Senior Couple Packing Boxes In Kitchen

How To Downsize: Everything You Need To Know

9-Minute Read
Published on February 18, 2021
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When we think about moving up in life, a lot of us probably imagine a bigger house and a nicer car. In reality, though, a nicer lifestyle is more often achieved by getting rid of space, not paying for more.

Downsizing is a great way to cut down on expenses and responsibilities to free up more time and money for you and your family to enjoy. There are many reasons to downsize no matter your age – but how do you downsize, and where should you start?

Read on for our guide to decluttering, reducing expenses and finding downsizing success.

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Benefits Of Downsizing

The definition of downsizing is losing space, but the trade-off can be worth giving up the extra square footage. Here are a few things you can look forward to if you decide to move to a smaller space.

Less To Clean

This may be the best thing about buying a smaller house. In a smaller home, you have less space and, by default, less stuff to clean. This gives you more time for other things that you actually enjoy doing. Having less space and less stuff to clean also helps cut down on dust allergies. Since there’s less to clean, it’s easier to dust the whole house more often.

Less Stuff

More space, more stuff. Less space, less stuff. When you have a smaller house, you have less space to keep “extra” things. What do you do with all those extra items when you move? Why not sell them? Less stuff could equal more money in your pocket or better-quality furniture because you’ll need fewer pieces.

Donna Stellhorn, a feng shui expert, went from having a closet that was the size of a bedroom to a comparatively small one. “I have just 30 pieces of clothing for my professional wardrobe. I have three colors in my closet; black, blue or purple so everything is mix and match. I get dressed in under 3 minutes each morning and always feel polished and put together,” she says. “When I had a big space, I kept feeling it was empty and needed to be filled. With smaller closets I bring home less stuff which means I have more time for life experiences.”

Larger Resale Market

When it does come time to sell your home, there’s usually a larger market for smaller, more affordable houses than for larger, more expensive ones. Since a larger part of the population is able to afford a smaller house, it could make your house easier to sell if you choose to move again someday.

Lower Bills

With a smaller home comes less space to heat and cool and fewer lights hooked up to the electricity, saving you money on utility bills. Plus, reducing your energy use is better for the environment. What’s more, a smaller house often means a smaller homeowners insurance payment and owing less at tax time.

Lower Mortgage Payment

With a smaller house, your mortgage payment may also be smaller. This could free up money for things like funding your retirement or paying for travel expenses. Or, since your payment will likely be lower, you might have extra money to pay your house off faster.

Less Debt

Less debt means less risk. The less debt you have, the more flexibility you’ll have financially in other areas of your life. The beauty of downsizing is that you’re already used to living off of a specific amount of money every month based on your current home’s mortgage. When you move to a smaller house with a smaller mortgage, you should be able to put that excess money toward debts and investments.

More Money To Invest

What if you were able to lower your mortgage payment by $500 a month and invested that extra money? It could grow to hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more, depending on how close you are to retirement) that will be there when you’re ready to retire. Moving to a smaller home now could mean decades of freedom when you retire.

What To Save When Downsizing

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and downsize, you’re probably wondering what you should keep and what you should toss when moving to a smaller place. While it’s true that downsizing gives you an opportunity to get rid of excess stuff, there are some things you might want to hold onto.

Items With Sentimental Value

Grandma’s quilt. Dad’s childhood dresser. Your child’s handprint painting from preschool. These are the items that make your house your home. Items like this probably have sentimental value, and you’re likely to keep them. Make sure that items you choose to keep are actually of sentimental value. You may want to keep three copies of your book report from third grade or every piece of paper your child drew on the first 6 years of their life but remember that you’ll have to find room for everything. Keep only the items you value and that you’d miss if you no longer had them.

Julie Kearns, founder of Junket: Tossed & Found in Minneapolis, downsized from a home with 2,400 square feet to a condo with 800 square feet. She says she was glad that she kept “… pieces that would trigger positive memories of experiences that had happened in my previous home and would help smooth the emotional aspect of the transition. It’s nice to have some familiarity.”

Photographs

Don’t throw your photos away if they can’t be replaced or if you may regret getting rid of them later. If you don’t want to keep physical copies of your photos, you can always scan them into your computer and then give the physical photos away to a friend or family member who wants them. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to scan all of your photos before you move, or plan on taking the photos with you.

Important Documents

When you’re getting rid of things, be careful to not throw away any important documents. Keep an eye out for things like birth or death certificates, Social Security cards, marriage licenses, passports, wills and/or trust papers, high school and college diplomas, property deeds or vehicle titles, tax forms, old medical records and any military service documents. Some of these items are irreplaceable or are very difficult to replace.

“I recommend organizing any paper messes before you move so you don’t transfer both the organizational and physical clutter into a newer, smaller space,” says Kearns.

Fine Or Heirloom Jewelry (And Their Original Boxes)

Make sure you don’t toss out any valuable jewelry. Even if a piece doesn’t have sentimental value, its monetary value may make it worth saving. You can save valuable jewelry for your family or friends or decide to sell it later. Jewelry can also be worth more if you keep the original packaging.

Small And Multifunctional Furniture Pieces

When you downsize, you have less room for all of the furniture that used to fit in your larger home. In a smaller home, functionality is very important. For example, if an ottoman has built-in storage, it’ll be more useful than having two pieces of furniture – one for sitting or using as a footrest, and one for storage. If you purchase new furniture, think about getting compact furniture, which can make a smaller room feel larger.

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What To Get Rid Of When Downsizing

When making the decision to downsize, make sure to carefully consider what will be the right size home for you and your family. The size of the home you’ll be moving into can affect the amount of possessions you get rid of.

Downsizing will be a lot easier if you give yourself time to go through the items in your home before you move. You don’t want to make a quick decision to get rid of half of your stuff and regret it later.

Molli Carson from Makespace downsized from a spacious home in suburban California to a tiny bedroom in the heart of Brooklyn. She shared a key tip about sorting through your things when downsizing: “Don’t do it all at once. Downsizing requires a continual process of purging. There’s a fine line between ‘need’ and ‘want,’ and it may take a while before you’re able to distinguish between the two.”

The easiest place to start is with the “extra” things in your house. The amount of extra items we accumulate that have little to no sentimental value is surprising. If you find items like this in your home, you can probably get rid of them first:

  • Old magazines and newspapers
  • Old receipts
  • Unread books
  • Old/outdated electronics (make sure to clear all personal information before getting rid of electronics)
  • Outgrown and outdated clothes
  • Socks without a match
  • Mismatched food storage containers
  • Old towels and sheets
  • Toys and puzzles that are missing pieces
  • Old cosmetics and toiletries
  • Old spices
  • Unused kitchen appliances, cookbooks and other gadgets
  • Old CDs and DVDs (and VHS tapes if you still have them)
  • Coffee mugs or other drinkware you don’t use anymore
  • Probably all of the things in your junk drawer (you know I’m right)
  • Metal hangers from the dry cleaner

If you’re having trouble deciding what else to throw out, try following Marie Kondo’s popular KonMari Method. Sift through your belongings one by one, and if something doesn’t “spark joy” or bring you happiness, you can toss it.

Don’t just throw items you’re getting rid of into the garbage, though. Separate items into two piles: donate and sell. Some items are probably still in good condition (especially the larger items, like appliances and furniture), and can be sold in a garage sale or on a website like Craigslist. This could be a good way to make a little extra money for your move. Items that are gently used and functional, but you aren’t able to sell, can be donated to a local charity or given to friends and family.

Additional Tips For Downsizing Success

Once you’ve decided on downsizing and what you’ll be keeping and throwing out before the move, you’re almost all set. Here are a few more tips for downsizing success.

Decide On A Lifestyle

If you’re a retired senior looking to downsize, a lifestyle change might be what you desire. Before you start looking into areas to live, start thinking about what type of community you want to live in. Maybe you like to golf, so being near golf courses is important. A popular move for some seniors is relocating down south near beaches and marinas.

If you’re an empty nester, your desired lifestyle might not be much different from what it is now. Some empty nesters want to stay close to their kids and grandkids. Although it’s common for empty nesters to stay near their family, a lifestyle change might be what you want, too.

Maybe you want to change to a minimalist lifestyle or desire to leave the hustle and bustle of a city for a more rural area. There are all sorts of lifestyle changes but finding the one that fits your needs should be your first step in the downsizing process, as you decide what type of home you’re looking for.

Consider Alternatives To Traditional Housing

When downsizing, consider whether you want to move into a smaller traditional home or try something new. If you’re looking for a lower-maintenance property with access to amenities, you might opt for a condo. If you want low maintenance but would still like some creative control over renovations and your yard, a townhouse might be a good option for you. If you’d like to embrace minimalism and become more eco-friendly, you might even consider building a tiny house.

Do Your Research On New Costs

After you have determined what your needs are for your new, smaller home, your next step should be to do research into the real estate market of the area where you want to live. Start by looking at home sales made over the last year in your desired area, and you can figure out approximately how much your new home is going to cost you.

Other factors you may want to research are the property taxes in your desired area, access to medical care, cost of living and association dues if you’re looking into a condominium.

Strategize Storage Solutions

Once you’ve decided where to move and into what sort of property, it might be wise to think about how you want to store things in your new, smaller space. Even if you got rid of a large chunk of your belongings, there will still be things that require storage space in your new home. As you’re moving in, plan out a storage system for everything that will need to be put away. If you don’t have much closet space, consider maximizing vertical storage and adding shelves. Stackable storage bins can also be very useful if you have a space to stow them.

So, Should You Downsize?

If you’re at a point in your life where you’d like to free up time or money to spend on your lifestyle – or you’re just moving and looking to live more simply – don’t be afraid to downsize. While it isn’t for everyone, downsizing can be game changing for homeowners seeking a lifestyle change.

For more tips, tricks and resources on home buying, mortgages and even taxes and insurance, check out the Rocket Mortgage® Learning Center.

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