Moving. For some people, the word conjures up images of fresh starts and the proverbial clean slate. But for most of us — people with years’ worth of stuff — the process of moving is usually fraught with tension and anxiety. It’s never easy to pack up everything you own into carefully labeled boxes and then unpack it again in a new home, even if you hire someone to do all the heavy lifting for you.
But simply moving from one house to another is nothing compared with downsizing. Whether you’re moving into an urban high-rise to take advantage of a great new job offer in the big city or you’re getting the “right-sized” house for your new status as an empty nester, deciding what to keep and what to get rid of as you transition into a home with significantly less square footage can be a major chore.
The key to getting it all done — while keeping your sanity intact — is to start early and stay organized. Try these tips and tricks for downsizing so that you can make the most of high-rise living in your new space.
What’s Your Agenda?
Even a basic move requires about a two-month timeline to make sure you have time to hire movers, pack your stuff and take care of other details like canceling your utilities. When you’re downsizing, you may want to start three months ahead of time with the major task of sorting through your belongings to decide what to keep and what to give away. Start with the things that you don’t use on a daily basis (think attic and basement), and then move on to other areas of your home as your moving date gets closer.
It’s helpful to set goals and make a timeline to keep you on track. To do this, count the rooms in your house and give yourself a weekend to get through each one. Be sure to mark this on your calendar so you can stay on schedule. Big rooms like the garage or bedroom may take longer than small ones, so feel free to adjust your schedule as needed. If you vow to tackle one room of downsizing each week, you’ll be able to make your downsizing decisions without going crazy.
Should It Stay or Should It Go?
Even if you’re not a bona fide pack rat, deciding what to keep and what to let go of is the single hardest part of downsizing. As you sort through each and every item you own, you’re likely to become overwhelmed by decision fatigue, which can paralyze even the most gung-ho downsizer. To avoid getting to a point where you just don’t know what to do with your stuff, stick to this script for each item you come across:
- Do I use this item every day?
- Have I used this item within the past year?
- Does this item have serious sentimental or aesthetic value?
If you answer yes to a question, you keep the item. If you answer no, you move on to the next question. If you answer no to all three of these questions, you should let go of the item.
How to Stop Second-Guessing Yourself
The trick to making good decisions about downsizing is to stick to the script — ruthlessly. If you allow yourself to second-guess each decision, you’ll end up with far more stuff than you can actually fit into your new space. For example, your collection of CDs and DVDs. They’re a great source of entertainment, but have you used them within the past year? If not, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll need it in your new home — especially when the internet gives you the option to download music and movies instantaneously. Let it go, and remind yourself that it can be replaced. If you’re worried about your ability to stay strong and honest about these questions, ask a friend to help box things up and to be there to offer an unbiased opinion about items you’re tempted to keep.
As for items with sentimental value, a follow-up question can help you winnow the field. If you’re having trouble deciding if something has “serious” artistic or sentimental value, ask yourself if you would want that item displayed in your bedroom. If you don’t want to look at it every day, you probably don’t have room for it in your life anymore.
Sometimes the stress of moving makes you want to hang on to your old things even more strongly than you normally would, because they are comforting and familiar. It’s perfectly normal to feel sad about giving up items that represent part of your past, and you should make room to grieve them if you need to — it’s not silly to feel emotional about saying goodbye to your kids’ baby clothes or your college textbooks when they represent an important part of your past. If you need help letting go, consider using advice from Marie Kondo, an organizing consultant and author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” to take a moment and thank the item for its role in your life before setting it aside.
Next Steps: Donate Your Excess Belongings
One great way to take the edge off of any reluctance to part with your stuff is to consider how it could help someone in need. Donating all those baby clothes to charity, for example, could make a huge difference in the lives of struggling young families and allow your items to live on instead of simply becoming landfill fodder.
Outlets like Goodwill or the Salvation Army can be a one-stop shop for your donations, since they have re-sale stores with furniture, household items, clothing and more. You can also research local charities to give away the rest. Some great organizations include:
- Dress For Success: Your contributions can help women in your community take steps towards a better future. Donate any new or gently used suits and business-appropriately apparel, including shoes, accessories and unused cosmetics.
- Local Children’s Hospitals: Check with your local or regional children’s hospital to see if they accept any children’s books. Make sure the books have lots of pictures and are in good condition.
- Pick Up Please: Each donation helps the lives of Veterans and their families. Log onto the site and schedule a time for a drive to pick up your belongings. Available in select U.S. cities.
Hold on to any records you may receive from the organizations as some charitable contributions are tax deductible.
Moving Day and Beyond
Once you’ve finally gotten through the process of downsizing, you’re well on your way to enjoying high-rise living. Be sure to check in with your new condo association to see if there are any rules about where to park the moving truck or how to dispose of your boxes on the big day. Some high-rise communities also require that you schedule your move-in day and time in order to have access to the service elevator. Ask family and friends to help you with move-in as some high-rises will only allow you to reserve the elevator for a few hours at a time. It’s also important that you contact the management team to let them know if you have any new furniture deliveries scheduled. They’ll likely want to add protective padding to the elevators so that nothing gets damaged in the move.
Getting involved in your association can also help you to meet your new neighbors and get the most out of this next chapter in your life. Once you’ve unpacked and adjusted, there’s a whole lot to explore in your new neighborhood, so get out there and enjoy it!
Downsizing during a move isn’t easy, but with a system in place and a commitment to getting the job done, you can get through it. After all, the only thing you have to lose is a whole lot of clutter. Go ahead and trade it in for your brand new life.