Downsizing from a larger home to something smaller, sounds not so hard, like you may have to get rid of a few pieces. But if you wrap your head around the scope of downsizing from a family home you’ve lived in for 20, 30 or 40 years with your kids, to a condo, you’ll recognize it’s one of the most massive undertakings you can face in life. It’s hard work both physically and emotionally. It’s a very big deal in the real estate industry as we help clients make this transition.

Start Early

By that I mean, in your life, when you still have the energy to do it, as well as early in the process of selling your home. While we don’t want the house completely empty to sell, if it hasn’t been de-cluttered, it will greatly impact salability. Plus, you’ll have to do it before the move anyway, which could put an uncomfortably tight deadline on it.

My Recommended Approach

The very first thing you do is create categories and the space to put them. I recommend the garage over the basement for anything that’s leaving the house so you don’t have to bring it back upstairs again. The three categories should be:

  1. I love it – it’s coming with me.
  2. It’s still good, someone will use it – donation.
  3. It’s junk and I should have tossed it ten years ago – garbage.

You may also have one called ‘the kids will take it’ but don’t make assumptions. The kids often don’t want things the parents feel they should. Get a commitment from them to take it so it can be dealt with if they turn you down.

You have to go through everything, piece-by-piece. I suggest room-by-room and not by category. Commit to something realistic like one room per week. Be ruthless. Get help if you can, not just physical but emotional. One of the most difficult parts is accepting that no one (especially the kids) wants something you hold dear.

What To Do With it All? 

Once you have your organized piles you’ll need to dispose of them. For the items that are still good but you are not using, you could attempt to sell it, or call various charities that will come to pick it up – some even issue a tax receipt. Do not just put it in storage – if you aren’t using it, there’s simply no sense in paying to store it when someone out there does need it. Do this part first in case some of it ends up as junk after all.

The junk pile is likely too large to haul to the curb on garbage day. You can get a dumpster delivered for the whole process of sorting, then call them to take it away. Or, create your pile, then call someone like 310-DUMP or 1-800-GOT-JUNK to come and remove it all.

A garage sale is not the answer. It’s a lot of work for very little return, and you are likely to have three quarters of the stuff leftover at the end of the day.

What you intend to keep can be left in the home and organized to look nice – staging the home for the sale.

What Kind of Help is Available?

There are some really great companies that will come in from start to finish and go through every single scrap with you. They are thoughtful, sensitive, and know what to do with what, but are also not cheap.

Then there are companies that will come in and deal with whatever is left. They will organize a sale, keeping 45% of monies collected. These companies often have a following so this can be quite fruitful. They’ll deal with remaining things looking to charity donation first, junk removal last.

There are some clients who may choose to, or find they have no choice but to take what’s really important to a home and leave the rest up to the kids. Be aware that a big dumpster may figure heavily in this scenario.

The Hardest Part Emotionally

The most difficult thing can be accepting that the younger generation today just doesn’t want the silver, china or Royal Dalton figurine collection – things you may have great sentimental attachment to and were once valued. That means dealers have trouble selling it and won’t take it either. The current downsizing generation often came from parents who went through the Depression or came to the new world with nothing, making every belonging precious and nothing gets thrown away. The next generation rails against this hoarder mentality and wants a simple and clutter-free life, and nothing that can’t be thrown in the dishwasher.

Just don’t underestimate the hard work, the time-consuming and emotionally difficult journey this can represent. Start as early as possible and get help.

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