Downsizing — Planning Is The Key

In a previous blog, we talked about why to downsize, now we’ll talk about how.

You’ve got to have a plan. Otherwise, you will be quickly mired in inertia. Visualize the whole project and have an end point in mind.  Avoid acting haphazardly or rushing the process.  Rushing begets regret – regret that you kept too much, that you tossed a cherished heirloom, that you argued with your family, or that you spent too much time on some things and not enough on others.  Before you begin, be mindful of what you want to accomplish and realistic about how long it will take.

In your planning, consider your ideal lifestyle.  Do you want to be able to pack a bag and travel at whim? Do you prefer staying put and working in your garden? Is culture important? Do you need to be near museums, theater and good dining? Is an active social life important? Would you rather be hiking in the wild? Do you have accessibility requirements?

Are you planning to move to a new city, or stay within your current community?  Think about the emotional and social consequences.  While a cottage in the country is appealing, it is easy to become isolated. Is your church or synagogue important? If moving, be sure to research social opportunities that appeal to you like clubs, classes or outdoor activities.

Don’t automatically assume you need to be near your children and grandchildren.  Young families relocate easily and often. It may be a mistake to uproot your life only to find yourself isolated in a new town far from family. Think instead about moving to a place you love or where you already have a social connection. You and your children can always travel to see each other.

If moving, consider the cost. Most movers charge by weight or number of items.  The less you move, the less you’ll spend. It might be more cost effective to buy new furniture when you arrive – especially beds – than to transport what you already have.

Here are some other considerations:

Break it down

Approach the project as a series of small tasks.  Brainstorm a master to-do list.  Jot down everything that needs to happen.  Don’t worry about priorities or timetables.  What you want to do is capture all your thoughts in one place. Once you have a master list, you can break it down into tasks and timing.  If you are comfortable with technology, use mind-mapping software like Mind Meister to brainstorm, and project management software to break big chunks into smaller tasks.  I personally like Trello because it’s simple and visual, but use whatever works best for you.  Yellow pads of lined paper can be an indispensible tool, too.

Create a timetable

If you have an end-date, work backwards.  Will you need input from others at certain stages?  Make sure they are available when you need them. Be generous with your time. It will take longer than you think.

Enlist help

Determine who will be in charge and stick to it.  Find a navigator who is not emotionally involved in the process, either a professional or a friend.  Family members may be too emotionally close to the project to be helpful, but don’t rule them out.  You must all agree on a plan.

Create a floorplan

Whether you are are re-purposing existing space or moving to a new location, a floorplan lets you move furniture virtually before you heft it physically.  Measure the rooms carefully, noting doors, windows, and electrical outlets.  Then measure the furniture you want to keep.  You may be surprised at what does and doesn’t fit. There is software available, like Icovia, that lets you do this easily.

Hire an independent appraiser

You might be unpleasantly surprised at the market value of your belongings.  Value is cyclical.  You may have lovely, solid hardwood furniture you paid top dollar for, but worth is based on current market value.  Be prepared to be disappointed.  On the flip side, you may have real treasures you weren’t aware of.


Decide what you are going to do with furniture and other items. At this point, think in broader terms about identifying favorite pieces and what you can live without.  Buy some multi-colored sticky notes and tag items:




Give to ____________

Discuss your estate plan with your family. This might seem a little morbid, but if your children are grown,  be sure they know who your estate attorney is and where your plan is located.  Talk to your tax professional about the implications of gifting items now, versus including them in your estate.  It’s never too soon for these decisions.

Above all, don’t rush.  This is an emotional process, which we’ll talk more about in the next blog.  Plan ahead, start slowly and build momentum as you accomplish small successes.


Next: Why is this so hard?



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