out ideas here.

Do not criticize what others want or try to shove a bunch of extra items their way. Instead, think of the joy your “unwanted” (by the family) items will give to someone who runs across them on eBay or in a thrift shop. Maybe you have a friend who would love to get your juicer; just make sure not to make people feel obligated to accept your gift.

That said, if cousin Kelly in another state wants the picture grandma painted, offer to keep it available only until a certain date. If someone really wants it, they’ll find a way, maybe even by having another relative hold onto it. Mark the date on your calendar and toss or donate the items that have not been picked up.


Sentimental items like old photos can be kept as is or filed electronically. If the task seems mind boggling, hire someone to digitize them for you. Do go through them first, though, and keep only those where you recognize people and places, and that are the best of their peers. Do not feel obligated to keep ten boxes of photos just because they are there.

You only need to keep the last seven years of tax returns. Prior iterations should be shredded and used as packing material or recycled. Check with your attorney or accountant regarding other documents. Business documents and agreements belong in a safe or safe deposit box, with digital copies on your computer. 


Measure your new space and make sure your existing furniture will fit. You’d be surprised how many people fail to do this and find themselves with a moving van full of unworkable couches and tables! Instead find a furniture layout app to use. If you still have the big, bulky pieces popular a decade or two ago, consider donating them and getting sleek new pieces for your new place. 

We all tend to hang on to things that are imbued with sentimental value. If a spouse has passed away, most of us keep the old bed and their favorite chair. We look at the dining room set and think of all the meals served there as the kids grew up. Downsizing is a good time to take a photo of these relics for memory’s sake and switch to items that will be a better fit in your new life. It’s not disrespectful, it’s simply moving on to the next phase of life that will be here whether you spend it sleeping in a king-size bed or a double. 

Sell It

You may be able to sell unwanted items, but make sure not to become so involved in making a small amount of money that your move is delayed. Some people have a garage sale and make everything free on the last day. You can advertise multiple items on Craigslist and then make them all available on one day, at one time to save yourself a lot of hassle. You can even choose to use eBay or Facebook Marketplace, but be aware it can be a time-intensive process unless you are willing to take offers. Perhaps you have a family member who will post items for you in exchange for a cut of the profits. If you have very valuable items, you can contact an estate liquidator or even a museum.
Get rid of bulk items. That’s right, you do not need to bring the 123 batteries from Costco or the commercial laundry size detergent. You also don’t need five kinds of shampoo, or enough toilet paper to last through the turn of the century. Tell your inner frugalmeister to take a deep breath and learn to walk past the bulk sales, as much as it hurts at first. 

Hire Help

Downsizing can take months or years in some homes. Start as early as you can, but know that sometimes getting help with the task is the smartest way to go. The National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO) is a good place to find someone who organizes for a living and will be able to help with everything from your emotional well-being to how to post that giant chair on Craigslist. 

A professional organizer can be used just to get you started, or as a stalwart partner for the whole process. These are not cleaners; they are not there to do your windows. Organizing pros can help you make those tough decisions, whisk away items that are bound for the dump, and tell you funny stories about other clients they’ve had to keep your spirits up while you both work. They can also search a book collection for old stock certificates that may have been hidden between pages (true story!) and they’ll know where to get grandpa’s stamp collection valued. 

Whether you’re planning a move or not, there is no time like today to pare down your possessions. Consider it a gift to your heirs, who will otherwise have to go through everything themselves eventually. You may find that you begin to feel a weight come off your shoulders as possessions leave and your home becomes more spacious and airy. You may even begin to think of new projects you’d like to tackle as you master downsizing!