Last Updated on September 28, 2023 by Luke Feldbrugge
Downsizing your home can help you simplify your life, open new options and potentially change your lifestyle. It is also hard work. There’s a lot more to it than “channeling your inner minimalist”, and it’s best to approach downsizing with your eyes wide open. Since it inevitably means pairing down a lot of your belongings – stuff you’ve collected for years or decades – downsizing triggers a lot of emotions. Let’s look at all the facets of downsizing so you can get started.
You may have already worked out why you want to downsize, but it’s good to review the reasons. Then we will examine the “how” and the “where” and the “what” factors in downsizing home. Together, we can put together a playbook for your next big adventure: downsizing your home.
Reasons and Benefits of Downsizing Your Home
According to a survey conducted by Trulia in 2017, almost 61 percent of folks living in a home larger than 2,000 square feet said they would choose a smaller place if they decided to move. There are clearly benefits of downsizing your home, and other reasons such as the following:
Downsizing Your Home for Retirement
Of course, the prime mover for much of the talk about downsizing your home is retirement. Many Baby Boomers have reached retirement age. Then the pandemic caused even more to leave their careers. If we had to pick one reason why people are moving to smaller properties, it would probably be retirement and making a fresh start.
Another benefit and reason to consider downsizing your home is to save money. When you downsize to a smaller home, you often are downsizing your monthly mortgage payments, and conversely you’ll also spend less money maintaining the smaller home. Those financial benefits add up fast. As you trim those monthly costs – including utility bills, trash collection and property taxes – you will see how it affects your budget almost immediately.
Minimize Regular Home Maintenance
Home maintenance can eat up your budget and your time; taking away from enjoying life. A smaller house and yard can reduce your maintenance and increase your time. And next to money, saving time is a great benefit. If the smaller house you move to is also newer, your upkeep can be reduced down to almost nothing.
Make Things Easier
Aside from more money and more time, downsizing your home can simplify your life and add to your peace of mind. Though it’s difficult to put a price on “peace of mind”, there’s no question that it will improve the quality of your life.
For example, reducing the size of your home means less stuff, things you’ve been collecting over the years. Decluttering is the trendy word for it, but it can generate good feelings when you do it. For example, try cleaning out half of your garage. You will immediately feel better. Declutter, organize, repeat.
Downsizing Your Home Can Help Get Through Hard Times
Downsizing your home may be an important step to take when your life presents difficulties. In the case of a divorce, for example, the large house may not be a good fit for either party and both of you will be downsizing. In the case of a financial downturn, going smaller may be the only way to protect your equity in your home. You probably know you can’t keep your current place for financial reasons, but you don’t want to lose it to the bank by defaulting, so you downsize. In the case of bankruptcy, downsizing your home and your life may be part of your plan to get back on your feet.
10 Tips on How to Downsize Your Home
Some of these tips are strictly practical when going through the process of downsizing your home, but others address some of the more psychological stuff.
1) Take Photos
This one is easy. Take photos of every room in your current house. This will be a visual reminder of how your house was laid out and it will also create the beginning of an inventory of the stuff you’ve got.
Sometimes looking at a photo of the room will reveal to you which items to keep. That mirror that you never look at, for example, might fit perfectly on the wall near the front door at the new place.
2. Make a List
Make a room-by-room inventory. Include big stuff and little stuff. If it’s not too much of a distraction, include a column that indicates whether you will be keeping the item or not.. The only drawback to the “keep it or let it go” exercise is that it will require decision making. That can tire you out quickly. If it’s draining you, just create the inventory without any decisions attached.
Keep that inventory in a central place so you can add to it.
Now that you have an inventory, you can add measurement information to the sheet. If you’ve already got a floor plan for your new home, measurements will help you figure out what will fit and what will not when downsizing your home. If the couch is too big for the living room, maybe it will fit in the basement.
If you have not picked a smaller home yet, the measurements will help you as you search.
When downsizing your home it pays to look at the items in your current big house that can be converted to digital files. Old photos, or books of photos, are obviously at the top of the list. It’s going to be difficult to throw away photo albums for sentimental reasons. If you can’t do it, that’s Ok. But when you have digital copies, it may make that decision easier down the road. Digital photos are easy to store (in the cloud) and easy to share with the rest of the family. You can also add captions to digital photos, so you can maintain important information about each image (e.g. Uncle Fred doing famous card trick, July 4, 1998).
Next on the list is your CD or DVD collection (or both). How many of these movies can now be streamed? How much of this music can be streamed? When you answer these questions, your downsizing-by-digitizing can begin.
First, take stock of the books you know you will re-read because you have already re-read them once. These you can keep. Take the rest of the books you still own but won’t reread and decide what to do with them. Some will have sentimental value. You can keep those too.
Getting rid of a lot of books, through donations to the local library or even the local prison, will generate good feelings in your heart and in your back. As we said before, boxes of books are one of the worst parts of moving day.
Remember that some books can be digitized through the Amazon Kindle, or other e-readers, and then donated. You can also do this with audiobooks.
6. Sports Equipment
The sports equipment you use all the time, you get to keep (think: Peloton). The other stuff, however, should get downsized. Weights and barbells, for example, are useful but have they been used in the last six months? We are all very disciplined about our workout regimens; now we have to be disciplined about what workout equipment really needs to go to the new, smaller house.
Similar to books, paper files can take up a lot of room and be very heavy to transport. A shredding service can be your new friend. There’s no reason to get sentimental about files, so send unnecessary paperwork to the shred pile. Don’t keep more than seven years of tax filings. Your bills are probably online, so get rid of paid bills too. Instruction manuals for all your gadgets are also online. However, keep the poems and drawings kids and grandkids.
8. Take it Room by Room
Since you spent years accumulating stuff, you need to take a measured approach to getting rid of some of it when downsizing your home. A room-by-room approach can make it easier. Get out your inventory and start making “keep or toss” decisions. You may even want some boxes nearby so you can immediately put items in their respective containers.
One of the toughest rooms will be the garage. It is the place where you, over the years, put the stuff you didn’t want to look at. It’s a repository of items that require extreme downsizing. Give yourself at least a couple of weekends to tackle the garage.
9. Take Your Time
The constant decision making inherent in downsizing you home can be stressful. You don’t want to add time pressures to it if you don’t have to, so schedule plenty of time for the transition. The deadlines imposed on you by buying a new house can add stress. Don’t let the deadlines push you into full-blown anxiety. You need your energy and stamina, and anxiety won’t help..
10. Stop Acquiring
Just because you are getting rid of a ton of items when downsizing your home, doesn’t mean you should go out and get more. You are, however, going to want to decorate the next home. Do this in moderation. Rather than pre-populating your new home with all the ideas you found in a magazine, wait until you get moved into the new space. You will see what fits and make better decisions.
This might be difficult because, with the sale of your home, you may have extra cash. Don’t give in to the temptation to buy too much stuff.
Destinations When Downsizing Your Home
As you go smaller, you may also want to move into a totally different environment. Here are some options to think about.
The opportunity to live somewhere warmer is very attractive to retirees, and others, who live north of a certain line. Even the most diehard winter athletes can get a bit tired of the white stuff about March 1. The prospect of living in a warm climate for a month or more is very enticing. A lot of snow birds downsize one large house into two smaller ones: one for their home and one for their warm weather sanctuary during the winter months.
Closer to Family or Grandchildren
When downsizing your home, the opportunity to live closer to family, especially grandchildren can be irresistible. If they live far away, a visit twice a year may not be enough for you. Spending more time with them, and your family members, is priceless. Years of pursuing your career may have put some distance between you and your kids and grandkids. Retirement is a great time to reunite the family. Downsizing your home can present that opportunity.
Back to the City
Want to be hip again? Living in the city, in a loft, can open up an entirely new lifestyle of museums, restaurants, plays, concerts and art. You moved to the suburbs once upon a time; now it’s time to go back to the city where you belong. If, however, your aim in downsizing your home was to save a lot of money and get some peace and quiet, a loft or condo in the city might not be the ticket.
Housing Options for Retirees
For retirees, geography isn’t the only consideration for downsizing your home. You will also want to consider some of the housing options that are specifically established for people as they get older.
- Condos are a good idea for a lot of retirees. You still get to own the condo and build equity, but you don’t have all the maintenance. As downsizing goes, this option can force you to dramatically reduce your stuff.
- Mobile living is for adventurous retirees who want to hit the road (via an RV) or hit the water (in a houseboat). As lifestyle changes go, this one is a dramatic change.
- Townhomes give you the convenience of a condo, but you have more living space and it still looks and feels like a regular house.
- Retirement communities will give you neighbors who are all retirees like you. Sometimes a senior living community consists of a group of senior apartments with shared dining halls, courtyards, swimming pools and housekeeping. Many of these establishments also have numerous entertainment options and social activities.
- Assisted Living means you have care available in terms of personal care professionals, but medical care is not built into the model (RNs, doctors, etc.)
Getting Rid of Stuff After Downsizing Your Home
You’ve got two piles of stuff: what you want to keep (and move to the new place) and what you will let go of. Here are five things you can do with the stuff you will be downsizing.
Donating the stuff you don’t want feels a lot better than just throwing it away. It’s also easier on the environment. Every community has sites like Goodwill or Salvation Army where you can donate used items – from clothing to small appliances to yard tools. Some charities will even pick up your stuff.
Familiarize yourself with these donation sites; you will be going there often over the course of downsizing your home. Most importantly, learn what they will take and what they will not accept. Donating some of your stuff will allow you to see a bit of daylight in your large home when you have less clutter.
There is an online version of donation centers that is non profit and decentralized. It’s called Freecycle and describes itself as “a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns”. Basically you become a member and give people in your community the stuff you want to get rid of. Other alternatives to this include Sharebay, Freegle, Streetbank, trash nothing! and Toy-cycle.
A garage sale or yard sale may be a good way to downsize your stuff and get a little money. It can, however, also be a distraction. It’s a lot of work cleaning, marking and arranging items for sale. Then you have to get the word out. Some folks enjoy the process, but time does play a factor for this strategy.
Toss the Junk
Throwing things away might be the most difficult part of downsizing your home. Some part of you thinks each item will “come in handy” someday. You may also have a strong DIY gene that tells you “I can fix that.” These characteristics will get in the way of your desire to downsize for the move to the smaller home.
Remember: the dumpster is your ally. The ones they park in your driveway give you freedom to get rid of broken rakes, boxes of VHS tapes, the ottoman the dog chewed up, and the uncomfortable folding chairs. This list goes one.
The Next Generation
Giving things away to your immediate or extended family members is a great way to get rid of stuff, especially if they are sentimental items or family heirlooms. Some of these items will trigger a dual response: I don’t want it in my house, but I don’t want it to leave the family. You’re in luck. Your family might want it..
The downside of donating stuff to your family is that you might be disappointed about some items. For example, fine china from your great grandmother is typically not something the next generation is interested in. If they don’t want certain items, you may be forced to donate them. If things get too tangled up in your heart, just keep them – but make those items the exception rather than the rule.
Use a Storage Unit When Downsizing Your Home
Some items might be something you want to keep but won’t have room for in the new small home. A storage unit, at a storage locker facility; or a Pod, dropped off and located on your property, may meet your needs.
Maybe you have some things that can’t yet go to the new home, but getting it out of your bigger home is important. Removing stuff from your current home gives you room to think, stage or sell.
You will need to balance the convenience of the storage unit with two things:
- The monthly cost of the storage unit and whether it is worth it
- The fact that this is just a short term solution
Receive an Average of $6,000 from Homes for Heroes
When downsizing your home, typically you will need to buy a new place while selling your old place. Why not save some money, like an average of $6,000 when you go through this process?
Homes for Heroes assists firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, active military and veterans, healthcare workers and teachers; buy and sell their home. But if you work with their local real estate and mortgage specialists to buy and sell; Homes for Heroes provides significant savings after you close on a home. They refer to these savings as Hero Rewards, and the average amount received after closing on a home is $3,000, or $6,000 if you buy and sell!
Simply sign up to speak with a member of the team. There’s no obligation. After you sign up they will contact you to ask a few questions and help you determine the appropriate next steps for you. When you’re ready, they will connect you with their local real estate and/or mortgage specialists in your area to assist you through every step and save you money when it’s all done.
It is how Homes for Heroes and their local specialists thank community heroes like you, for your dedicated and valuable service.